Harley Davidson rides CRM to earn customer trust

When riders buy their first Harley Davidson motorcycles, they’re starting a journey with the company that may not end for decades.

Besides all the trails and highways their bikes may take them, riders will get together

at company-organized reunions, take part in local chapters of the Harley Owners Group and keep in touch with their local dealer for parts and accessories. Along the way, they may also have turned to Harley-Davidson Financial Services (HDFS) to assist them in their purchase. This is the basis for the data captured as part of the firm’s customer relationship management (CRM) strategy. As a means of building trust, HDFS vice-president and CIO John Lucas says, there may be no better vehicle.

“”That’s something else we have tatooed on our bodies,”” he joked during a Webcast Monday on customer loyalty. “”Products and brands are just an extension of who we are . . . we also have to look at the customer experience as they ride off.””

Harley Davidson uses CRM software from Vancouver-based Pivotal Corp., which co-presented the Webcast with Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. Lucas says the technology has become critical to tracking the company’s progress on a number of key performance metrics. These include the turnaround time it takes for a dealer or customer support person to answer a question, the number of times a deal is closed at a customer contact point and the number of “”dropped calls,”” or calls that aren’t satisfactorily dealt with on a regular basis. Lucas said Harley-Davidson’s management team holds a meeting each Tuesday where the CRM data is matched against its performance the year before. Keeping as close eye on this information has become more important, he said, because the company has recognized the long-term nature of the relationships it is building through HDFS.

“”We’re seeing multiple generations of families (buying bikes),”” he said, and some of the loan agreements last for more than six years. “”A lot of times once the first loan is paid off, they’re ready to buy the next one.””

Jon Anton, a director of benchmark research at Purdue University, said Harley-Davidson is a good example of a mid-sized enterprise that is trying as hard to keep existing customers happy as it is finding more. “”(The industry) is not driven just to get the new-name account,”” he said. “”It’s been about how we’re dealing with that account.””

In many cases, Lucas said, Harley-Davidson’s dealers represent its primary point of contact for its customers, which is why it holds regular dealer summits to hear their feedback — both good and bad. “”There are sessions we don’t look forward to, I’ll be honest with you,”” he admitted.

Pivotal Corp. president Bo Manning said companies have traditionally designated their sales forces — either channel partners or direct sales — as keepers of the customer relationship. That’s changing as more enterprises build up their contact centres with phone lines, Web sites or e-mail lists where customers can deal with product or service issues. The customer experience at these centres becomes a key factor in the long-term health of their relationship with the company, Manning said.

“”There’s an emotional roller-coaster ride that people go on when they make a purchase. There’s a high when they’re excited about buying something, and a low when something doesn’t work,”” he said. “”If you don’t deal with them during that moment of excitement, they that atrophies into distrust or apathy.””

Consumers aren’t the only ones who ride this roller-coaster, Anton added. So do executives within an enterprise who purchase products for a project. “”If you’re buying as a consumer, your job isn’t on the line,”” he pointed out, whereas failure to resolve support issues on a product that was bought with company’s money poses risks. “”If he or she fails often enough, I’d say there’s a career change in the offing.””

Like many firms that say they successfully implemented CRM, Lucas advised enterprises to take a gradual, phased approach. “”How many implementations have you seen not happen because somebody wanted the Big Bang?”” he said. On the other hand, he warned against an approach where companies ask their customers to “”dream”” about their ideal tools for dealing with them. “”Will you use it? Often that doesn’t get asked. You have to be pragmatic, otherwise you won’t hit the mark.””

Harley-Davidson turned 100 years old this year, while HDFS celebrates its tenth anniversary.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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