Who Is Your Customer?

In Business – Why are you here?

WHO is your CUSTOMER?

I had an interesting conversation with Caroline, my daughter, yesterday. Caroline is a teacher, and a very good one. Of course, I am going to say that but it is very true. She teaches in an extremely underprivileged community where a very large percentage of the student body who are English Learners. Further, as with the majority of the students in our region, they rely heavily on the food programs available through schools to be able to have a meal each day. With many agricultural jobs, we see very hard-working families who still need the extra resources. A difficult situation to say the least.

We were talking about education and how this current situation, with the country closed down, is going to affect the future of education. My granddaughter goes to University, it is closed and her classes are all being conducted virtually: even the labs, as she is in the sciences. My grandson is in High School and all his classes are done virtually. My daughter teaches High School and she teaches all day, every day, virtually. Imagine that, would you? They are all in school and no one leaves home.

This is what I have been talking about since the early 2000’s. From the Khan Academy, to every major University, to IT training, most everything that anyone wants to learn is available on line. AND for the most part it is free. At Learning Without Scars we have provided a learning platform for individuals who want to improve their skills and knowledge. Unfortunately, that is not everyone. Being optimistic I believe that more people, particularly the younger generations will change that and that they will constantly be striving to make themselves better. Of course, the world has to catch up. In order for online education to succeed, our students need to have access to a decent connection to the online world. That is still not true in many parts of our country today.

Which brings me to the customer and my conversation with Caroline. The end customer of education is society. School is the vehicle which every community uses to develop the people that will create the social and economic activity that will better society. BUT, the primary customer of the school systems, of education, is the student and their family. Too often that fact gets lost in the bureaucracies of the education community: the Federal Government, which does not have a role in education enumerated in the Constitution; the State Governments, who have primary responsibility, the School Boards with elected Administrators, many of whom have never taught in a classroom in their lives, municipal governments, who receive the taxes to pay for schools and on and on. Who is thinking about the customer here? Of course, it is the teacher. But who supports that teacher?

Now look at your business. WHO is YOUR customer? That should be a very easy question to answer. I would like you to think about that for when we come out of this economic shutdown. WHO is YOUR customer? Is it the person coming in to order parts? Is it the person who calls to schedule maintenance or a repair on a machine? WHO is it? In many of these cases it is an employee of a business who uses equipment. But one more time please – WHO is the CUSTOMER?

I am hopeful that every distributor and dealer will come to a different conclusion than what has been true the past three to four decades. I am hopeful that they will begin to operate in a radically different manner than they have recently. I am hopeful that the employees will be given more and better tools to serve the machine owners. But then again, I am an optimistic person.

Things won’t be any different coming out of this economic shutdown unless we make them different. And that means some serious thinking about WHO that CUSTOMER really is that you are serving.

The Time is Now.

Business Models

Business Models

Since 1980 when Ronald Reagan and Paul Volcker fixed the high levels of inflation with a drastic increase in interest rates we have been operating on a “cost control driven” business model.

This model now needs to have a dramatic review and update.

  • I don’t believe anyone can make money by reducing costs alone.
  • We are driven by sales per employee metrics to the point of obsession.
  • We have beat up supply chains to extract costs.
  • Just in time inventories supply chains are the norm.
  • We have “computerized” business processes, moving a paper form to an input screen. We have not improved them.
  • We have concluded that market coverage is too expensive and seen precipitous reductions in market share as competitors have taken our customers by simply calling on them.
  • We have taken on incredible levels of risk thinking low interest rates are with us forever.
  • Rental inventories have grown and money has been made without the offset to risk abatement.
  • With market changes the escape valve for too much inventory is nowhere in sight.

Now is not the time to have the technocrats and managers, alone, determine what needs to be done to improve business. Now is the time to include and involve every single employee in this effort. Never forget that the employee doing the job should be the one that knows that job better than anyone else and to ignore them is not only wrong but truly a shame.

The Time is Now.

Competence and Recognition

Competence and Recognition

With so many learning opportunities available over the internet and very few of these classes earning University or Colleges credits directly many institutions have devised a method to recognize individual student competencies.

