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Continuous Improvement Key to Meeting Customers’ Changing Needs and Expectations

13 Apr 2021
It was nearly 30 years ago when the first sign of modern-day precision agriculture technology made its debut. Simple GPS led the way for early innovations and concepts like AutoTrac and variable rate fertilizer application. I still remember my first experience setting up variable rate application on a grower’s machine more than two decades ago.

In my 15-plus years with RDO Equipment Co., I have watched the path to precision agriculture adoption and, I admit, it has not been a smooth, steadily upward trend. However, today it is no longer viewed as “nice to have” or “something to consider in the future” for most growers. It is now a widely accepted and understood farm management concept.

More than buttons and sensors, software and apps, precision agriculture encompasses products, processes, and all the layers of data management. It is a path towards the goals of effectively managing inputs, improving production, and managing overall risk of a farming operation.

Most Valuable Dealer
RDO was honored to be Precision Farming Dealer’s 2020 Most Valuable Dealership. When the year began, the precision ag team was focused on its precision support programs and analytical agronomy, among other offerings that we are proud to offer RDO’s grower customers. Yet it quickly became apparent that 2020 was a year that would bring big change for everyone.

Related article:
RDO is Precision Farming Dealer’s 2020 Most Valuable Dealership

Not big change in terms of new precision ag tools and techniques, the change from 2020 would come in the way dealerships functioned, internally and externally, to support team members and grower customers. COVID-19 brought out the importance and need for more ways to work with growers, evolving to meet their changing needs and demands, as well as ways we, as a team, could improve.

Changes that came from COVID-19 certainly impacted everyone in the agriculture world. Even as 2021 ushered itself in as a year of hope, the ways we adapted and the changes we made in 2020 are not going away. And that is not a bad thing.

At the annual Precision Ag Summit, held virtually in January, I had the opportunity to participate in a discussion about what the RDO team learned and how it adapted in 2020. In addition to company-wide efforts in stores to implement safe social distancing, enhanced cleaning, and contact-free options for both parts and service, the precision ag team also adapted offerings to meet the changing needs of customers in the face of a global pandemic.

For those who were unable to attend the event, here are a few highlights; an overview of new offerings, those that were adapted, and ways the RDO team built on the foundation of existing practices.

Centralized Support Functions
While contact-free and remote support were always in demand, the level of demand grew exponentially in 2020. In fact, I have read several studies and statements from leaders who believe that consumer digital behavior, including how we interact with each other and interact with companies, accelerated by five years in just a few weeks in 2020.

The level of remote support offered by dealers, things like machine monitoring and virtual repairs have been offered for quite some time, however, they are now more important than ever.

We saw an uptick of growers taking advantage of connected equipment and the ability to receive remote support. Our strong foundation in these areas, along with machine monitoring, online parts fulfillment, and full virtual service gave us a head start at allowing us to support growers to the full extent and in the way they need.

Customer Clinics
One of RDO’s biggest value-added precision ag offerings to customers is equipment and technology clinics. 2020 made in-person events impossible. Because group gatherings were no longer an option, it was imperative to find a way to get the same, valuable information to customers. Enter virtual clinics.

We did not invent virtual events. Nearly every company that previously held in-person events moved to a digital format last year. But one thing that is unique about the RDO precision ag team’s approach to virtual clinics is how we adapted them yet again this year. We learned from our 2020 events, considered the changes needed to meet customer needs, and made those changes.  

While long, detailed clinics worked well when held in person, shorter formats tend to work best for attending virtually. As noted earlier, just about every company pivoted to a virtual event format last year so people quickly became burned out on screen time.

RDO’s precision ag clinics are now presented as shorter, more topic-specific videos. They are widely available in an “on-demand” format that growers can view anytime, anywhere the information is needed. This change launched a new, branded effort called, “Precision Ag Answers – from RDO Equipment Co.” While still intended as virtual clinics for RDO grower customers, the new format opens up the information to all growers, RDO customer or not. Everyone with precision ag questions is encouraged to visit the YouTube channel, search playlists, and find answers.
 
Virtual Connections
Just as important as connecting with customers, interactions within the precision ag team are crucial. When the pandemic took hold last March, almost overnight, we had to change the ways we communicated with each other.

As a company, RDO had already begun implementing Microsoft Teams as a way to collaborate, and the precision ag team really fast-tracked and upped the ante in how our team used this tool.

It was more than using Teams to replace conference calls and quick chats. The precision ag group transitioned most team communication into our dedicated Teams channel, which was great for keeping everyone in the loop and eliminating emails. It also fostered better problem-solving and creativity because everyone was being involved in ideas and discussions.

Team Trainings
Key to our ability to offer equipment and technology training to customers is our team’s expertise and knowledge, both of which must stay fresh and current. It is an RDO belief across the entire company that training and sharing knowledge with each other is crucial.

Like pre-COVID-19 customer clinics, team trainings used to be conducted in person, with an entire region coming together for an event. The staff contributed to the curriculum, which consisted of in-field demos, ride-and-drives, and classroom-style learning. Team trainings also moved to a virtual format, with a few modifications based on some of the same learnings taken from virtual customer clinics.

Rather than pack in multiple, full days of virtual training, sessions are now offered in 30-minute-or-less classes, with one required per week. Especially with the fast pace and changes that come with technology, this format keeps our team continuously learning and improving.

Virtual learning does not come without its own set of challenges. One of the biggest challenges is two-way conversations do not exist when watching an on-demand training. Another tool within Microsoft Teams called Forms was implemented and has helped to foster two-way communication, questions, and answers between team members.

It is tough to find many positives that came out of the COVID-19 pandemic. As much as possible, the RDO team tried to see it as a chance to up our service offerings and create new opportunities for customers and ourselves.

The year ended up being a reminder that the services and opportunities we provide are crucial to customers. It was a reminder of the importance of growing technology as part of the RDO company culture. And it was a reminder of how RDO’s precision ag team plays a key role in the intersection of those two areas.

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About the Author:

Joel Kaczynski is Product Specialist Manager for RDO Equipment Co., based at the company’s headquarters in Fargo, ND. Starting in a sales role at RDO 15 years ago, Kaczynski built on his passion and knowledge in the agriculture technology space to become RDO’s leader of the agronomy and precision product specialist teams. He holds two agriculture accreditations: Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) and Precision Ag Specialty Certification (PASp), both of which, while not required for his role, are important to his focus and responsibility of staying on top of rapidly-growing precision agriculture technology and solutions.

Interested in more about precision agriculture? Check out the RDO Equipment Co. Agriculture Technology Podcast, browse past episodes, and find out more about everything from equipment to UAVs to specialty crop care. Watch the video series Precision Ag Answers – from RDO Equipment Co. on YouTube for a mix of quick tips and deep dives into the biggest precision agriculture questions.

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