Gary Vermeer revolutionized the way livestock producers manage hay and forage by inventing the round hay baler in 1971. Now, Vermeer Corporation aims to revolutionize the way its employees think about customer service, with the goal of providing measurable benefits to farmers and other end users.
"Our customers need to be productive, and they need to be profitable," says Mary Andringa, president and CEO, describing key findings from a two-year research study with Vermeer’s global customers. She spoke to media Wednesday night at an event held in conjunction with the 2014 National Farm Machinery Show.
Vermeer Corporation has grown significantly since its founding in 1948. It serves industries ranging from agriculture to surface mining and employs more than 3,000 workers. While agriculture represents just 25% of its business, farming laid the foundation for the product sectors Vermeer has since added.
To capture that diversity, Vermeer worked with an outside firm to conduct 45-minute surveys, most of them by phone, with customers around the world representing each industry.
The resulting 1,100 pages of notes led to the development of three key brand promises that the company plans to deliver into the future, Andringa says: business confidence, productivity advantage and smart progress. In keeping with those focus areas, the company has adopted the tagline, "Equipped to do more".
The research shows that across its diverse business segments, all Vermeer customers share common goals of improving productivity and profitability, says Jason Andringa, president, environmental and forage solutions for Vermeer. While there are small variations—for example, some industries are able to withstand more machine downtime than others—the similarities stand out.
"I think we were more surprised by the consistency than the differences," he notes.
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To meet those common needs, Vermeer rolled out its brand promises to employees, dealers and customers during 2013. The company has integrated customers into its strategy by giving them time to interact with employees on the production line at Vermeer’s manufacturing headquarters in Pella, Iowa, Mary Andringa notes. In turn, employees ask questions about the machines they build to identify challenges that farmers and other customers are facing so they can identify solutions.
At the dealer level, Vermeer has focus groups for different products that meet quarterly to identify opportunities as well as challenges customers are facing, Jason Andringa notes. The company intends to measure its progress by tracking the resale value of its equipment as well as drilling down to industry-specific financials such as customers’ cost per bale or cost per foot of drilling.
That reflects a different approach than in the past, when manufacturers might have spent more time looking at the initial purchase price of a machine, its horsepower or pump size.
"It isn’t a hollow promise," he says.
The company will continue to focus on agriculture through its equipment and strategic partnerships with companies such as Lely.
"We’re always learning, we’re always going to be getting better," Mary Andringa says. "Our goal is to be stellar in all of those segments."