By Jeff Jefcoat, F118344
Earlier this year I read an article by Jay Hesse, owner and president of Blue Ox, C2903, in an RV trade magazine. The article touched on the topics of quality control and customer care. After I read the article, I contacted Jay and invited him to be a guest writer in my column this month.
As I’ve mentioned previously in this column, I want to focus on improving the quality of new motorhomes at the time of delivery and also the quality of service after the sale — while the coach is covered under the warranty and after the warranty has expired. Jay’s company makes and sells towing-related products, such as tow bars, hitches, base plates, braking systems for towed vehicles, and related accessories. I consider him very knowledgeable and qualified to address the topic of quality control, and I appreciate his assistance in helping us to understand more about quality in the RV industry. Thank you, Jay, for your participation.
Jay Hesse writes:
The RV industry offers a great way of life to its participants: freedom, security, choice, and family values. Our industry has seen significant growth throughout the past five years, most of which can be attributed to the “Go RVing” marketing campaign, which shows the public some of the benefits of this lifestyle we RVers enjoy. The Go RVing campaign is attracting a newer and younger generation of RVers. And since the attacks on America on September 11, 2001, we have met many more customers who are seeking out what the RV lifestyle offers.
One question needs to be asked: Is our industry ready for the new customers who are now stepping onto the RV playing field? Are we, as an industry, setting and establishing the level of customer care that they want? Is it a level high enough to keep them, and impress them and their new neighbors? Is it enough to make them want to stay?
Let’s use the hotel industry to demonstrate my point, particularly the hotels that have earned the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award. These facilities emphasize customer care that is above and beyond the call of duty: amenities for your room to make you feel at home; a newspaper delivered to your room in the morning along with a cup of coffee; easy check-in and checkout with no waiting; and guaranteed service. I, too, am a firm believer in providing exceptional customer care — striving to go the extra mile, and doing more than the customer expects. The little things make a big difference in the life of an RVer. You need services that are there for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week — services that are there when you need them, because you don’t leave your home on wheels after an eight-hour shift.
How about support throughout the year at motorhome rallies and social events from the companies that made the products? And what about extended warranties? What about training and education regarding the product, and learning about the changes in the industry that could potentially affect your lifestyle?
These are the types of questions we need to be asking and answering. Customers’ needs today are quite different from those we dealt with two, five, or 10 years ago. Customer care today is not just a buzzword, but a factor that eventually will determine our success and survival as individual companies and as an industry.
With that said, I do need to recognize and acknowledge the associations in the RV industry that have been taking steps toward this goal. The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) — which is made up of RV manufacturers and component part suppliers, as well as service firms and associate members in the aftermarket — has established a Committee on Excellence. This group has aggressively worked to establish a higher degree of quality among RV manufacturers, and many manufacturers, in turn, have established their own recognition programs for excellence in service provided by their dealers.
The Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) always has been an avid supporter of education for RV dealers. The RVDA has established a foundation in this regard that has helped the RV industry move to a higher level. The RVDA’s efforts in the realm of education have been successful among the dealers, and have aided their supplier partner base as well. The RVDA also offers a recognition program that evaluates the performance of dealers based on customer service index (CSI) criteria. I applaud the RVDA for its efforts in this campaign.
I have been impressed by comments made by the president and CEO of Kampgrounds of America (KOA), Jim Rogers. Mr. Rogers was a management trainee at KOA from 1972 to 1974, then re-entered the RV industry in January 2000 after spending many years with Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. Mr. Rogers returns to the industry with no blinders on, because of his background in the entertainment industry. He is accustomed to working within strict standards of quality, and he is committed to giving KOA a whole new stamp of approval in the eyes of RV consumers.
I firmly believe, however, that the RV industry as a whole needs to embrace a standard of excellence campaign. Standards need to be developed regarding product quality, warranties, customer care, and training and education in each segment of the industry. Each segment needs to have performance criteria for excellence and develop a certification program that recognizes efforts and achievement. But we simply cannot meet the standards of this industry or the expectations of our customers without the help, support, and dedicated effort of each industry segment working together. Together we can establish a set of performance measurements, with each segment dedicated to achieving those standards.
I’d like to share with you an experience I had just this past week. This year I decided that it was time to trade the coach I had been traveling in for several years, and I ended up purchasing a 2002 motorhome. The entire experience, from the time I initially started looking through the buying process, was most impressive. The sales professional showed me a variety of models and pointed out the differences between them, and then he allowed me the time to make my own decision. Upon taking delivery of the coach, I was greeted by a team of professionals who explained who would be taking care of me that day and approximately how much time I should allow for each step of the process. Wow! I was even more impressed after the pre-delivery inspection process, and when I drove out of the lot, I was very confident with my new coach. But, that’s not where the process has ended. Since the purchase, the sales professional I have dealt with has called to see how everything is going.
This is the type of service we as an industry need to work together on, as we depend on each other for mutual success. We need to commit to quality so we can grow, prosper, and survive in a competitive marketplace, since we compete with every form of leisure activity and entertainment on a daily basis. We need to challenge each other to “beat our best.”
We need to improve for the benefit of our industry — not necessarily to win an award, but to win customers. Customers can provide feedback about what we are doing right, what we need to change, and how to improve. I personally would like to hear from fellow FMCA members, as your input will always be invaluable.
Jay Hesse, Owner and President, Blue Ox, One Mill Road, Pender, NE 68047; (402) 385-3051; firstname.lastname@example.org