Leslie Shalabi, Contributing Writer

Precision farming has experienced exponential growth in the last five years. And along with the benefits of increased yield, decreased fertilizer cost and improved productivity, there has also been an increase in service calls, questions and technical challenges for farmers using the new technology.

At the very beginning of the precision farming revolution, most dealers would answer the odd phone call or question or even an on-farm software upgrade at no charge. But once you sell a certain number precision farming products, this courtesy is not sustainable.

For Craig Morgan, store manager of the Crookston, Minn. branch of Titan Machinery, a major Case IH and New Holland dealership, critical mass hit about five years ago.

“We had sold so much precision farming product, that we knew we were going to be overloaded with service calls and questions when everyone started planting in the spring,” he said. “Out of self-preservation we decided to hold a training class in the very early spring to go through step-by-step how to run and service various types of precision farming systems.”

Morgan explains that it was a result of this class and the types and levels of questions they received from customers that Titan saw the absolute necessity of establishing formal service contracts.

“These service plans allow our customers to have the peace of mind to know that the precision farming products they have invested in will work the way they are intended to and when they are intended to,” Morgan said. “And if not, then help is just a phone call away.”

Maintenance class

Titan offers four levels of service contracts, each one varying in degrees of support and cost. The most basic plan is telephone support. Where customers can call the dealership technicians with questions and they can help troubleshoot over the phone. And the most comprehensive plan includes software upgrades, on-farm service calls as well as unlimited telephone service.

The service plans are not typically sold as part of the initial investment in the precision farming system. Instead, farmers are strongly encouraged to attend the training class to help them get the most out of their investment in the equipment. Owners, managers as well as operators are welcomed at the training and many customers bring their entire staff every year for a refresher course.

The classes are taught by the dealers’ field service technicians and focus on different types of precision farming products such as guidance, land management, yield and moisture as well as application. Going through the complexities of the systems step-by-step is usually enough to convince most users to sign up for a maintenance contract, Morgan explains.

“After the class, we simply ask them which service plan they would like to sign up for,” Morgan said. “It is almost a foregone conclusion that they will sign up for some level of service contract.”

And for nearly 70% of the Crookston, Minn., branch’s major precision farming customers, that means investing in the most comprehensive package.

"Going through the complexities of the systems step-by-step is usually enough to convince most users to sign up for a maintenance contract …"

— Craig Morgan,
Store manager,
Titan Machinery of Crookston, Minn.,

Having most of their major customers on a service plan helps Morgan plan ahead and make sure they have the right level of technical staffing on hand.

“Our customers expect a certain level of support and responsiveness from us. And we deliver that all year around on all of the types of products we sell,” he said. “So we need to make sure that when we are called for support on the precision farming products that we are ready to deliver the first time and every time after that.”

The training sessions also give Titan the opportunity to get feedback from their customers as to what they need in terms of maintenance and service.

“While we have four basic levels of service contract available,” he said. “We are also careful to consider each customer and situation individually. We are flexible in terms of the types of services we offer in those contracts because not every farmer needs the same thing.”

Morgan says that overall, the annual service contract concept has been very successful for Titan.

“Many of our customers have signed up for a plan each of the five years we have offered it,” he said. “It gives them the sense of assurance that they will be taken care of and have service available when they need it.”