A Common Courtesy By Mary Sedor
Article Date: 11-01-2008
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
A unique way of eliminating a customer inconvenience has gained one equipment dealership repeat business.
If 20 percent of your top customers provide you with 80 percent of your business, how are you treating your top customers? What makes them come back to you time and time again? At a time when dealers must learn new ways to differentiate themselves from the competition, it will be the dealers that offer unique solutions to customer problems that will continue to build loyalty and retain customers. For the past 10 years, Runnion Equipment Co., a crane dealer in Lyons, Ill., has been offering their best customers the use of one of their courtesy cars, called Chase Cars, while their truck-mounted cranes are in the shop. Runnion Equipment Co. was founded in 1975 by Earle Runnion, and after his retirement, son Patrick took the reigns. Runnion Equipment sells, services and rents new and used truck-mounted cranes and related equipment throughout Northern Illinois, Northwestern Indiana and Southeast Wisconsin. The Pick-Up That Started It All
Patrick Runnion, president of Runnion Equipment, came up with the idea for the Runnion Chase Cars while flying – he’s a private pilot. He said when he flies into most small airports, they have a courtesy car available roughly 80 percent of the time. The courtesy car is there for pilots to take out into the town, grab a bite to eat and return when they are ready to fly to their next location. “It gives you a nicer feeling of the airport,” he said. “In our case, the concept is the same, it gives our customers a nicer feeling of our dealership and we use it to differentiate ourselves,” he said. Runnion explained that his parts and service business is a little different from “the dirt guys.” Runnion explains that his company isn’t as focused on parts and service as a typical AED house, but the service work they do get is a little different. “Most of the service work I do is based in my shop. A lot of typical AED guys are using outside (field) service trucks, whereas most of my equipment is truck mounted and is designed to be driven from here to there,” he said. “My customers are typically on the street driving around, so a lot of my customers swing in to the shop when they have a problem. We’ll stop a major project if a customer calls in with a two- or three-hour job; we’ll fix it while he waits and off he goes.” Instead of making the customer wait for lengthy jobs to be finished, Runnion often sends service customers on their way with one of its five Chase Cars. For jobs taking a few hours, Chase Cars give the customer the opportunity to go grab a cup of coffee or run errands and come back in a few hours. Also, for longer repairs, the customer can then drive the chase car back to his own facility and return it when the repairs are finished. At first the program was a “leave the driving to us” type of program. A service tech would drive a Chase Car out to the customer’s yard, leave their car there, drive the crane back to the shop and return it when it was fixed. Now, 10-plus years later, Runnion is no longer picking up vehicles. The majority of the time, customers are bringing in the units and they use the Chase Car when they need service. In addition, Runnion Equipment also uses the Chase Cars when delivering rental equipment to customers that are far away, as well as for parts running. “The cars alleviated the customer’s drive time,” said Runnion. “We’re based in Lyons (a Western suburb of Chicago) and we have customers out past Rockford. It’s more than a two-hour drive away from us, so our Chase Cars prevent our customers from having to send another driver, plus fuel. This program is definitely well received.” When Runnion first started this service, it was with one used pick-up truck. Today the Chase Car fleet has grown to five – three pick-up trucks and two four-door cars. The vehicles are basic – stick shift, four cylinder engines with a radio and air conditioning. Runnion Equipment provides the Chase Cars as a free service to their customers, only requiring a copy of the certificate of insurance and asking that the cars be brought back clean and with a full tank of gas. The drivers are instructed that the Chase Cars are meant to be driven to and from their yards, not for other driving destinations or purposes. “These cars are really a courtesy car for bringing the driver back to his location,” said Runnion. While the Chase Cars don’t cost customers anything to use, there is one catch. Only the best customers are offered this service. Oftentimes, customers that know about it call and ask if a car is available, and if so, to have it put aside for them. “Not everyone gets this service,” said Runnion. “Our customers feel special knowing it is reserved just for them.” Enhancing Customer Loyalty
While Runnion Equipment does incur costs associated with the Chase Cars, the benefits of having them far outweigh the expenses. “Yes there is a cost to purchase the vehicle, get insurance, fill it will fuel – but it’s something that when we sell our equipment it’s part of our sales process,” said Runnion. “When a customer buys a crane from us, we tell them everything we do for them that not everyone does, and that includes the courtesy cars.” Two of the pick-up trucks are fully loaded with Runnion Equipment decals, so the courtesy car has become a rolling billboard for the company. “If nothing else, if a customer parks our courtesy car back in the yard, not only does the boss see who is servicing his cranes, but it’s a billboard that’s parked in our customer’s lot for a length of time,” he said. “It also conveys the professionalism of our dealership.” To dealers thinking of starting a program like this, Runnion says his best advice is to talk to your best customers.“Ask them if this is something that they would find value in,” he said. But, he adds, “be prepared to be mad about the wear and tear on your vehicles.”Runnion says all in all the service has brought in customers, enhanced customer loyalty and keeps them coming back for more. “It’s a way of setting yourself apart from the competition,” said Runnion. “And it’s another way of solving a customer problem.”
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