Kim Kaiser, Contributing Writer

A recent survey of No-Till Farmer readers revealed that while a good knowledge level of precision farming product exists with their local equipment dealers, almost all of that knowledge resides within one specialist’s head.

Tom Iverson"[Our precision product specialists] visit with the different facets of the business on a regular basis on what’s changed, what problems they’re experiencing, how they help solve this problem for the customer."

— Tom Iverson,
Titan Machinery's director of
training development

This is a big problem during planting, spraying and harvesting times when nearly every farmer in the region is calling for help. How, then, can equipment dealerships better prepare their other staff members to help troubleshoot some of these technical problems?

Tom Iverson, director of training development for Titan Machinery in West Fargo, N.D., says providing sales staff with enough cross training enables them be the first contact for customers so the GPS specialist doesn’t have to be called on for every specific problem that crops up.

“From the point of view of the GPS or AMS specialist, they need to share as much knowledge as they can with the rest of the dealership in order to provide excellent customer service, given there is a real concern on the part of farmers using GPS that there isn’t enough timely support when problems occur,” Iverson says.

One of Titan Machinery’s goals in cross training is to encourage employees to perform tasks that are outside of their normal roles. For example, they ask some of the parts department employees to participate in technical training on GPS.

Tips for Cross-Training

  • Timing is everything: Plan your cross training to take place during down times so everyone can focus on the task at hand.
     
  • Use a variety of methods, from hands-on training to online courses, to help prepare your staff to answer any troubleshooting issues that may come their way.
     
  • Cross training sales people to step in for the technical specialists means they can be a sort of “one stop shop” for their customers and can foster strong relationships. Strong relationships mean a better experience for the customer.
     
  • Communication is key: Precision products specialists should provide other staff members regular updates on the technology and solutions to problems they have experienced. Likewise, other departments should be willing and ready to ask questions to help them better understand the technology.

Communication is key to successful cross training, whether the training is taking place in-house or at a manufacturing partner’s facility. Iverson says Titan Machinery also takes advantage of a number of online web courses that are available 24/7 for all employees in the company. Many of these courses relate specifically to technology and the advancement of precision farming.

“There is always opportunity when you have both manufacturer partner training or individual dealership training to bring the different groups together and they are able to interact and raise awareness about what each others responsibilities,” Iverson says. “We have regular meetings within the dealership to talk about new and important changes with the technology.”

Simply selling GPS and precision farming is not enough; you also need to be able to service it. Because of this, Iverson says there needs to be almost constant refreshers on the technology within the dealership.

“Our precision product specialists in the company are very good communicators. They visit with the different facets of the business on a regular basis on what’s changed, what problems they’re experiencing, how they help solve this problem for the customer. They convey this to our field marketers. They then identify and document what they’re seeing in the filed so when they get a call from a customer they can respond with the knowledge that’s been conveyed to them.”

However, nothing beats hands-on experience, Iverson says. “The most impactful training I think is when they get in the machine, diagnose problems, get the correct settings and make sure by the end of the project they understand how to make some corrections and get the equipment back out to the field,” he says.

The number one thing a technical specialist needs to share with the other employees, Iverson says, is the solutions he or she has already provided to customers. This way the sales or service staff doesn’t have to rework the solution every time a specific problem comes up. Customer service doesn’t fall solely in the hands of the precious products specialists; everyone on staff needs to be prepared to provide excellent customer service at each of the touchpoints.

Finally, Iverson says the technical specialist should be motivating the other departments to go out and learn through training provided in addition to being available to answer any questions that other staff might have as they come up.

Cross training employees to troubleshoot technical problems will provide customers with a better service experience, more timely service and gets them back in the field faster. It will help your dealership operate more efficiently, too.

“The goal is to build a staff that can pinch hit in a variety of functions when called upon, not just precision farming. Ideally, it allows dealerships to function with a leaner staff, without constantly being concerned about being understaffed when the busy times occur,” Iverson says.