They are using badges.

While with our accreditation by IACET we will be able to offer Continuous Education Units, which lead to college and technical school credits, we fell it is necessary and important to recognize specific skills within our learning programs.

We have identified five skill sets that need further recognition. They are Sales, Finance, Operations, Leadership and Customer Service. We are using the same approach as was used to develop our Skills Assessments. We are selecting 60 questions from the 2,400 questions used in our Skills Assessments and selecting them according to their relevance to the skill sets listed above. We will offer Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze Skill Set Badges.

Each learner then will be able to follow classes related to their job function, perform a skills assessment related to that same job as well as be able to be recognized as to their individual level of competence on specific skills sets.

This will be a first in our Industry. We are proud of this accomplishment and hat it will mean to our hardworking heroes in the parts, service and product support sales world.

The Time is Now.

 

Continual Individual Employee Development

Continual Individual Employee Development

One of the challenges we face as a society today, which is in my opinion the most daunting of all, is the ability that we have, as employers, to find, attract, hire and retain talented employees.

As an employee in this environment there are also serious challenges. The world is changing at a rate that is unprecedented. When I was in University, I took a class in number theory as part of my major in mathematics and physics. That was my first year. At the same time, in California, children in grade school were being taught the same theory. It was obvious then that I had a head start of roughly ten years.

In the STEM learning programs in the schools today changes are even more rapid. With Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Realties, 5G networks, data streaming and data analytics, autonomous transportation, and the like the younger generations today are confronted with the truth that their learning, their formal schooling, is not going to last through their lifetime like it has been so far.

The need for each individual to continue to learn, and grow, and read, is paramount. Further we will need to have a second cycle through “schools.” This is leading to more “internet based” learning programs. There will be many changes to deal with in business. This is the truth of this “New Reality.”

Each individual employee’s ability to adapt and overcome challenges will become more critical than at any time in history. Welcome to the new year, 2020, and even more importantly welcome to the new decade.

The Time is Now

 

So, What Are We Doing?

So, what are we doing?

When we looked at our mission in the internet-based learning business we had to face a series of questions:

 To whom will we be providing our learning products?
 How will we be able to reach the student base?
 How will we measure our ability to provide learning to the student base?
 What will be the learning objectives for each of our programs?
 How important will our learning business become to the employers?

These questions, and many more, caused us some serious reflection time.

We had come from a classroom setting with Quest, Learning Centers. We offered traditional training in two, and three day, programs. We were focused on the management and supervision at equipment dealerships. We had started providing this training in the early 1990’s when most of the OEM’s (Original Equipment Manufacturers) stopped providing their dealers with their own management training classes. They stopped providing this training due to costs. We decided we enter this market and satisfy what was still an important need; training managers and supervisors in parts and service to improve their performance for them personally and for their dealerships.

We created a lot of content. Each of our classes covered 15 hours in the classroom and we provided a “text” book each of which were approximately 250 pages. We had nine such text books and offered nine different classes. In the more than twenty years that we did the classroom training we covered North America, Europe, Asia, South America, Russia and the Middle East. We had several thousand people taking classes.

Then dealer needs for training evolved.  There were different vehicles that management wanted to try to reduce the costs of training. Along came the webinar. As a teacher I wasn’t very excited about teaching online via a power point with me talking to a group of people who were looking at my screen and hearing my voice. I had no idea if they were “getting it” or perhaps they were doing other things at the same time. However, one of the things it did do is that if forced us to develop products that had a shorter duration. We developed webinars that were designed for 45 to 60 minutes in length.

At last we arrive at the place where we were confronting what the future of learning was going to look like. I wasn’t that interested in travelling all over the world to teach in classrooms and webinars didn’t strike as a good vehicle from which to teach people.
• We chose the internet as the delivery system.
• We chose slide shows, audio tracks and film clips as the vehicle.
• We chose pre-tests, final assessments, and opinion surveys as measurement.
• We chose “badges” as our “certification measurement tool.”

The goal was to keep the cost down and employee learning time investment at the lowest level possible. Then, based on customer input, we determined that the learning programs should be job function related not management and supervision related.

