Digital tools are increasingly transforming the way farmers operate and interact with machinery. And while discussions about right-to-repair policies continue, equipment dealers have been adopting new strategies to accommodate the service needs of producers.
The latter group, however, also likely needs to service their expectations.
Why it matters: The relationship with digital tools in the ag sector will continue to change. The expectations of both producers and equipment service providers will have to adapt by consequence.
For Chuck Baresich, general manager for Haggerty Creek Ltd., near Bothwell, some equipment dealers and farmers appear to be struggling with determining where their ownership begins and ends. As an enthusiast for practical technologies and a new seller of autonomous implements, Baresich considers the issue to be deeper than whether or not it makes sense for farmers to alter digital tools. He recently created a new division called Haggerty Creek Robotics.
Expectations from an analogue age
More specifically, he says his experience discussing the issue with peers has led him to believe there is a disparity between service capacity, expectations, and business models that evolved from a more analogue time. If, for example, a grower purchases a unique sprayer for $750,000, the purchaser might think the dealer should be at their beck-and-call for years, and at little to no cost.
“As you raise the price of the equipment the expectation of ongoing free service increases,” says Baresich. “In the buyer’s mind, they expect the dealer to jump. The dealer’s opinion is, no, they didn’t make that kind of margin, so you have to pay for service. Neither one is happy about the situation.”
Indeed, the margin question is critical because those not involved in the development and maintenance of digital tools are generally not aware of the expense incurred in its development and maintenance. For Baresich, participating in the development of Farm Credit Canada’s AgExpert platform proved an enlightening experience.
“Being charged for a software-related question is a mindset change. But the reality is someone has to pay for that,” he says, adding the problem might be compounding as more people get used to accessing other digital tools for little to no cost.
“Over time I think we are going to move to more subscription-based systems. As it becomes more advanced, the industry and people building this stuff need the income stream. Some farmers basically do this now by rolling equipment every couple of years… There are lots of younger people I talk to who balk at the idea that software costs thousands. I think this is where some of the move towards open-source comes from.”
Still, Baresich says that most problems can still be fixed without having to contact a dealer.
Fixing issues from a distance
On the dealer side, how individual sellers are changing service lines varies from business to business. According to David Peters, Strathroy-based aftersales manager for AGCO Corporation, a more important consideration is how to account for technicians trying to address multiple client issues simultaneously.
“Every call is more than five minutes. If the technician gets a phone call and is helping someone else, should they charge the guy? It’s definitely a debate.”
Overall, Peters says most equipment buyers understand new technologies require new approaches to servicing — particularly larger operators who buy new equipment more regularly. Occasional frustrations do surface, though these often relate to the customer’s perception of what the technician is doing. Waiting for a computer system to update, for example, doesn’t always look reasonable to the person paying for service, though such updates are a crucial part of it.
While technicians can often accomplish tasks simultaneously, Peters says there will be a day when updates can be automatically sent and downloaded to implements. Though far in the future, the advance could fix a lot of issues without the need for technicians, or at least reduce the amount of time they need to resolve problems — but that’s only if the operator lets the machine update itself.
“Someday if the system will update itself, I can see that being an issue. Like when people won’t update their phones,” says Peters.
In the interim, equipment manufacturers and dealers are working on a variety of initiatives designed to make diagnostic and maintenance work more efficient and cost-effective. This ranges from already-realized strategies such as screen-sharing with engineers to future goals like on-the-go equipment monitoring and predictive capabilities.
“The dealer should at some point get the error code as well as links to other error codes from other instances, then potential solutions and parts you might need,” says Peters. “By the time the customer calls you may be away (starting on a solution) already, which really impresses the customer.”