Of Relationships, Communication and Collaboration [Commentary]

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"Communications is key to serving our customers,” Kyle Treadway, dealer principal at Kenworth Sales Co., a 22-location Kenworth dealership, said in comments he sent me for this issue’s article on the effect of COVID-19 on the aftermarket.

The truck parts and service aftermarket always has been a relationship business where communication was key. The COVID-19 pandemic forced people to find new ways to continue to foster those relationships. Many folks were concerned about how they were going to be able to help fleets when people were working from home and face-to-face contact was restricted to all but essential workers.

“We were forced to reinvent the way we support customers — specifically with parts, service, and technical questions,” David Kriete, president and CEO of Kriete Group, a Volvo Trucks North America dealership group with eight locations in Wisconsin, told me. “We’ve found that building a relationship doesn’t necessarily rely on being face-to-face, but more so it’s critical that we are genuinely adding value to our customers’ businesses and supporting them the best we can at all times.”

Gerry Mead, executive vice president, maintenance and equipment at multi-modal transportation solutions provider Hub Group, said that although “some business really needs person-to-person contact, we saw where technology can aid in conducting business.”

Rob Phillips, president and CEO of Phillips Industries, said his company “ramped up the amount of ‘touches’ with its customers.” One way it did that was with “Lunch to Zoom” events, in which the company sent lunch to a customer in conjunction with a Zoom call. Phillips said these were “incredibly efficient” and made staff members really focus on key messages they wanted to present.

Making the transition from face-to-face to more electronic communication was not without its challenges. “We had to learn how to use the [technology] tools to have maximum benefit,” said Tim Bauer, vice president, aftermarket, North America at Eaton. “As an industry we get comfortable with the way we do things. When technology comes along, as an industry we may be a slower adopter. That is one of the lessons learned from the COVID pandemic: We need to find those areas of opportunity to use technology to help fleets.”

One other key takeaway from my interviews for the article was the importance of collaboration during the pandemic. Whether that was internal departments collaborating with each other, or supply chain partners collaborating, or suppliers and customers collaborating, it took everyone working together to ensure there were maintenance and repair parts readily available to fleets that were delivering essential goods.

Perhaps Bauer put it best: “Our industry is resilient. We have overcome a lot of things — shutdowns, strikes, market downturns, economic issues. We are resilient and we find our equilibrium and we find the right balance. We are in a transition phase now from what we all knew to a new normal. We will find our way there and we will find what the new balance is together. It is not going to be driven by the suppliers or the fleets or the distributors. It is going to be a collective effort.”

About the author
Denise Rondini

Denise Rondini

Aftermarket Contributing Editor

A respected freelance writer, Denise Rondini has covered the aftermarket and dealer parts and service issues for decades. She now writes regularly about those issues exclusively for Heavy Duty Trucking, with information and insight to help fleet managers make smart parts and service decisions, through a monthly column and maintenance features.

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