We have plans to be offering 117 two-hour Learning On Demand (LOD) classes, then there are 25 job function programs we call Planning Specific Program (PSP) classes. Each of these programs covers four two-hour classes, and we also have leadership classes we call Planned Learning Programs (PLP). Each of these programs covers ten two-hour classes. We will introduce our Virtual Classroom (VCR) programs in 2019. These classes are for fast track employees and consist of five classes requiring ten hours of learning.

We are redesigning the LOD’s to break the two-hour class into three sections, each section will be about 30 minutes ending with an essay question. We are introducing this in 2019 with our third-year programs, The Final Staging, within the PLP’s then we will redo each of the programs for the Building Blocks and finally The Framework.

We have also changed our reporting to the clients. Each month we send out a progress report to each dealer showing each student and four or five steps or progress. Program Progress, Pretest Results, Final Assessments, Surveys, and Certificates. This allows the students and their employer to track the progress of the individual learning path. We are sincerely interested in providing each student with an employee development program.

We are finalizing our badge structure which we will introduce to you in a later blog.

The Time is Now.

Make It Visible.

Make It Visible.

We have written often about Goals and Objectives and Management Measures and Key Performance Indicators. And rightly so. It also ties into my management philosophy of Understanding, Acceptance and Commitment. We MUST have clarity, everyone has to Understand what it is we are trying to do, everyone has to ACCEPT that what we are trying to do and that leads to everyone being committed to getting it done. I call that UAK, from my friend Malcolm Phares, who felt it was more memorable that way.

I want to address now the reporting of the progress towards meeting or surpassing the goals, objectives, management measure and key performance indicators.

Some time ago I was on a board of a manufacturing company. They did fusion welding on cylinder heads and line boring and rebuilding of various components as well as resurfacing camshafts and crankshafts. It was a good business. The owner wanted me to see what we could do about improving throughput. We went about the project in the usual manner and had UAK. But what really made a difference was in how we presented the results of everyone’s efforts. We put up graphic and table results every day in the employee break room.

We had a quick team meeting in which we explained what we were going to do and how we were going to collect the data and how we were going to present it to them. I was a little surprised at the level of interest in this reporting approach. There was very little interest.

The first few days, we started at the beginning of a month, there was rather disappointing interest. It started picking up toward the end of the first week. By the time the second week was finished the employees had figured out how their efforts could influence the results. They started trying out different methods to achieve the results, some that worked and some that did not work. But they quickly figured out how to have the maximum results in how they approach their work.

No one told them what to do, they figured it out themselves. I have always said that the employees doing the job know how to do their job better than anyone else. It has always been rather easy for me to explain to employees what is needed and you will be surprised at what comes out of it. This is standard best practice management isn’t it? That sure happened in this example.
By the end of the first month the improved results were very obvious to everyone. No additional spending, no changed written procedures, and no-one standing above every employee pushing them. Just management and supervision helping the employees out when they wanted assistance.

By the end of the first quarter under this program the throughput nearly doubled, open work orders were down by more than 50% and as you can imagine profit increased. The customers had improved results as well. Lower invoices as the times to do the work went down and the invoices were produced within a day of the jobs being completed.
I believe it was simply the reporting of the results. Made the results visible, explain how you get the information and how you produce the results and then just let it go.

If you already are doing this you know what I am talking about. If you don’t what have you got to lose? Try it out you will be surprised by the results.

The Time is NOW.

e-Learning

e-Learning

Twenty years ago, in 1999, John Chambers, then CEO of CISCO Systems said, “Education over the internet is going to make email usage look like a rounding error.” The renowned Clairmont Professor and business guru thought that “Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.”

As those of you who read this blog know we are serious proponents of providing tools for employees whereby they can reach their potential. Learning to me is a lifelong pursuit. You really only start to learn once you leave the structured education system that we have in place. Too many people, however, act as if that is the end of their education.

We are extremely pleased to be in the final stages of certification by the IACET, the International Association of Continuous Education and Training. They have a very rigorous certification process that we have completed and are in the final review process. You will hear more on this in the near future when we get all of the documentation completed.

