In the movie classic Field of Dreams, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella follows a voice no one else can hear with memorable results. Among the messages he receives: “Ease his pain.” That’s not a bad mantra for ag businesses to keep in mind as we close out the 2016 production season. The company that does the best job of making life easier for their customers will likely gain more of them next year. Word travels fast in the country.
Making that happen begins now, as U.S. farmers begin to bring in what could be one of the largest corn and soybean harvests in history. It’s an incredibly busy time. Yet in the midst of this controlled chaos, ag retailers frequently offer this advice—harvest is the best time to analyze how well decisions made this year worked out in order to be better prepared for the year ahead.
What’s true for farmers is also true for ag businesses. As farmers bring in their crops, what information do you need to be harvesting—and how will you gather it—in order to conduct a great post-harvest business review, address your customers’ pain points while also improving your internal processes?
Here are a few thoughts:
ACTIVATE YOUR EARS: Are all of your frontline people actively listening as they handle the harvest? Are they encouraged to pass what they’re hearing up the chain? Your best source of intelligence on the customer experience you deliver is your employees. In many cases, they experience your customers’ pain directly…and explicitly.
ASSESS YOUR PERFORMANCE: Conducting a department-by-department post-game analysis is critical in identifying both great ideas that worked and bottlenecks that need to be addressed. Do you have a system in place to track issues as they occur?
GATHER INPUT: Once problems are identified, the best solutions may once again come from your employees, who have to work around issues every day. A second prime source would be your customers, who may have already found ways to deal with similar problems in their operation. Do you have a process in place to gather input on specific problems from these sources?
MEET AND GREET: Schedule an event with a cross-section of your key customers after the harvest rush to formally gather their impressions of how the harvest was handled. This is also a good opportunity to familiarize these stakeholders with your services, programs and staff that can address some of their pain points.
UP THE IMPACT: While facilities are obviously critically important, communication before and during harvest also plays a huge role in ensuring a smooth process. What important messages were consistently overlooked, misunderstood or intentionally ignored by your customers this fall? How can you improve your critical communication? What channels did your customers use to access the information they needed this fall?
MAXIMIZE YOUR MARKETING: Finally, determine how well you sold yourself. Ag marketing takes place year round, but is critically important at harvest. Did your share of harvest bushels grow in comparison to the competition? If more farmers took advantage of your facilities, did they also look into your marketing programs? Do you have marketing pieces that describe all you can offer in place and ready for these new customers? How will you market to all of your customers once they’ve dumped their last load of harvest grain? Do they know what you can do to make their life easier?
The temptation after the sometimes punishing rush of harvest can be to relax. While it is important to allow time for employees who have worked long hours to catch their breath, it’s also critical not to wait too long to start the planning process. Trouble spots that seemed so obvious during the heat of battle can be forgotten as employees and supervisors move on to their next routine.
Take a proactive approach to ease your customers’ pain, and you’ll be rewarded with happier customers—and more of them—come next fall.