Brooke Tyler III, president of Tyler Equipment, arrives at his construction equipment dealership around 6 a.m., often manning the switchboard in those early hours. He catches up with people he does not have a chance to go out and see. “The relationship side [of this business] is fun,” he says. “You will never find an automated answering service at Tyler Equipment.”
Relationships are changing, though, a process driven by technology and the younger generation’s acceptance—and even expectation—for its integration in running companies that use construction machinery. Tyler Equipment, a family-owned heavy-equipment distributor approaching 100 years in business, is setting a direction for this balancing act between relationships and technology by implementing the customer-driven benefits of technology with the service-driven benefits of relationships.
Tyler Equipment, with 60 employees, exemplifies how a smaller dealer can implement machine data to serve its customers, without a large IT department or massive investment in technology hardware. It has built partnerships with its customers and vendors that enable it to transition to a data-driven customer-service model. For this reason, Construction Equipment has recognized Tyler Equipment with the 2020 Dealer Excellence Award.
The Dealer Excellence Award honors dealers and distributors who are leveraging technologies to ensure fleet managers and operators have equipment at the right cost and the right time to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. We evaluate 6 Pillars for Partnership in choosing the winner: technicians, service infrastructure, manufacturer relations, technology infrastructure, data management, and service management.
Tyler Equipment covers a small geographical area—western Massachusetts and Connecticut—with remote technicians and sales force covering the eastern part of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The company’s primary product line is heavy earthmoving equipment from Volvo Construction Equipment, a line it has carried since 1954. That’s when Brooke Tyler Jr. moved from International Harvester to Michigan tractors and shovels, and stuck with it as it morphed through VME to Volvo.
“The good news is [that as] some mergers and acquisitions turned out negative,” says Brooke III when describing the consolidation of equipment manufacturers, “this one turned out pretty darn good as far as we’re concerned. They’ve come a long way: The product, distribution, and support is constantly being upgraded.”
The family’s customer-service philosophy has stayed as solid as the product line.
“When your name’s on the building, there’s a certain something about it,” Brooke III says. “So if I have a customer and I can spend time with him, that seems to get some mileage. So with the salesperson relationship, the receivables relationship...all of that is core.
How to use technology to touch the customer
“Some of the technology...still goes against the grain,” he says, “but we’re dealing with generational situations where that’s perfectly acceptable in their minds. So it’s blending this old hands-on, face-to-face relationship with the new technologies that are available. We say, ‘Come down and sign the finance doc,’ and they say, ‘Nope, just send me the e-docs and I’ll e-sign them.’ It is simple, it’s fast, it’s easy, but I miss a touch point with the customer.”
Maintaining those touch points drives Tyler Equipment’s use of technology, and its partnership with Volvo enables the dealership to leverage big-data capability with old-school relationships. Volvo’s telematics system, ActiveCare Direct, collects machine data and analyzes it. Volvo gives its dealer the choice on how to work with its customers on how the alerts and analyses are communicated. Tyler Equipment receives some information from Volvo and communicates with its customers directly in order to maintain those touch points.
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“[T]here is quite a bit of information shared by [Volvo] directly to customer upper management,” says Brooke Tyler IV, VP of customer support. “This information is mostly for operating efficiencies.
“At the local level, we are in direct contact [with the customer] and use the system more for failure analysis but some efficiency management as well. Depending on the severity of the problem, Volvo will send out an initial note to the end user—and the dealer as well—to be sure the situation is handled immediately. And they require a dealer response explaining the resolution. Some think it has a bit of a ‘Big Brother’ feel. But if we are able to use the information provided to not only fix the current failure but to help prevent future failures from happening, then most customers get past that stigma and can see the value it truly provides.”
Tyler Equipment uses the data to schedule service calls, to ensure the parts and technicians are appropriate before sending a truck to the job site, and to coach end-users on operational efficiencies such as idling. It also uses ActiveCare Direct for predictive maintenance.
“Volvo has developed ActiveCare Direct to study the patterns of codes to forecast a potential failure,” Brooke IV says. “Customers are generally quite amazed when we call them to discuss signs of a possible failure. We are able to get ahead of the problem and provide a quote to repair a part for less cost and with planned downtime before there is a catastrophic event.”
As this data-driven model of customer service evolves, the Tyler Equipment technician force remains stalwart. Tyler Equipment has built a model of mentorship that enables it to train while passing along the knowledge of its more experienced technicians.
“The mentoring system is a little bit old school, as we have several technicians that are 30-plus-year veterans that cut you very little slack,” says Brooke IV. “A dealership requires repairs to be done by the book, with OEM parts, and in a reasonable amount of time. Low effort, low focus, or lollygagging are unacceptable, and the senior techs will let you know it.”
How mentors fine-tune training
Tyler Equipment is a union shop, so it also takes advantage of apprenticeships as well as Volvo-supplied training programs, but using its senior technicians provides an additional level of expertise as well as side-by-side training in smart, safe, and efficient practices, Brooke IV says. There is a cost-savings aspect as well.
“The cost savings start as a time savings, which in the long run turn into financial saving,” he says. “We can usually tell who is going to make it or not within 30 days. If we are not sure yet, we will have a review meeting to discuss the highs and lows, develop a plan to improve the lows, and then regroup in 30 days. If at that point things are not heading in the right direction, we will part ways. It isn’t fair to either party to drag on trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.”
The machine-data technology and technician training enables Tyler Equipment to dispatch its 10 field service technicians with efficiency. Although the goal is to cross-train technicians, machine data will identify a specific problem and enable the service manager to determine whether to send the nearest technician or whether to send one who is particularly adept at solving the specific problem.
“There is a delicate balance of availability versus skill set,” says Brooke IV. “Is the machine down? Is it the end of the day and the machine is two hours away? Do we have an idea of the failure based on codes and telemetry and do we have the part to fix it?”
These sorts of decisions are typical for a smaller dealer focused on customer relationships as they make use of the construction machinery data and analysis available. Brooke III concedes that it’s no small task.
“One of the negatives of being a small dealership is we can’t have the focused people dedicated to their silo of activity,” he says. “We do a lot of multitasking. The relationship is me going out and seeing a customer, or meeting a guy in the yard. We’re around, we’re available. If a guy needs help finding a part, that’s what I do that minute. If I have to get out a roll of paper towels because there are none in the lunchroom, I do that.”
For now, the task of handling the data and ActiveCare Direct falls into two areas of the business: the service desk and marketing. The marketing department works with customers to set up the telematics and train them on how to use it. Monitoring and responding to the data fall under the service department’s purview.
Tyler Equipment is growing its data capabilities with the help of its supplier partners while maintaining the personal relationships with its customers. Some relationships go back three generations, according to Brooke III:
“I did business with the grandfather, the father, and the son,” he says. “The son probably wants to email, and the father wants us to stop down and say hello. I remember the father, grandfather, and him coming up here when he was 8 or 10 years old. While the dad and the grandfather were in buying the machine, he was detaching the trailer and loading the machine. So we walked out, the machine was loaded, chained, and this 10-year-old kid is standing there.
“That’s the kind of relationship that is fun in a little territory, in a little organization like this. You have to earn the business ongoingly, but the relationship plays pretty heavy.”