Advanced technology in communications and water treatment equipment continued to evolve this year. Smart devices helped owners and managers stay in touch with service technicians and salespeople in the field. As a result, they were more capable of providing a higher level of service to customers and holding employees accountable. Moreover, smart features incorporated into newer equipment advanced water treatment dealers’ businesses in many ways.
Over time your dealership will naturally become more and more technology savvy as younger generations enter the workforce. Today, technology is being introduced to children at an early age. According to a survey released last year by Common Sense Media, more than a third of kids under age two have used a smartphone or tablet. The same survey noted that three quarters of children ages eight and under live with at least one such mobile device in the home.
By the time this “digital generation,” as some have already begun dubbing it, applies for open positions at your company, these workers’ ability to use and understand advanced technology will be substantial. However, dealers should not obviously just wait for these employees to advance their technology prowess. Smartphones, smart equipment and technology in general is no longer the wave of the future and dealers must comply in the present or risk losing business and becoming a part of the past.
Perception equals reality to customers
According to Pew Research Internet Project, as of January 2014, 90 percent of American adults have a cell phone; 58 percent have a smartphone; and 42 percent own a tablet. These numbers are sure to increase over the coming years, note experts, and dealers must be prepared.
Pew Internet Project’s research also uncovered a trend that indicates adults are dependent on these technologies and even conditioned to be mindful of them throughout the day, even when unwarranted. Stated the research, 67 percent of cell phone owners check their device for messages, alerts or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating. The research also found that 29 percent of cell phone owners describe the technology as “something they can’t imagine living without.”
The public’s acceptance — and dependence — of mobile technologies, the Internet and social media provide dealers with opportunities to develop and close more sales, according to the water treatment professionals we interviewed for this article.
“Homeowners do about 60 percent of their research online before they even visit the store,” says Kathleen Fugler, marketing communications specialist for Pentair Filtration & Process. “In our opinion, dealers and OEMs need to use their business website to their advantage; it is a direct reflection of the company.”
Appealing to customers’ technology side
In addition to an attractive website and a solid online marketing strategy, advanced technology can also be used as a centerpiece in field sales presentations. “We believe that using mobile technology and apps during a sales pitch today play a huge part in getting the customer confidence level up,” says Don Breckle, eBusiness manager for 3M Purification Inc. By using mobile devices and apps, dealers can deliver data and independent research to support the importance of water treatment equipment they are selling.
“Rather than just trying to ‘sell them something,’ dealers can use a fact-based sales approach. The higher the confidence level, the higher the probability of that customer buying,” concludes Breckle. “The use of smart devices in front of the customer is a big deal and it says a lot about your company.”
Several water treatment manufacturers now offer apps for dealers. And, according to Fugler, dealers are beginning to report that they have closed more sales, landed sales faster and sold more products with the use of apps.
In addition to impressing customers with your use of smart devices and apps, dealers can also advance their businesses in other ways by adapting to mobile technology and using it correctly. According to Kelly Thompson, CWS VI, CI, president of Moti-Vitality, LLC, smartphones help an organization’s communications and accountability. Furthermore, these devices and their apps are helping dealers and employees adapt to serve customers’ immediate needs.
Next level customer relationship management
Most dealers should be aware of customer relationship management (CRM) software. Advanced programs allow dealers to track sales, customer relationships, contact information and more. Some programs are available that are specific to the water treatment industry. Cloud-based CRM, notes Thompson, was one of the big trends of 2014.
“These programs being cloud-based allow instantaneous scheduling and contacts in real-time,” explains Thompson, adding that it is a significant benefit for sales and service technicians on the road to access up-to-the-minute information on a particular customer. “It has allowed for a greater ability to respond and service a customer’s needs.”
When using any cloud-based program, especially with sensitive customer information, you will want to make sure your technology’s security features are modern, updated as needed and advanced.
American adults and children, as mentioned, are more familiar with technology, including LED displays, touchscreens, automated features, voice activation, etc. In addition to your business’ communications devices including this level of technology, today’s water treatment equipment is also “smarter.” In recent years, our industry has seen the introduction of smart features and Wi-Fi-enabled equipment showing, for example, how much water is being used, how much salt is being used, peak usage times and more information that is critical to both dealers and customers.
“On the equipment side, we’re all familiar with touchscreens, digital, LEDs and so on so it gives the perception that your dealership is up with the times. It becomes marketable because the customer recognizes these features and it is what they want. And, the technology does allow for greater customization and efficiencies when it comes to equipment performance,” adds Thompson.
Similar to any investment, dealers are interested in measuring the returns. While some are intangible, others, such as resources saved with smart equipment, are not difficult to measure. Breckle, who also notes that most household appliances in general are becoming smarter so customers now expect water treatment equipment to follow that path, says smart equipment helps dealers get away from a set schedule, which saves dealers and customers money.
“In the past, dealers followed a general, periodic schedule for all customers, such as change your filter every six months,” says Breckle. “Now with actual data, change outs and maintenance can be scheduled using a technical strategy based on a customer’s usage and needs.”
According to Breckle, an app’s return on investment (ROI) is easily measured in several ways, including how fast salespeople can close sales compared to using the old binder method. He also adds, “Apps are easy to use and understand so it doesn’t require a lot of training for new employees.”
Thompson concurs, adding other ways dealers can measure ROI when using smart devices and apps, including: Bottom line increases; closing ratios; amount of service calls/call backs; and system sales percentages.
“Dealers in our industry need to embrace new technologies. Do not view the Internet and apps as competition, but rather tools to grow your business; if you ignore it forever, you will not grow in the long term. The dealers that can crack the code of technology and use it to their advantage will be the most successful in our industry within the next 10 years,” concludes Sam Karge, vice president of Pentair Filtration & Process.
Still, as important as it is to incorporate technology into your business, it is equally important to use technology responsibility. It is not recommended to force technology onto customers, and dealers should use it on a case-by-case basis. And, if technology is not bringing you closer to the customer on a personal relationship level, say our experts, then you are using it incorrectly.