This is the final step in our platform for training in the Heavy Equipment, Light Industrial, Material Handling, Trailer, and Ground Water Industries with which we are associated. We will be the only certified company in these Industries in the world.

We ran a brief review of our offerings within the past month and it is quite substantial. We currently have around 90 people taking classes on line every day. We have enrolled over 600 people in the past two years. It is starting to take hold.

What we offer is an employee development structure for each job function in the Parts and Service world. We assist dealers and distributors and some manufacturers now in creating a learning path for specific jobs. A career path if you will. We are in the final stages of announcing our “badge” program.

The Physical Universities and Vocational Schools are the only ones who can provide a “parchment” that says University Degree. The internet-based learning world is “not allowed” to offer degrees. We offer and provide badges. In our programs the badges cover; Operations, leadership, Sales, and Finance. Each class earns a badge and after accumulating Badges taking classes there are four levels of achievement; Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze. Each student can share their learning results from us with their prospective employers which provides, we believe, a much more complete picture of the knowledge of each individual who has followed our programs.

A study done in 1000 by WR Hambrecht + Co called “Exploring a New Frontier” provided the following list of factors driving e-Learning:

• Rapid obsolescence of knowledge and training
• Internet access if standard at home and at work
• The need for just in time training.
• Technological advances enable interactive and media rich content.
• Efficient means to train a global or national work force
• Increasing bandwidth allowing more streamed content
• Increases in skills gap and demographic changes
• Growing selection of e-learning products and services
• Demand for flexibility for lifelong learning
• New standards to facilitate compatibility, usability of e-learning product
• Wide variety of topics addressing business objectives
• HR, Management, Customer Service and Compliance Topics
• Simple access point and integrated data
• AICC and SCORM standards for inter-operability

I believe that e-Learning is now starting to hit its stride. All of the above points are even more pronounced today.

We are hitting our stride as well:

 We have created our platform – the learning management system
 We have developed the products – over 112 different programs
 We are in the final stage of accreditation – IACET
 We are finalizing the recognition programs with our badges

Now it is time to sell the program and get more people learning on a daily basis.

We highlighted a quote from Peter Drucker at the outset of this blog “knowledge has to be constantly improving or else it vanishes.”

Where are you in your learning?

 Are you reading books and taking classes constantly?
 Or is your knowledge becoming dated and no longer current?

I think we all can do much more in our lives and in our careers. In fact, with the rapid rate of change in the world around us I believe it is absolutely critical for us to continue to learn. What do you think?

The Time is NOW.

The Parts Business Going Forward

The Parts Business Going Forward.

Let me ask a few questions, of you, if I might:

  • What does your future in the parts business look like?
  • Is it a continuation of what you are doing now?
  • Are the results you are experiencing satisfying for you personally?
  • Is that the best you can do?
  • If you can do more what is holding you back?

By now you’re probably thinking, “WOW. That isn’t fair. You ask tough questions.”

Here is something to consider. If you continue to do what you have been doing you are facing extinction. That is a fact. I am 100% in agreement with that statement. Are you?

Let’s have a look at what goes on today. The phone rings or someone walks into your store, what many of you call your branch. An employee, in your parts department, if they aren’t already busy, will greet the customer. They will then proceed to determine what the customer needs. What is the customer doing? Rarely is that question asked. Would that question be helpful? Of course, it would be helpful. Then the parts employee will open up his computer system, if the parts employee knows who the customer is they can proceed to open a parts sales order. If they don’t know the customer they have to ask. And then they find the customer on their business system and then proceed to open a parts sales order.

How about processing parts orders for the service group? Does your technician walk to a back counter? Then a parts employee and the technician determine what parts are required for the work? Or perhaps the technician calls into the parts department and the process is similar to a customer parts sales order. Does the technician order their own parts using an electronic catalogue of the parts and service manuals and enter their parts orders to your business system themselves?

How about an instore display area? Do you have one? How do you operate the instore area? What is the number of customers coming in to your store on a daily/weekly basis to place parts orders? How many parts are sold from the instore displays on a daily/weekly basis?

