Normally when you have to deal with a person with the title “customer service representative” you know that you are in for a miserable consumer experience. If a company has to make a point of telling you how good their “service” is, then you can bet that it really isn’t up to that much.
It’s the same when a company has a health and safety officer – it implies that working safely isn’t properly ingrained into the culture of their workforce. When companies employ a head of corporate social responsibility, it suggests to me that the rest of their business is staffed exclusively by crooks and bandits.
On the other hand, it is easy to take good service for granted. And good service is especially valuable to farmers at this time of year. It is comforting to know that your suppliers are on your side. It is sometimes as simple as having a mobile phone number for Mick in the stores so that you can collect a V-belt on a Saturday night when everyone else has got their disco trousers on.
In this respect, the best service that we get is from a company called C. Carter and Son at West Pinchbeck. This is an independent new and used farm machinery business run by Les Carter and his son, Stuart. I am almost loathe to reveal this secret to other farmers. Les and Stuart have an unbelievably extensive stock-holding of machines, parts and components and they are always on hand to get you out of a pickle quickly.
That is excellent customer service. It is not about fancy boiler suits with logos on or flashy premises with flagpoles and fountains, it is about someone with a farmer’s work ethic who understands their job. Les has never needed to send out free calendars at Christmas to attract customers. In fact, like most busy people in Lincolnshire, Les disguises this excellent service with bluff mannerisms to avoid having his time wasted. The eastern counties would grind to a halt without him and Stuart.
Just a couple of weeks ago, when we needed an obscure part for a curious 1960s bulb machine, not only did Les have the part in stock, he had a choice of three. By my maths, that’s enough stock to keep our machine going until 2095. They were on hand at the weekend when we needed the parts. Compare this with some main dealers who have computerised stock systems and a stores manager with a tie on but no stock on the shelves. They have to get things from abroad by courier and they ask for payment on a debit card before it’s arrived.
This, to me, is the difference between good service and plain service and farmers should be grateful where they get it. Our trading relationship with the Carters has so far lasted for three generations of each of our families. That’s a fair indication that the customer service is OK.
Multi-generational trading relationships have to be a good sign that everyone is happy with the service. I supply daffodils to the grandson of the Dutchman from whom my grandfather bought his first bulb stock and we have also used the same valuer, Longstaffs, for three generations.
I frequently get depressed about centralised sales centres and price comparison websites, where loyalty is usually punished with creeping prices, but I am comforted that the farming industry is still able to buck modern trends if it truly wishes to.
Matthew Naylor farms 162ha of Lincolnshire silt in partnership with his father Nev. Cropping includes potatoes, vegetables, cut flowers and flowering bulbs. Matthew is a trustee of LEAF and a Nuffield scholar
How important is customer service to your trading relationships? Have your say on our forums.