Keeping It Real
At AGCO, customer input is critical in helping make products even better.
By Richard Banks | Photos By William Jordan
Dave Stucke is something of a lab rat. However, the laboratory is his farm, and, well, he’s not vermin, but a farmer, and the guy in the white coat is his brother, Todd.
Dave is also a good sport, since Todd, AGCO’s hay and harvesting marketing director, likes to try out new equipment on his older brother and the family farm. “He’s kind of the guinea pig for some of the stuff that we do,” explains Todd. “It’s really good hearing firsthand what his experiences are with the different equipment.”
On the flip side, Dave, who runs a farm that includes 1,700 acres of corn and beans in western and central Ohio, gets to test this new equipment before most other farmers and reaps the benefits of cutting-edge technologies. “It’s great. I get to see a lot of new stuff before anybody else does.”
He’s worked with AGCOMMAND,™ AGCO’s telemetry-based remote management system, and auto-steer in their early stages of development. He’s also helped test the Gleaner® Super 7 combine.
For AGCO and Todd, who’s also a partner in that family farm, such feedback offers insight into where equipment and farming interface, making it critical to the development of customer-focused technologies. “When [the equipment] works, he tells me,” says Todd of his brother’s product reviews. “When it doesn’t, he doesn’t hold back. That honesty is invaluable for AGCO, because we take that input and incorporate it into things like development and customer training.”
At AGCO, engineers, line workers and other personnel accept, even crave, such commentary on their products. It’s part of the customer-focused corporate culture and part of the process of product development that doesn’t end when a new combine rolls into production or a technology like auto-steer is sold. The AGCO staff doesn’t stop testing, in large part because they’re in the business of continuous improvement.
AGCO extensively tests equipment on farms, not just in North America, but worldwide, making sure that trials are in the worst and best conditions, and everything in between, faced by farmers. “We put our equipment through hell,” says Bob Matousek, research and development manager at AGCO’s Hesston facility. “We’ve learned through the years to test combines, balers, tractors in just about any condition imaginable on real farms in an effort to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature and modern agriculture throw at us.”
Such testing, however, isn’t the difference-maker between AGCO and other brands, says Bob, who with his brother farms wheat, corn and soybeans in Kansas and Illinois. The differentiator is what’s done with what’s learned from such trials and how much customer input goes into product development.
“Here at at AGCO,” continues Bob, who worked at another ag-equipment company for 20 years, “it’s just been amazing. I mean, that’s who we’re looking for: Somebody who understands the basic needs of the customer, the farmer, and because I’m also one, I’m allowed to keep things real. The fact that I’m a farmer means something, and I’m allowed to take that experience and put it into developing machines that are customer-focused, equipment that helps our customers become more productive and profitable.”
Todd says such a customer focus has been used by AGCO for more than improvements on specific equipment. The company has also taken that input to develop better training for operators, as well as dealership service technicians and corporate employees.
For instance, Dave had difficulty with an early version of auto-steer. The source of the difficulty turned out to be two-fold: wiring problems and gaps in customer training. Todd relayed the hardware problems to engineering and worked with AGCO’s training manager on how to better train operators.
“At AGCO we try to determine how much of the customer experience is educational or operational, and how much of it is really that the unit’s not working. Is it that the right button isn’t being pushed, or pushed out of sequence? Sometimes, it’s that the customer just doesn’t know exactly how to set it up, versus it really doesn’t work.”
Taking the time to analyze feedback and the cause of various operational problems has resulted in better training in a number of ways. One is at the time the product is sold; another is via technical support hotlines, such as AGCO Answers, and in more comprehensive training events, such as field days and classes offered by field reps and dealerships. It’s also had a broader impact in the form of research-oriented Voice of Customer programs, which Todd says his staff and others at AGCO conduct in one-on-one meetings and in groups, in office settings, as well as in the field.
“Every new product we design going forward,” Todd explains, “we’ve got to tie it to customer needs, customer wants, so we make sure we’re designing the right equipment. It’s not just that we’re asking about problems with our equipment—that’s important—but we’re also looking for opportunities, ways to advance and improve the equipment. These are often ideas that come straight off the farm from customers, and those ideas are gold.”
Todd, who’s worked at AGCO and one of its heritage brands since 1989, has recently taken another step to further infuse the farm into AGCO culture. Last year, he brought members of his department and other personnel to his family’s farm for several days of meetings. In addition to marketing plans and budgets, they interviewed area farmers about their challenges and worked in the field with their own equipment, including Massey Ferguson and Challenger tractors, harvesting equipment, auto-steer and AGCOMMAND. “We learned a lot,” Todd says. “We talked to farmers and their wives about the importance of safety and how important it is for them to preserve the farm for future generations. We heard a lot about difficulties, but also about passion for what they do.
“I think above all, though,” continues Todd, “the guys who were here got their eyes opened. It became all the more real to them, that when the weather is right, you have to get the work done, the crop out of the field, or seeds in the ground. We can make all the best equipment and all the biggest, fanciest everything, but what really means a lot to Dave is uptime.”
“It hit home,” adds Dave, “that when we say, ‘We gotta go,’ that we gotta go. We don’t have time for breakdowns. We work mad.”