Finally, we come to the internet. Do you have a facility that will allow your customers to place their orders online? How often are customers looking at your web site? How many customers check on your parts inventory availability? How many customers check your prices online? Do you allow your customers to have access to an electronic catalogue? Do you allow your customers to have access to service manual information online? How many customers place orders online through your website on a daily/weekly basis? Does your business system provide statistics on the number of customers visiting daily/weekly? How about price checks on the same frequency? How about availability checks for the same frequency? If a customer checks prices and availability but does not place an order does your business system notify the parts department daily on which customers were involved? Does a parts employee call the customer when that happens and determine what the customer was looking for and if they in fact found what they needed?

I guess the real question is “Are you working in the business or on the business?”

Perhaps even more directly are you in the order processing business or the selling business?

Or finally, are you in the parts business or the part number business?

The answer to these many questions should provoke some serious thinking.

As Jack Welsh used to say “when the world around you are changing at a rate faster than you are …. The end is near.”

The decisions you make will be with you for a long, long time.

The Time is NOW.

News Bulletin

To Whom It May Concern.

We have just updated our business page and I wanted to give you a heads up. This is a “fresh” statement of where we are as a group and where we are going. I am as excited now, and as motivated today, as I have been at any previous time in my forty five years working in the Industry. I am truly blessed.

Our consulting business is winding down. I am not aggressively soliciting business like I once did but will be dealing with requests on a one to one basis. As long as there is interest in my skills and experience I will be more than happy to assist.

The Learning business is becoming a much more prominent focus for my time. We are excited about our new venture Learning Without Scars and using all the current technology to bring our learning products to the market worldwide. We will be offering ten classroom seminars, forty webinars and ten internet based self-study programs in fifteen different languages. We will be moving to having a YouTube channel and developing a series of streamed products for use by everyone in fifteen languages as well. All of this is being done with a new web page as well. We are working with a terrific partner on this project. Brian Shanahan of “shanahandesign” is the gentleman we have selected to do this work. I am extremely pleased to have found Brian as he does wonderful work. Thank you Brian.

Our Company Insight (M&R) Institute which has been the platform for the traditional Twenty Group business is being replaced with a new and improved technology driven product. I am hopeful this new model will become the new standard for twenty group operations in the coming years. The new model in conjunction with products such as Skype and GoToMeeting will allow a much more cost effective operating model for all twenty groups. This new product is being developed in conjunction with Foresight Intelligence. Dale Hanna, is the CEO and founder of Foresight Intelligence. Dale and I are putting the finishing touches on what we believe will produce strong value to dealers in assisting them to be all that they can be. I am so pleased to have found a man such as Dale. His perspectives and experiences and skills are just what the doctor ordered to allow us to develop this new product. Our new offering will be To Whom It May Concern.

We have just updated our business page and I wanted to give you a heads up. This is a “fresh” statement of where we are as a group and where we are going. I am as excited now, and as motivated today, as I have been at any previous time in my forty five years working in the Industry. I am truly blessed.

Our consulting business is winding down. I am not aggressively soliciting business like I once did but will be dealing with requests on a one to one basis. As long as there is interest in my skills and experience I will be more than happy to assist.

The Learning business is becoming a much more prominent focus for my time. We are excited about our new venture Learning Without Scars and using all the current technology to bring our learning products to the market worldwide. We will be offering ten classroom seminars, forty webinars and ten internet based self-study programs in fifteen different languages. We will be moving to having a YouTube channel and developing a series of streamed products for use by everyone in fifteen languages as well. All of this is being done with a new web page as well. We are working with a terrific partner on this project. Brian Shanahan of “shanahandesign” is the gentleman we have selected to do this work. I am extremely pleased to have found Brian as he does wonderful work. Thank you Brian.

