Not willing to rest on its established position as the third-oldest Caterpillar dealer, Carolina Cat has taken a deep dive into what makes customers come back.
It engaged a lean consulting company at the beginning of this year, with an eye toward customer service improvement. Processes reviewed included how jobs are quoted; ordering, staging and delivering parts; and service bay and yard layouts.
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“Our continuous-improvement effort really involved our front lines,” says Ed Weisiger Jr., president and CEO of CTE, the corporate parent of Carolina Cat. “When we looked at our processes, we realized we were doing some really confusing things. For instance, when a customer wanted a quote, we had several people involved, so there was an incredible variation of customer experience.”
“The program is really rooted in enabling our frontline employees to make more decisions,” says Mike Tropsha, vice president, general manager – construction. Instead of solving problems in the boardroom or at the manager level, Carolina Cat went to its technicians and parts employees, who make up over half of its workforce.
“We’re not making widgets,” Tropsha says. “Repairs differ in scope and complexity, and customers have varied needs. There are, however, many lean principles that we can apply to our business to drive growth while serving the needs of our customers and employees.”
The company started using visual management boards, a lean manufacturing tactic that highlights a technician team’s progress on safety, quality, delivery/velocity and cost. Under the microscope: rework, the backlog of work orders, how quickly the work is completed and any safety issues.
It would make sense that a manager would lead the daily discussions on how the team was doing, but that’s not what happened, reports Kathy Taylor, Carolina Cat chief people officer. “The technicians took it over and now lead that discussion. It was an interesting cultural shift; they take full ownership of those metrics and talk about them every morning.”
“Optimizing our service functions and then sustaining and continually improving them is a major focus for us today – and will remain so in the future,” Tropsha says. “Service is a key value driver for us and our customers.”
As with most dealers, Carolina Cat is always on the lookout for technicians.
This year the company is highlighting the importance of technicians in a series of videos. “We want to show them as the superheroes they are and speak both to our current technicians and prospective technicians about how satisfying, rewarding and family-friendly a technician career can be,” says Jason Williamson, vice president and chief marketing officer.
Although the campaign is in its early stages, Carolina Cat has seen some good results in the number of applications, reports Elizabeth Bryant, marketing director. “Everything the technicians said in the videos is from the heart,” she says.
Technician retention is just as critical as recruiting. Taylor’s team studied what was working and, more important, what wasn’t. “We got a good sense of where the technician pain points were, including career progression,” she says. The company developed competency-based advancement requirements and reviewed its pay structure for technicians across all stages of their careers. Military veterans are another target, especially since they might be more flexible about relocation.