By Brandon Gustafson, Engineering Manager, Lubrication Equipment Division, Graco Inc.
I have been in the fluid power industry since my first job as a mechanical engineer designing hydraulic systems for aerial lifts at Altec Industries in 2005. After that I designed piston pumps for Eaton Hydraulics, and now I am the engineering manager for Graco’s lubrication equipment division. We specialize in grease and oil delivery, and management and control for lubrication applications. In all of these businesses one thing has been consistent: the high level of competition from large global companies and increasingly from local and regional competitors that are closing the product-quality and performance gap.
Customers have many options to supply their fluid power and lubrication needs, and simply having the best product is not enough to secure the sale in most parts of the world. Graco has started to focus on how to make customers more profitable when they use our equipment versus any other product. We think products should be easy to use, reliable, and last a long time, and when they don’t work, help should be easy to find. That has led Graco to implement what we call A+ Customer Service. In fact, we renamed the Graco lubrication equipment division engineering team the A+ Customer Service Engineering Team.
Engineers are good problem solvers, and our number one goal is to solve problems for our customers. That’s different from solving problems for Graco. We could ask ourselves, “Is this issue Graco’s fault?” and then solve the issue when it is our fault. But that’s not A+ Customer Service. We engage every customer’s issue like it was our own and find a resolution.
This has led to some interesting situations. We once had a customer use excessively high pressure at close range to wash down and clean equipment. That led to water ingression and failure of a circuit board. We sent them a new pump to keep them running while we investigated. We determined the failure mode and, since our product already had the highest water-ingression rating, we didn’t make any design changes. But we did stay in contact with the end user, which changed its practices.
Other times we will make design changes. For example, we once learned that a customer would occasionally drop one of our pumps during install and damage the intake grill. We changed the intake grill to withstand being dropped.
It is a daily challenge to continue to provide A+ Customer Service. It has a cost that we sometimes question during times of slower sales growth. At the same time, our commitment to A+ Customer Service starts from top with our CEO. We speak about it daily when evaluating warranty claims or troubleshooting customer calls.
Our motto, “A+ Service – Every Customer, Every Time,” summarizes what we think is the one thing that sets us apart from our competition. The customer’s experience is the biggest driver of their next purchase decision.
If you’re in the fluid power business, you likely face strong competition in your markets. You’ve also probably heard various companies promote their “world-class service,” and you’re wondering if what I’m talking about is any different. But what I’m talking about is postsale, nonrevenue-generating support resources that provide an excellent experience to every user of our equipment. That includes an administrative team that conducts surveys and tracks service-level metrics, from phone-call length to the percentage of items in stock.
A+ Customer Service is a competitive edge for Graco and is difficult to copy. However, it may just be something you want to mimic to keep customers coming back.