Parts management takes virtual step forward with SMS Equipment online services
Consumers are more connected than ever today - something we can credit to spending more than a year in pandemic lockdown, along with growing knowledge and trust in online ordering from buyers.
The construction sector has also begun to recognize the benefits of online services, and dealers are working to expand their offerings to provide customers with online options. In an industry where service is frequently built on personal relationships, keeping that connection between customers and dealers is key.
Evolution of online ordering
SMS Equipment has offered online parts ordering since the early 2010s. Chris Corbett, SMS Equipment director, Digital Transformation, explained that online sales has in the past been adopted by a specific group of customers, making parts buying simpler. Now, SMS Equipment is moving to expand the online customer footprint.
"As an organization we built a multi-year e-commerce strategy plan for how we can focus on making sure that anything we do in the online space is simple, easy, fast and accurate for all of our customers. Really the big one that we are focusing on for online ordering is guaranteeing accuracy to our customers," Corbett explained.
The onset of COVID-19 lockdowns and sudden uptake in remote operation among most industries helped drive growth in online purchasing interest, Corbett noted. SMS Equipment set a goal seeking immediate growth in users for their online services, but the arrival of lockdowns and working from home expanded development even more rapidly.
"We've focused on showing our customers the value through our ePortal online purchasing system - we've made sure we have adapted to their needs, and we're using that knowledge and information to ensure we can showcase it to our other customers that may not be purchasing online today, or not sure what value that technology can bring them," Corbett said. "We're always focusing on the value and bringing it back to why it's important to them, what's in it for the customer, and then showing them why using an online system is going to streamline their existing workflows."
Connecting online ordering to construction customers
Construction remains a difficult market to break into with online offerings, however, added SMS Equipment Regional Sales Manager, Parts & Service, Michel Anctil. While there has been growth, it hasn't been as quick as in other industries, he suggested.
"Unlike automotive, heavy equipment is a lot more of a relationship . . . the long-term commitment with a business partner is not as prevalent in other businesses as it is in heavy equipment," Anctil noted. "Our customers are concerned that [online ordering] takes away from that personal feeling."
Reliable parts ordering and service is essential for heavy equipment buyers, and as they move to online ordering, they want to be certain that they do not lose any of the service they are used to.
SMS Equipment aims to ensure customers feel confident knowing that online ordering allows them to enter the parts numbers or items they need on their own schedule, whenever they have the need, and then have certified parts technicians review those purchase requests before they are completed. The relationship is not lost but rerouted to provide flexibility and technologically friendly experiences for users.
"We want to keep our parts people active and part of the process of adding value to the customer," Anctil said. When customers make an order, those parts are held in SMS Equipment inventories, but the order is not completed until a trained Parts Technician has physically looked over the order and confirmed it.
"We do that to make sure that the customer's order as it is entered makes sense. We will call the customer and confirm that this is what they want," Anctil said.
Human interaction continues to be part of the overall process, to ensure that the customer's needs are fully met and there aren't any potential issues, but it occurs in the background and speeds up the overall time frame, Anctil noted. Reviews of orders by SMS Equipment staff also help reduce concerns about potential returns due to errors.
Ease of access aids in online uptake
A system that ensures customers get the service they need from professionals is one way in which SMS Equipment has approached expanded online services. Another key to increasing online purchasing is ease of use. Customers who want to move their purchasing online need a system that makes it easier for them to meet their needs, not something that slows them down.
The SMS Equipment ePortal has been designed to make customers comfortable and put the parts and services they need in an easy to access form, Corbett described. All efforts have been put into making the buying process easier - and easy to navigate.
"If you've bought a piece of equipment from SMS Equipment, or had it serviced by one of our shops in the past, we have a record of that equipment and it's available for you with the configurations on that machine. You can easily navigate if you have warranty on that machine, the component build-out on that machine, the specs it was designed for and where it is actually located using the telematics associated with it," Corbett said.
The portal also gives customers the opportunity to look at their overall history with SMS Equipment, review invoices and use them to build out new orders if necessary. Links to parts books and service manuals are provided where possible - for example, as SMS Equipment is fully integrated with the My Komatsu online fleet management system, any customers with Komatsu machines can log into the SMS Equipment ePortal, land on the My Komatsu site, review parts books and manuals as needed, then return to the ePortal and buy the needed parts.
"We've also introduced the concept of favourite lists - in the world of preventive maintenance, for example, say you're doing a 500-hour maintenance on a PC490 excavator, we are working toward associating current favourite lists with the user. Quickly and easily, you can navigate the site, add it to your cart, and press ‘buy' with confidence," Corbett said.
Steady growth of online support
Use of online supports and technology has expanded greatly since the start of lockdowns in March 2020, and SMS Equipment has seen the benefits of that in its online purchasing development, Corbett said.
"With customers that are understanding of technology and are comfortable in that space, we are seeing a huge uptick and takeoff in our e-commerce adoption. Our user sign-ups, even this year, are far greater than they have been historically," he said.
That effort is driving further development of the multi-year growth strategy for SMS Equipment's e-commerce program, while ensuring that the human element - a key aspect of the service experience for many customers - remains in place.
"Every order that comes through . . . we still have your local parts person involved, to make sure you get the local service that you would expect from SMS Equipment," Corbett said.