COVID-19 fuels the digital acceleration of the aftermarket – Fleet Equipment Magazine

COVID-19 fuels the digital acceleration of the aftermarket  Fleet Equipment Magazine

Adaptability continues to be a key attribute in navigating the Coronavirus pandemic. If your fleet operation spans several states, you’re having to juggle shifting regulations and practices as some states begin to reopen, but social distancing is here to stay for everyone. For suppliers that are used to working hand-in-hand with customers to solve equipment service issues, distance poses a challenge to hands-on training and troubleshooting.

“We had to quickly become adept at how to meet with customers remotely,” explained Kent Jones, SAF-Holland‘s president—Americas. Kent has done his fair share of adapting since taking the reins at SAF-Holland eight months ago. Navigating a new position during NACV last year and catching up on new product and technology developments is a full plate for anyone, not to mention leading during a pandemic. But Kent is a quick study. 

One major question for Kent: “Everyone has become experts on video conferencing platforms, but how do you satisfy the customer need?”

Kent pointed to the investment in digital tools, like the SAF-Holland POD Plus, an online platform that connects with the SAF-Holland business system, allowing users to view inventory, system order entry and customer-specific pricing in real time. And SAF-Holland isn’t alone. The heavy-duty truck aftermarket digital evolution has been moving the industry closer to an online-first approach. Pre-pandemic it was something that should happen to keep up with the pace of business, and now it’s something that needs to happen to make business possible.

“We have been investing heavily in digital tools over the last several years, and it’s paying off for the customers right now. They can see inventory positions, order parts and find service information, all online in a self-serve environment,” Kent said. “As an extra layer of engagement to be able to talk about new products, support customers spec’ing trucks and trailers and determining total cost of ownership, as well as technical training, we’ve been launching microsites that we can direct customers through to help them get the information they need.”

SAF-Holland’s initiative during the pandemic echoes that of many OEMs, suppliers, and service providers who have stepped up to stay connected with the fleets that deliver the essential goods and services. The digital groundwork that has been laid will be built upon well after the pandemic has passed (hopefully sooner rather than later), presenting an opportunity for fleets to transition their own operations to a more digital-centric approach. That’s not to say that it replaces the relationships you have forged within the industry. The digitalization of fleet business provides greater visibility into the challenges you face so that you can work together with your industry partners, not replace those interactions with digital clicks and swipes.

“People first,” Kent stressed. “To me, this is one of those things about our industry that I’ve come to love so much over the years. 

“I have people on my field sales team who are figuring out how to bring the human aspect of the relationships which they have developed through face-to-face meetings for so many years into the digital world,” he continued. “They’ve engaged in training to understand how to read cues on the phone or in email or texts. The combination of the human aspect of our industry with the skills and training in digital tools is how customers are going to make supplier choices in the future.”