Don Tracy accepted his job as Van Lott’s product support manager knowing it would be a challenge.
The company had set out to improve its parts and service department in an effort to drum up more business and keep its current customers happy.
And just 18 months later, Tracy is well on his way toward completing the transformation.
He started with the basics and focused on training. Without a good knowledge of the machines on which the technicians are working, nothing would have improved.
Van Lott has sent its employees away for training and has brought trainers for in-house sessions.
Tracy said at least two technicians at each of the company’s four branches will become capstone certified on popular machine models – John Deere’s highest level of training. Through this extensive training program, he said the technicians will learn how to more efficiently resolve their customers’ problems.
There are more people to train, too.
The technician staff has grown by 33 percent to 44 people and Tracy still hopes to hire more. But just like everywhere else in the construction industry, his efforts are being hampered by a worker shortage.
While there will always be a need for what he called “sledgehammer” mechanics, the field has required technicians to become more computer savvy.
“You know the kids who spent all of their time playing Nintendo? Those are the guys that we want,” Tracy said.
This is especially true for the field technicians who rely on a diagnostic computer to figure out why a machine isn’t running. Van Lott currently has a fleet of 15 service trucks with the capability of making any type of repair. The 4300 and 4700 series International trucks are equipped with 10,000 lb. cranes and 11 ft. and 14 ft. beds. Each branch is equipped with a full service lube truck.
Van Lott also is putting a strong emphasis on growing the preventative maintenance side of its business.
“It takes the burden off the customer about servicing their equipment and places it on us,” he said.
As the construction equipment itself has become more computerized, most of the problems the technicians come across in the field are electronic and not mechanical — another reason why Tracy is looking for younger technicians who are more comfortable with computers.
Tracy has seen a nice collaboration among the old and new school technicians. The older ones bring to the table years of experience in the field, while the new blood assists them with the modern technology.
In addition to improving his technicians, Tracy has focused on the department’s customer service advisors (CSA). The CSA are Van Lott’s “first responders” and are the liaison between the customer and the technician. When contacted by a customer, the CSA will advise them on maintenance practices and help determine their next course of action.
All seven of Van Lott’s CSAs have achieved Level 1 John Deere training and a few have earned Level 2.
The higher level of training provides them more skills so they are better able to assess the needs of a customer, Tracy said.
Prior to the department’s overhaul, he said the CSAs were a bit unfocused. Now, each of them has set goals and targets and some have been assigned to Van Lott’s bigger customers.
Additionally, Van Lott has spread seven parts drop boxes throughout its territory, with two more in the works. Now, parts are delivered by 7 a.m., allowing the customer to start the workday right away.
Van Lott has locations in Columbia, Simpsonville and Aynor, SC; and Asheville, NC.
For more information, visit www.vanlott.com. CEG