Our Company Insight (M&R) Institute which has been the platform for the traditional Twenty Group business is being replaced with a new and improved technology driven product. I am hopeful this new model will become the new standard for twenty group operations in the coming years. The new model in conjunction with products such as Skype and GoToMeeting will allow a much more cost effective operating model for all twenty groups. This new product is being developed in conjunction with Foresight Intelligence. Dale Hanna, is the CEO and founder of Foresight Intelligence. Dale and I are putting the finishing touches on what we believe will produce strong value to dealers in assisting them to be all that they can be. I am so pleased to have found a man such as Dale. His perspectives and experiences and skills are just what the doctor ordered to allow us to develop this new product. Our new offering will be initially on a complimentary and confidential basis. The dealer will be able to sign on to a “DEALER FITNESS” model and enter their information into the “DEALER FITNESS” model. Once the data is entered they will receive a “FIRST PASS” response which will report on the key management measures for each of the five major departments within a dealer. This “FIRST PASS” will show each management measure using a “button” type graphic with a color code to recognize their level of performance against the “FORESIGHT-INSIGHT” standards. These standards have been developed from our consulting business over the past thirty five years working with well over 1,000 different dealers around the world. The dealer then can then go and make the necessary changes in their business without anything further. If however, they want assistance, with the click of a button they will be directed to the “FAIR OPTIONS” page. This will be a menu of “TIPS.” Each TIP leads to an plan of action and implementation process for improvement of that particular measure. Each one of the TIPS is a tried and true example of the consulting work I have been doing for the past thirty five years. If the dealer wants further assistance then there is a further option available. We have developed a network of “ACES.” Each ACE is a retired senior executive from a dealership who still has the interest and energy to continue working in the Industry just not on a full time basis. Dale and I are very excited about this new offering.

I hope that you will find this news as exciting as I do in providing you with it and look forward to continuing to be a part of your team in Product Support.

The time is now

Technicians – how can we thrive without them?

Some of you will know I have been in Hawaii the past few weeks and Marlene and I are having a terrific time. Although we are three hours earlier than at home I am still getting up reasonable early and have had some time for reflection on the business and the Industry.

I have not been in a cocoon here I have been in contact with several people so I have not lost my complete sanity when I wrote the headline for this blog. I truly don’t believe that any dealer any where at any time will thrive without an ambitious and intelligent grooup of talented technicians. I know that I have felt this way for a long time and many of you have heard me make this point before. But it bears repeating now for a few fresh critical reasons.

The new fossil fuel interest. The shale oil developments, fracing techniques, deep well recoveries, natural gas abundance and other exciting things are happening in the oil and gas world. You might wonder what that is going to do to the technicians in our Industry. Well all you have to do is look to our Northern Neighbour, Canada, and you might get an idea. Ft McMurray in Alberta has been a boom town since the 1960’s as a result of the “OilSands” resource. They have wages in that area that will take your breath away. We are seeing similar results in North Dakota. Now the area from San Antonio to Corpus Christi is gaining serious interest. Check out Oklahoma for action. It is starting to be everywhere. Even the EPA can’t seem to stop this strong drive. Between Canada, the US and Mexico the US could satisfy All their oil and natural gas needs for well more than the next hundred years. Of course that is not politically correct these days. Our federal government wants wind and sun power and no more fossil fuels. It appears they are so serious they will kill job opportunities in the process. (Keystone – where for those of you not paying attention that additional oil from Canada is now being shipped by rail and truck which is much more risky than a pipeline) One other comment. The Exxon Valdez oil spill was caused due to us having to ship the Alaskan oil via tankers instead of the pipeline that the envirnmentalists killed at the time.

My point in all of this is that technicians are going to be in shorter supply than they are today in the very near future. The oil and gas industries will take a large number of these talented people and they will do it with higher wages. So I think the message is pretty clear.

Develop your own technicians with good training programs, apprenticeship programs and mentoring programs. Provide a career path that is meaningful and followed for each individual technician. Pay higher wages either with a straight wage or with a strong meaningful incentive program. Manage and supervise the techncians with adequate supervisory density and “good” direct supervision. Operate a “best practices” business unit in service with current and workable tooling and good technological support with tablets and PDA’s and laptops. You have to attract and retain these talented people or you will continue to struggle.

The headline is clear. You need technicians, you need very good technicians if you are going to thrive. The time is now.