5 ways Vermeer identifies customer needs
An in-depth look into the daily life of Josh Vrieze, product manager for Vermeer
From wagon hoists to large trailed mowers to self-propelled balers, Vermeer engineers focus on helping create solutions to problems that once plagued the farming and ranching industries. But how does Vermeer identify those problems to fix? How does Vermeer know what issues face their customers? How does Vermeer develop the initial idea that sparks innovation? How does Vermeer find a better way?
Josh Vrieze is part of that “how.”
As a product manager for Vermeer forage solutions, part of Vrieze’s responsibilities are to be the VOC, voice of the customer, and understand the challenges customers face every day. “My job is to help identify farmers’ problems and then help fix them.”
We spoke with Vrieze to better understand the five ways he tries to listen to customers.
- Create customer connections – Growing up on his family’s dairy farm in Western Wisconsin, an appreciation for farming was embedded in Vrieze at a young age. Vrieze can recall tagging along with his dad while moving gravity boxes to and from fields during harvest or checking cows daily. A lot has changed since then, but staying true to the needs of customers and the reality of farm and ranch life has not. “I live 10 miles from where I grew up and am grateful to have a job that allows me to connect with customers in a multitude of ways so that Vermeer can better serve them.” The ways in which Vrieze is able to connect with customers includes ride alongs, demonstrations, trade shows, speaking engagements, dealership visits and most importantly VOC events. “My role at a trade show isn’t always to sell equipment, but rather to talk to customers who come through our booth about their operation and daily challenges. Sometimes those conversations are short, but sometimes they can last an hour.”
- Take the time – After being in this role for six years, Vrieze knows how valuable an authentic Voice of Customer (VOC) event is. It is the product managers’ job at Vermeer to host and help coordinate VOC events. VOC events can range in size and scale but usually it means sending a team of cross-functional employees from Vermeer out to visit both current and non-current Vermeer customers and dealers. Taking the time to go see the customer shows them that Vermeer values their opinion and that they are there to hear their experiences. “Because you’ve taken the time to go out and schedule an appointment with them ahead of time, they’re going to try and be honest with you. These conversations provide us a ton of value and help spark new ideas.”
- Ask open-ended questions – Vrieze always has a list of questions on his phone to refer to in case of an impromptu VOC. Whether on the phone or visiting customers, he makes sure to ask open-ended questions.
- “What was your last equipment purchase and why did you purchase it?”
"that day the light bulb went on in my head immediately that this is a problem our engineers need to help solve"
- “What is your most dreaded job on the farm/ranch?”
- “What is your perception of Vermeer?”
By allowing the customer to drive the conversation, Vrieze is able to learn what is important to the customer and the struggles they encounter while doing their job.
- Articulate customer needs – Finding the root problem isn’t always as simple as asking a question. Vrieze usually has to read in-between the lines to truly understand a customer’s struggles. “I was visiting two customers in Canada and one of them stated that the netwrap was too heavy and that they wanted us to come out with lighter netwrap. I had heard this comment many times before, but that day the lightbulb went on in my head immediately that this is a problem our engineers need to help solve. We quickly learned, the solution wasn’t a lighter netwrap, but a different way to solve the problem.”
- Refocus – The more VOC events or customer conversations Josh facilitates, the more he learns. In particular, over the years, he has learned to let the customer lead the conversation because you never know what you may learn. “Sometimes I wish I would’ve asked a follow-up question to dig a little bit deeper into some other thing they were talking about. I was focused on one problem, but they wanted to talk about a different problem that we may have had an opportunity to solve for them.
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