Customer expectations in rural India are evolving and experiences are being compared across categories. JD Power’s 2017 India Tractor Product Performance Index and Customer Service Index studies reveal that as rural consumption shifts from necessities to premium products—cars, two-wheelers, TV and smartphones—tractor OEMs and dealers need to shed their beliefs on how to approach this customer segment. Value propositions to attract these new-age buyers need to focus not only on the product’s functional benefits, but also on addressing the requirements pertaining to the nature of application, type of land or soil, variety of implements used and individual needs of a particular demographic segment. Although rural incomes rely heavily on agricultural cycles and the customer remains price-conscious, low purchase prices are no longer the main driver for new product consideration.
As tolerance levels towards poor quality of products and services plunge, tractor OEMs and dealers need to work to win back customers’ trust. Service defection rates are rising among tractor owners. Such customers are gravitating towards unauthorised or local servicing options even within the warranty period. Reaching, acquiring and retaining today’s rural customers hinges on the adoption of unique tactics targeted at transforming customers’ day-to-day interactions with the brand. While tractor manufacturers improving product mix, their dealer network can assist them in brand-building efforts by instituting some key measures at every customer touchpoint, including pre-sale, at the point of sale, while initiating the service, and even post-servicing or repair. They can support the OEMs by maximising the value offering to the end-user.
Tractor OEMs and dealers also need to find unique ways to promote their products. Their offerings should make it easier for farmers to choose the right model based on specific requirements. One way is detailed demonstrations that explain product features and specifications, and educate customers on the correct usage of tractors for respective applications. In fact, our study found that customers who received a demonstration record a lower incidence of problems (47%) with their tractors, compared to those who did not (52%). Despite the benefits, however, the data shows that the frequency of offering demonstrations has dropped from 72% in 2016 to 61% this year. In order to reap a bountiful harvest for their business, dealers need to go the extra mile to assure customers of the brand’s continued support.
Dealers should not only be willing to accommodate repair and servicing schedules as per customers’ convenience, and on-site where necessary, but should also contact tractor owners to remind them when their service visit is due. But this is not a common practice, with only 7% of tractor owners stating that their dealer contacted them to arrange for a routine service appointment, down from 13% last year. Lastly, success in this challenging sector requires the players to shift focus from aggressive selling and maximising short-term revenue, to providing farmers with the highest return on their investment. This will eventually help them establish credibility and scale-up profitably by creating a differentiated position in customers’ mind space.
An example of providing such an elevated service experience is returning the tractor to customers in a cleaner condition after servicing. Again, just 35% of tractor owners surveyed in this year’s study state that their tractor was returned in a condition that was cleaner than when they took it in for servicing, a decrease of 6% from 2015. With rural India being increasingly shaped by urban sensibilities and customers in the hinterland being exposed to higher quality of products and services, experiences in one industry are being effectively displaced by experiences in another. To manage these liquid customer expectations, the tractor industry needs to better understand their target audience whose experiences are being shaped by their interactions across sectors.
By Yukti Arora