In the equipment world, leading companies know the value good care has on a fleet. From daily checks to thorough preventative maintenance, and all the way up to troubleshooting, diagnosing, and repair, proper equipment management is no small task.
While many companies have an individual who’s the “go-to” for all-things equipment, most lack the time and/or resources to have highly-skilled technicians, dedicated to caring for the fleet. Many rely – often heavily – on their equipment dealership to provide that value.
Top dealerships know this, and recognize the benefits that knowledgeable equipment technicians bring to the business. Not only do dealerships want the absolute best in their technicians, most technicians themselves want the opportunity to build their skills and advance in their careers. But for many, continuing education and certification programs aren’t available.
About three years ago, Vermeer Corporation recognized this need for additional training, growth, and advancement opportunities for service technicians across its own dealer network. And decided to do something about it.
Equipped to Do More
As a top global company in the environmental and underground industries, Vermeer is committed to offering end-user customers the best equipment and products. But it’s also a company that recognizes the strength in partnering with its other “customer” – its dealer network.
According to Tony Bokhoven, Lifecycle Training Manger for Vermeer, it was because of the company’s close relationships with dealers that the need for a service technician certification program was brought to light.
“We had been hearing from our dealers that they were looking for this type of opportunity to differentiate their technicians,” he said.
That dealer feedback was the spark that ignited Vermeer to develop a program to give service technicians, at any stage in their career, opportunity to advance, improve, and grow their skillset.
Building a Program
Rather than mimic another equipment company’s certification program, Vermeer chose to develop its own program. Key to this effort was creating a program that would speak to the breadth of product offerings in the Vermeer equipment line.
“Because the products we offer are so diverse, many Vermeer technicians focus on either our environmental equipment or our underground equipment,” Bokhoven explained. Recognizing that, Vermeer’s first step in developing the program was to separate equipment into six primary groups: Core HDD, Pipeline, Recycling, Specialty Excavation, Tree Care, and Utility.
Next, Vermeer outlined three distinct certification levels technicians could go through, the highest being Certified Master. Each level would require a written test, with minimum 80% score to pass. Once they achieved the first two levels, individuals seeking the Certified Master would have to take one significant, additional step: a hands-on, problem-solving exercise at the Vermeer center in Pella, IA.
“We put problems into a machine, create a work order, then the student has to develop a troubleshooting plan,” Bokhoven explained.
Unlike a written test, this portion of the certification isn’t intended to gauge the student’s knowledge. Rather, it’s putting them in a real-life situation where they combine their knowledge with creativity and problem-solving skills to come up with the best solution.
“These guys, their job is so hands-on, we feel the final ‘test’ needs to have them solve a problem, then explain to us their process,” Bokhoven said.
Going back to Vermeer’s diverse product portfolio, the hands-on exercise was also designed so students would be tested on the equipment they work with on a day-to-day basis. Each student chooses three of the six primary equipment groups on which to be tested, ensuring the exercise is customized and relevant to each individual.
With the added time, effort, and skill needed to achieve Certified Master, it’s probably not surprising to learn not many technicians have yet gone through this top level. In fact, currently there are only five technicians in the global Vermeer network who have achieved this level.
And four of them work for the same company.
RDO Vermeer, part of RDO Equipment Co., is a full-service Vermeer dealer network, with locations and support centers across the upper Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and state of California. With its breadth of locations and total number of trained, certified technicians, RDO Vermeer is an industry leader in providing customers the service and support they need to achieve maximum uptime.
Recently, four RDO Vermeer and RDO Equipment Co. team members took advantage of the new certification offering from Vermeer. And now, all have proudly achieved the highest certification honor, the Certified Master. In addition to the four team members noted below, Chuck Eaton, Field Service Technician at RDO Vermeer in Fowler, CA, has passed the written part of his test and is attending the hands-on portion in August.
Mike Pelletier, Service Technician at RDO Equipment Co. in Minot, ND achieved his certification in the equipment groups: Core HDD, Pipeline, and Utility.
Dan McClain, Field Service Technician at RDO Vermeer in Burnsville, MN achieved his certification in the equipment groups: Core HDD, Pipeline, and Recycling
LaVor Steenblik, Service Advisor at RDO Vermeer in Sacramento, CA achieved his certification in the equipment groups: Core HDD, Recycling, and Tree Care.
The fourth employee, Eric Punt has a longer history with the Vermeer certification program. As a Technical Communications Specialist at the RDO Equipment Co. headquarters in Moorhead, MN, Punt doesn’t work hands-on with the machines like his colleagues at the stores do. Instead, his role is to take customer calls and diagnose equipment issues over the phone.
In 2015, Punt was the first person ever to achieve Vermeer’s Certified Master, doing so in the equipment groups: Core HDD, Recycling, and Tree Care. Wanting to take his certification even further, Punt recently achieved the Certified Master in the remaining three equipment groups: Pipeline, Specialty Excavation, and Utility. Now, Punt is not only the first person to have achieved Vermeer’s Certified Master, he’s the first to receive it twice, and to have completed all six equipment groups.
Punt’s certification is both unique and significant for RDO Equipment Co. as explained by RDO Vermeer Executive Vice President, Marshall Anderson.
“When a customer calls in, they are connecting to the highest-level certified expert on our team,” he said. “Eric is immediately able to address and solve their challenge. That’s pretty incredible for our customers.”
And, as every company would likely agree, the customer is always top priority.
At Customers’ Service
While it may be a technician’s first instinct to seek certification as an opportunity to earn more money – and rightfully so – the culture at RDO Equipment Co. encourages employees to focus first on the impact to the customer.
“We know that a technician who possesses a top level of knowledge offers our customers greater service, uptime and, ultimately, profitability,” Anderson said. “It enriches the value we provide to customers, and elevates us to that of a true partner in their business.”
That concept builds on the primary aspect he and the RDO Equipment Co. team appreciate about the Vermeer certification program. It’s designed to do more than expand the skills of technicians; it’s designed to teach them to think at a different level so they’re providing more for customers.
Bokhoven further explained this philosophy by describing a real scenario: “When a field service technician goes out to see a customer, we want him thinking ahead so he’s best prepared. For example, asking the right questions and bringing the right equipment so he doesn’t get there, find he doesn’t have the right tools to complete the job, then have to go back to the office and go back out.”
Anderson echoed Bokhoven, adding in that RDO Equipment Co. wants team members always thinking about how to add more value to what they’re already doing.
“If a technician repairs a piece of equipment, that’s great.” Anderson said. “But it’s not always the end of the story. We want him thinking, ‘What else can I do?’ Maybe it’s a simple thing like checking the oil or hydraulic fluid. Or maybe it’s a thorough visual inspection that reveals a larger underlying problem he can address right away. Those things add more value for the customer, and can save them both time and cost down the road.”
Bokhoven pointed out too that there’s major benefit in it for a technician who offers that added level of service, saying, “Customers will request a specific technician work on their machine. We hear about it all the time.”
That kind of customer loyalty and employee job security can’t be bought. But sometimes, and in the case of Vermeer’s certification program and the RDO Equipment Co. team, it just might be something that can be earned.
For more information on sales and support of equipment from Vermeer and other manufacturer partners, visit your local RDO Vermeer or RDO Equipment Co. store.