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Keep your customers happy

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Keep your customers happyWanting to learn as much as possible about the truck industry, Scott Byers initiated a series of studies into areas ranging from customer needs to corporate image and purchasing behaviour. An aspect that soon emerged is that this is a relationship industry, success depending much on the quality of relationship between supplier and customer. IAN BYERS elaborates.

The forerunner of the Scott Byers Comparative Truck Study goes back to 1975 when my company, Marplan (Pty) Ltd, became a pioneer in the study of the South African truck market. In 1985, Marplan was sold to Markinor and what is now known as the Scott Byers Network came into being, retaining Marplan’s interest in the local motor industry. Between 1980 and 1985, the study started to focus on “customer experience”.

The Comparative Truck Study is an independent study of customers’ views of how well their suppliers measure up to their expectations in the three principal areas of interaction – sales, service and parts. It’s now in its 26th year.

Detailed results per original equipment manufacturer (OEM) are available on subscription, and subscribers enjoy a presentation of the dynamics of the industry and how this correlates with their quarterly sales performance.

Repeat subscribers have used the results consistently over many years, some using the report as a benchmark on which to base customer satisfaction incentives. The more common reason for subscribing is for subscribers to track their comparative performance within the industry. Ad hoc subscribers, such as fleet companies, finance houses and oil companies, buy periodic reports to help with purchase decisions or geographic variables in supplier reputations.

Over 6 000 separate interviews are conducted annually, measuring the opinions of people who view the various OEMs to be their first or second choice supplier. Respondents must have had business dealings with the relevant supplier in the preceding three months. The results are independently audited by Alchemy Audit Services Incorporated Chartered Accountants (SA).

The accompanying graph illustrates the results in various colours. The reason for this is that the sample size for OEMs below the average is less than the minimum Scott Byers applies for reporting and publishing results on a quarterly basis.

Competition in the local truck market is fierce; the report currently comments on 15 OEMs, while there are others with customer portfolios currently too small to produce even indicative results.

Based on the logic of a desire to look after existing customers, the result should be that customer experience is improving as OEMs and their dealer organisations strive to improve relationships with existing customers and their share of existing business.

Combined sales, service and parts results 2nd quarter 2012What has happened, however, is that in the last 12 months the national average indicated by the study has dropped by 2,25 percent.

This may not look dramatic, but in the big picture, the national average in sales, service and parts has dropped. Only Freightliner and International improved their overall scores.

There are some interesting challenges in the market that go beyond dealing with the impact of the global economy and its effect on the southern African scenario. The number of brands currently available in this market highlights some of these factors. Those OEMs whose performances are below the current “National Average” face a survival challenge, and this also begs the question as to how many brands can achieve a level of sustainability in the southern African market, relating not only to the brand itself, but also to the profitability of their dealer organisations and the ongoing support that comes from satisfied customers.

The transition from a satisfied customer to a loyal customer is driven by the ongoing quality of the customer “experience” – one of the survival keys. It is also one of the reasons why measuring customer experience is perhaps the most important business metric.

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