ON THE PANEL:
Elaine Leighton, marketing & comms manager
Mark Babb, rehab business manager
Anthony Thresher, product development manager
Freerider: Dave O’Brien, sales & marketing manager
First Senior: James Nicholls, group sales and compliance director
Fish: John Traynor, head of business partnerships
Handicare: Patrick Dignan, customer & field service director
Powerbasetec: Jonas Nachtwey, general manager
Stiltz: Gino Farruggio, UK trade sales director
TGA: Tim Ross, national trade sales manager
How does offering the right training and support to your dealers add value to your product offering?
Elaine Leighton: In an industry of accessibility, ensuring product awareness is as easy & accessible as possible is a priority. Improving dealers’ knowledge and their own ability to build their online channels relating to brand & product awareness for the benefit of consumers, is a key focus and our digital expert in the marketing team is on hand to help with aiming online content at consumers to complement other marketing campaigns across the business and create a more impactful message.
Dave O’Brien: The FreeRider dealer network is our only route to market and as such it is in our interest to ensure that dealers are equipped to represent our products as we would represent them ourselves. We firmly believe in matching the end-user to the FreeRider scooter which best suits their needs. There is nobody more qualified in assessing these needs than the dealer and nobody more qualified in the features our range has to offer than us.
Offering the right training and support is vital to maximise the benefit end-users will receive from our products and we hope to enthuse our dealer network to be as passionate about our products as we are.
James Nicholls: Training is vital for several reasons. It allows the dealerships to give the clients the right advice for their needs. It gives the dealership staff the confidence that what they are discussing is correct. It gives the FCA the confidence that dealerships are treating customers fairly by giving correct information.
John Traynor: Offering our mobility retailer partners insurance product training means we can grant them a higher level of relationship with us, making them into what’s known as an Appointed Representative (AR). As an AR, our partners can sell our insurance to customers in store. This can often mean a better customer experience as mobility equipment can be protected by insurance from the moment it leaves the shop.
Patrick Dignan: Providing the training and support which means dealers can sell and install our stairlifts confidently is an absolute must for us. We believe it can make all the difference to the teams who are helping customers, whether in their showrooms or in their customers’ homes. Our #onefamily approach is all about focusing on creating a good outcome for end-users and that means making sure our partners know our products inside out so they’re confident they’re fitting exactly what their customer needs.
Jonas Nachtwey: The ParaMotion is mostly used on the golf course, therefore it is necessary that the dealers as well as the customers are trained and know exactly how to behave on the golf course. This is important in order not to damage the lawn so that all other users of the ParaMotion are not denied access to the golf course.
Gino Farruggio: Stiltz Homelifts are committed to providing our partners with the right training; giving them the confidence of being fully supported by us as a manufacturer. As well as comprehensive product and sales training, we deliver dedicated marketing support, in-store point-of-sale materials and more. We continue to work on strengthening the Stiltz brand and an important element of this is demonstrating strong backing for our trade partners. If a manufacturer does not support its trade partners, there is little incentive for dealers to sell their products and they will look elsewhere.
Challenges such as logistics can sometimes hinder the training and support process, what do you see as the best method for providing the best training and support and how does that work?
Tim Ross: The advantage of carrying out training at head office is that everything is available onsite when it comes to answering niche questions. Sometimes going over warranty returns systems and processes help the dealer understand the whole picture.
Getting our manufacturers to support us and attend training sessions can give further knowledge. Stocking the right parts and enabling quick dispatch is fundamental to offering good support. Training small groups is also essential so people feel comfortable sharing information. The three roadshows we had this year enabled us to go to the dealers. We deliberately took along personnel from the service depart to answer any questions.
Mark Babb: For dealers finding time is always a challenge, we have good national coverage of dealer managers backed up by product managers to provide training to whatever level is required at a time convenient to business.
James Nicholls: Allowing staff the time to train is always a difficult one for business owners as it takes the staff away from the frontline. However, better trained staff leads to staff being valued more and therefore more productive. Logistics can be difficult for the dealerships but equally for the suppliers that design the training programmes so they can reach the staff in a cost effective manner and the cost of designing such packages.
John Traynor: In order to provide adequate training for our mobility retailer ARs and give them the confidence to sell our insurance products, we offer training for all staff involved in the selling of insurance. This training takes place when the relationship first partners with us, and again at every annual audit.
Training is tailored depending on the insurance products retailers are interested in telling their customers about and is completed face-to-face with a member of our Business Partnerships team and our Compliance team. This training is followed with a competency assessment and Q&A to ensure that all staff are comfortable with their new knowledge. We handle mobility claims in-house and aim to resolve any claims coming customers of our mobility retailer partners quickly and efficiently.
Patrick Dignan: You can’t beat practical training when it comes to stairlifts and we do insist that all engineers installing and maintaining Handicare stairlifts renew their qualifications every couple of years. We have a dedicated facility at our Kingswinford site where our senior engineers run regular training sessions on all our stairlift models to ensure dealers are up-to-date with the latest models and installation best practice. They also provide on-site support to dealers when necessary, and telephone assistance as required. Basically, we’re there if needed.
Jonas Nachtwey: We mostly provide our workshops in our company in Germany so we have all the training facilities and an amazing golf course around. Thus, we can give the dealer a direct insight into our company, ways of working and our quality standards.
In order to avoid certain logistical problems during service, each dealer should have a consignment warehouse in order to have a certain amount of spare parts in stock to make the process as customer oriented as possible.
