What Level of Service Can Farmers Expect in the Future?

By Shaun Haney

This past weekend my wife and I tried to return a couple christmas presents that were faulty.  One was a video game system and the other was a bluetooth headset.  When we went to both stores we received the same strange instructions from the customer service desks of the stores.

If you want to return this item or recieve a replacemnet you will either have to ship it back to the manufacturer or call this toll free number for our store which will send you a gift card for the replacement value of the item.

What?????  Why do any of us buy something in a store?  Most would answer the accompanying service that goes with a product purchased in the store.  Well apparently that has been shot out the window in the electronics world.  When both my wife and I left the store we both said the same thing….

“If we are not going to get any service in the store next time we might as well buy it online and save ourselves the gas and money possibly too.”

Considering that agriculture tends to follow consumer industries by a couple years, what is the future for the ag-chem retail relationship with the grower in the future.  How far is agriculture from a scenario of virtually no service and all complaints or issues are not handled by someone that sold you the product.  Some farmers would argue that we are already there.  I think that there are still many independents and line company retail outlets that try to keep it “old school” by delivering a price competitive product with a high level of service.

The difference in my example from this past weekend is that both stores in question were not allowed to service the customer by providing us with a product replacement.  Even though it was very clear that neither product worked the customer service desk could not just say, “here is a new one.”  No doubt this low service system was designed by some six sigma black belt that decided too many products were being replaced that should not of been.  The sales people in the stores were qualified to sell but not to the extent to provide a product replacement.

Think about this in agriculture.

Farmer: Hey Joe that chemical you sold me killed nothing.  I’m pretty sure I did the tank mix according to the label but something is wrong and I need to get in there right away and spray again, can you come and look at it?

Joe the salesman: Sorry Ron (farmer) I will have to call the manufacturer and get them to have a look.  Actually the new protocol is that you pull 50 plants and we mail them to the companies lab and they will make the decision on whether we can rebate you some product.

Farmer: Ron thats great but I need to make the decision if I need to re-apply this week or I will miss the window.  Sending samples to a lab will take two weeks.

Joe the Salesman: Sorry bud that is the best I can do.

In the above example the farmer is going through the same experience as what I did at the electronics store.  This is similar to providing a credit application to a local bank and the decision is made by someone as much as 5000 kms away.  This is also similar to governments deciding what books you should read or what parts of the internet are okay for you.

This concept of trying to centralize decision making in the electronics retail, banking and government are very scary realities that farmers should be concerned about.  Before a bunch of line companies and ag-retailers (myself included) comment in the box below that its all about service and the company that services the farmer the best will win, I will tell you that you have missed the point.  In my example of the electronics store and also Farmer Ron there is a common thread.

The retailer was not allowed to provide product support.  Even if the retailers wanted to help you in the worst way, they could not.

Now before all of my ag-chem manufacturer readers comment in the box below that this style of manufacturer policy would never happen in agriculture because agriculture is so time specific oriented and decisions on products need to be made quick.  Lets look at the banking industry where farmers many times need loans in a very short time period and that doesn’t seem to force any credit decisions any faster.

For the sake of the manufacturers, ag-retailers and farmers lets keep the the product service decisions on the ground floor in the hands of the farmer, retailer and territory manager.  Its the system that works best no matter what a six sigma black belt says.

7 thoughts on “What Level of Service Can Farmers Expect in the Future?

  1. Having tried to replace a cell phone battery (3 weeks ago they told me they were 3 weeks back ordered) anbd finding out they are still “minimum 3 weeks back ordered”, after scouring the Source, 2 Battery Worlds, 5 Rogers outlets I decided to upgrade to a new phone/

    Opps Rodger advised my broken phone is less than 2 years old so I am not allowed to upgrade, regardless if I pay the extra fees and even offer top renew for 3 years. 45 minutes on the phone with tech support, 30 on the phone with customer care, they hung up on my, another 20 minutes with customer relations (finance) and finally they did “me a favor” by allowing me to upgrade if I signed a 3 year contract and gave them $ 35 for a change fee and paid $ 100 for the new phone.

    The idea of service in Canada has been forgotten, even though your local chem/fert dealer might be a little more expensive think about it when it comes time to handle a claim, might be cheap insurance.

  2. Shaun – interesting article. The only thing is I don’t see our government ever deciding what books we should read, or really censoring the Internet, so don’t see what the relevance was.

  3. I don’t think we have lost good service and support with farm supplies . But there sure is a push that way from the “bean counters” When I left (3 yrs ago) retail farm supply, crop protection companies were still pretty good at wanting to get to the field and get it fixed. They do show a lot of support, The retails were dropping off however unless they get that good support from there vendors. I hear there has been a revival of service with the line companies and the larger retails, I’m interested to see how that plays out

  4. I have had both happen, the first was seed treat problem that caused bridging, the retailer called the area manager who did squat!! The next case , a spray killed a partial flush but the second flush got away, I was rebated the price of a product to try and help the problem. Guess which company I will work with!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Shaun, this is not a couple years a way for the ag industry – it is last years news for us.

    “For the sake of the manufacturers, ag-retailers and farmers lets keep the the product service decisions on the ground floor in the hands of the farmer, retailer and territory manager.”
    This has gone by the way like wooden wagon wheels – all the retailer and territory managers are
    “shutter bugs” just another type of pest that when you have problems they bother you by taking pictures that don’t solve the problem.
    It’s not customer service that is gone it is integrity of people that is going the way of the dinosauer. Integrity as a concept has to do with perceived consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcome. If retailers of any industry had representatives that kept the concept of integrity in their business the manufacters would not have to get involved in decisions. But when you have representives that take a “it’s not my problem” attitude then manufacters have to get involved to protect their business.
    I hope I made some sense, we went through with a retailer/chemical company what you explained you went through with the electronics store. Only difference is that we went to the seminar put on by the retailer and rep of the company and did just what they said but didn’t get the results.
    Good article but farmers aren’t “behind the times”.

  6. In Ontario, I see the ag retail network as very solid and in some areas being over-built. There are areas where several retailers are tripping over each other to out-sell or under-price each other with the fewer and fewer larger farms that remain. This is great for the farmer…they are getting good advice, decent payment terms, liberal retrun policies and competitive prices.

    The challenge I see in the future is that prices are dropping on many of the products that previously supported these retailers (not a new trend, but one that is picking up the pace as more products come off patent)…so the high service level that I see in some areas, cannot continue the way it has in the recent past (in my opinion).

    It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

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