To build and retain market share among commercial customers in the light truck segment, OEMs are continuing to beef up service and support offerings through their dealership networks – especially in terms of adding commercial-specific maintenance space.
“We need to look at the broader piece of pre- and post-sale support to the customer once we’ve delivered on the product,” Joe Benson, head of commercial, chassis cab, and van marketing for Chrysler’s Ram Truck division, explained to Fleet Owner during a recent ride and drive event outside Thousand Oaks, CA.
“On the pre-sale side, we need to help the commercial customer spec the truck right – these are guys that speak to the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the truck and how it integrates with their business,” Benson said.
For Ram, that means getting dealers to dedicate sales personnel to certification courses to learn the finer details of commercial truck operations, such as types of duty cycles, payload and towing needs, etc.
“This also requires dealers to change how they interact with commercial versus retail customers,” Benson added. “For example, on the retail side, sales personnel stay on the floor and vehicles are sold with pre-set ‘packages’ of features like heated seats, satellite radio, etc.”
But on the commercial side, however, he said sales personnel must go out into the field to see the customer and features are sold “a la carte” meaning customers can pick and choose what they need from a list of 35 options. “There are typically no pre-set packages as every commercial customer has different needs,” Benson pointed out.
He also notes that dealers that wish to join Ram’s dedicated “BusinessLink” commercial-focused network must also invest in facility upgrades as well.
“They need 16 foot maintenance bay doors, 20 foot high ceilings, and a 30,000 pound [vehicle] lift capable of handling up to a Class 5 truck because that’s what commercial customers use,” Benson said. “They need to invest in brick and mortar plus dedicate a service writer to the commercial side of the business. That requires a big commitment on the dealer’s part.”
And it’s an investment that takes time to pay off, too, he stresses. “The commercial business is still very much about relationships; it takes six to nine months for a sales representative to build up a connection with a commercial customer,” Benson noted. “The customer has to see the knowledge, the service support, and the product value all together.”
Getting proximity to commercial customers is also critical to making the support piece work as well, he pointed out. In Ram’s case, the company has expanded its BusinessLink dealer network from 380 to 835 locations since 2009 as it attempts to place 90% of its commercial customer base within 30 miles of a commercial-specific dealer location.
“Closing service ‘holes’ in a dealer network is critical, because while a customer may drive 200 miles to buy a truck, they won’t go that distance to maintain it,” Benson said. “Proximity is important here.”
One of the final pieces to the support puzzle, though, is to make the dealership the focal point for services such as upfitting and vehicle graphics, he pointed out.
“That’s the last part; to make the dealer a ‘one stop shop’ for the commercial customer,” Benson explained. “That way the customer can go in and spec the complete truck, from chassis and body to the graphics on the outside, without having to visit two or three locations. That’s important on the product side as well, which is why Ram offers vans, pickups, and Class 5 chassis in one product line. It’s that convenience factor that will keep the customer coming back.”