Gino Farruggio: We feel full immersion in the product and brand is what really helps our dealers. Like other manufacturers, we offer all the required classroom training for engineers and installers where they can practice on our demonstrator lifts. However, we firmly believe there is no substitute for actual, hands-on experience which is why all partner installers and service engineers are invited to join our own teams on live customer installs. In fact, so confident are we that this is the way forward, that it is a pre-requisite for successfully completing the training.
What benefits do dealers get for being involved in the training and support schemes?
Dave O’Brien: Today’s mobility service users are increasingly well informed. The majority will begin their purchasing journey by carrying out research online and by the time they speak to a dealer, they will already have a good idea of the products available. The expertise and experience of the dealer comes into play by assessing the specific needs of the end-user and matching those needs to the specific features and benefits from the range of products available. This wealth of knowledge and value-added service will never be available from an online retailer, knowledge is power to a dealer.
James Nicholls: Dealers benefit from our online training programme as it means they are compliant with the EU directives and can therefore still offer finance, insurance and warranty packages. It also gives the staff greater knowledge and more confidence to discuss these products, leading to customers getting greater information and they are being treated much more fairly. Happy clients often leads to more sales. Companies who embrace training tend to have much better staff retention. In terms of support we have a dedicated team to training both face to face and internal support to walk you through our online training system.
John Traynor: The main benefit of training our mobility retailer partners to AR level is that they are equipped with the knowledge and confidence to sell insurance in line with FCA requirements. As ARs, many of our mobility retailer partners choose to offer insurance and even breakdown as part of the purchase package, allowing them to offer a USP to their customers. Being trained in selling insurance means customers are more likely to feel confident that they’re purchasing from a knowledgeable, reputable dealer who is looking out for their needs once they leave the shop.
Patrick Dignan: Dealers who invest in the skills of their engineers by sending them to us for training quickly see a return in terms of the amount of time it takes for them to install our stairlifts, as well as to diagnose and solve problems. We also find that our partners benefit from promoting their credentials in terms of product knowledge and training; our Partner Programme gives them credibility in the eyes of their customer who is seeking reassurance about the quality of the dealer.
Jonas Nachtwey: The benefit for the dealers is to have the complete overview about the functions and features and how to use them when dealing with the ParaMotion.
Gino Farruggio: As any dealer knows, continuous personal and professional team development will help their business prosper. Having a team of engineers who are keen to learn and gain new or enhanced skillsets to enable them to do their jobs as effectively as possible is a tremendous asset to any business.
In response to this, the Stiltz Homelifts Training Academy offers a comprehensive and immersive training programme. A well-trained team will work to provide customers with competently-installed homelifts and at the same time, provide knowledgeable customer service. When technical engineering excellence combines with a highly trained sales team, retail partners can sell a greater number of homelifts and consequently make more profit.
As technology and product offering advances, how has support and training evolved and how do you see it changing in the future?
Tim Ross: More confidence and knowledge. They become better prepared in the product generally. The more they focus on a specific product, the more they grow their knowledge so they’re better prepared for any issues that arise in future. If they come to our head office training, they meet other like-minded dealers and can share information. They get to know who to speak to in the organisation and possibly some tricks of the trade.
The more they can understand the advantages of a product or a brand, the more they can promote it. They can potentially push longer warranties and explain why a brand comes with a longer warranty.
Anthony Thresher: The biggest challenge will be keeping on top of the training and re-training as our customers have been selling products for many years so new technology offers a variety of challenges, as to the additional benefits that they “sometimes” offer; when does new technology stop being a benefit and become a negative?
It will also be more challenging to adapt to the new technology as that can sometimes lead to more confusion with the workings of the product and with the controlling of the product for the demography we are currently supplying, sometimes simple is best.
Dave O’Brien: With evermore technology within the build specifications of mobility products, it is imperative that dealers embrace the opportunities created to allow not just for better drive settings for the end-user but for the opportunities of fault diagnosis. In this day and age it is a sign of a professional dealership that holds diagnostic tools such as battery discharge testers offering digital printouts and at the very least, hand held controller programmers, with the most advanced dealerships having access to laptops to be able to record customers specific drive settings.
James Nicholls: We are certainly embracing technology for our training and it’s why most of it is online. For training to be successful it always has to evolve and be engaging. Our current online platform will develop a lot over the next couple of years, with online assessments, webinars and eventually one-to-one online video training.
John Traynor: Gone are the days of taking regulatory training tests using pen and paper. All our mobility retailers looking to work with us on an AR level complete their end-of-training tests via an online portal.
While we make every effort to complete training face-to-face, the possibility to complete training via video link is there. This means that training need not be delayed if logistics are getting in the way of things moving forward.
Patrick Dignan: The impact of digitalisation is hard to ignore when it comes to support and training. There’s no doubt that the next couple of years will see support and training delivery evolve to the point where on-demand will become the norm, just like it has in other areas. We are ambitious and keen to maintain our reputation as the industry front-runner when it comes to delivering customer experiences.
Gino Farruggio: A recent innovation is the introduction of a 24-hour technical service phone line. As greater numbers of dealers continue to come on board and more and more engineers are involved in more complex installations and service calls, we felt it was important they have the opportunity to ask questions at any time of day or night.
The introduction of the 24-hour service line gives our partners – and also the end customer – the peace of mind that Stiltz Homelifts can be called on when needed.
Stiltz also provides the tools for engineers to carry out live video calling with our technical support team.
Tim Ross: We are looking into the idea of Facetiming dealers for assistance. Identifying parts is crucial for dealers so manufacturers need to look at updating their offering and making it as easy as possible for dealers.
The quality log ensures we can feedback to manufacturers to improve quality rather than just resolve that particular issue.