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How digital connections are impacting trucking’s hand-shake business

Jason Morgan is the editor of Fleet Equipment. He has more than 14 years of B2B journalism experience covering the likes of trucking and construction equipment, real estate, movies and craft beer industries.

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Riding along with two of Meritor’s DriveForce team–a crew of more than 110 Meritor sales and support representatives across the United States, Canada and Mexico–to visit fleet customers in Michigan meant spending long stretches in the car traversing the state. It was worth it–the face time with fleets helped the DriveForce team stay connected with customers, troubleshoot the issues they were dealing with that day and pick their brains about new technologies Meritor had in development. It was a face-to-face touchpoint that maintained the hard-earned relationship the supplier has with its fleets.

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And then came COVID-19 and social distancing.

“The biggest challenge for the team was how you continue that level of service and sales,” said Rick Decaire, general manager DriveForce, Meritor. For the answer, they turned, like many of us, to video conferencing, but with a training spin. “We host a live video with components laid out in our training facility. We talk through the training script. The customer technicians or training managers can see the components, ask questions, we can take components apart and put them back together and do all the troubleshooting and everything that’s involved with the training of that component. It’s actually worked very, very well.”

Online training systems are not new to the industry. Meritor, for example, has hosted its Meritor Bullpen, a comprehensive curriculum of web-based training courses designed to enhance the product knowledge and service needs since 2014. It’s the fleets who have had to adapt their businesses to a pandemic-impacted world that has pushed more users to digital tools.

“Short term, everyone has been more involved with online meetings and training,” Decaire said. “Coming out of this, it will give us the ability to provide training almost instantaneously instead of waiting a week or two weeks for us to schedule a training session for us to go into the fleet’s facility. Online training gives us the flexibility and the ability to keep our customers moving faster.”

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There are still plenty of question marks when it comes to when we’ll actually come out of the pandemic. As I write this, second wave spikes are happening across the country, causing some states to slow reopening while others wait to see how they might be impacted. Social distancing is back in the spotlight that it never truly left and flexibility for your fleet is going to be key.

“We’re all working from home and this is as close as we can get to standing in front of customers to show them how to fix their issue,” Decaire said. “I have done many live web-based training sessions now and I enjoy them. And they have increased in quality as we’ve done more compared with what we’d do four months ago. It has also given us a platform to expand our training base, which we’re doing right now–through a combination of videos on our website and videos on YouTube.”

Certainly understanding new fleet needs is a big DriveForce bullet point, and it starts with listening.

“Perhaps they’re repurposing vehicles; perhaps they have to change the service,” said John Hinesley, regional director, Meritor. “Sometimes that’s hard to discern on the phone where you can’t see the body language. So, we have to really dig into the problem and ask questions to help customers make the right decisions.

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“That’s our strength,” he continued. “We understand the products, we understand the down-sped vehicle and where it might work in a new application versus an overdrive powertrain with higher numerical axle ratio. And our personal relationships with the fleets and the dealers is our mainstay; it’s what we do best. It’s what we continue to do through COVID-19 so that we both come out of the other side understanding what new processes or services we grew during this period.”

New tools. New solutions. It’s the new normal. Working with your industry partners in any way that works is what will continue to support your equipment operations as we roll through the uncertainty.

Relive the ride along

Click below to read the story that lets you spend a day with the Meritor DriveForce team.

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