CX Success Stories – HOLT CAT

Edward Craner, SVP of Strategy and Marketing, HOLT CAT, shares how they have transformed their company with feedback over the past 13 years.


Lynn Daniel (00:03):

I’m with Edward Craner, who is Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategy with Holt Cat of San Antonio, Texas. Edward, thank you. Glad to have you with us today. I think maybe first of all, just tell us a little bit about Holt.

Edward Craner (00:21):

You bet. So Holt Cat is the machine and engine Caterpillar dealer for about 118 counties in Texas. The Holt family has been in heavy machinery since the late 1800s when Benjamin Holt, who’s credited with inventing the track type tractor, was making wagon wheels in Stockton, California.

So from there we were the smallest Caterpillar dealership in the United States, started in 1933, and have since become the largest Caterpillar dealer in the US. The Holt family is fifth generation today. Peter and Corinna run the company. They are fantastic young people who have brought a lot of innovation and energy into the industry and into our company. We have about 3000 employees and we have about 50 locations, represented, of course, Caterpillar, but a number of other brands that are focused on the on-highway truck, manufacturing, construction technology, and a number of other verticals.

Lynn Daniel (01:32):

Yeah. Holt has changed quite a bit over the years since I’ve become familiar with the company. Quite a lot. So I want to go back. You were involved early on with the Holt program, a CX program. I think you guys started in 2007. What were management key objectives for getting into CX and getting this program going back then?

Edward Craner (01:58):

You bet. So, for some context, I joined Holt in 2008, January of 2008. And I had come from a career in telecom where we’d done a number of mergers, major mergers and acquisitions, and in the context of doing that, we would always go in and look at what the customer base is. What does the customer think of this acquired company, and how do we need to work to either take those key learnings and move to our existing company, or something that maybe we need to change.

And so getting customer feedback in a very dynamic manner has always been a part of my belief system or my orthodoxy when it comes to operating in a company, especially a multinational one like the one that I came from. So I remember sitting in the meeting here at Holt, and I’m starting to understand that for Cat dealers, we have some very, very large customers. And then we have a lot of smaller customers that don’t make up as much of the profit or the revenue, but are equally important.

And so once that picture was unveiled, and it was like, “Wow, holy cow, there are a few customers that make up a lot of our revenue. And there are a lot of customers that make up a little bit of the revenue. How do we know how we’re doing?” Back then in 2008, we did some studies and we quickly came to the realization that the large customers, fantastic. We had assigned sales personnel that were assigned to their accounts. We always say, “We knew our customer’s name, we knew their spouse’s name, and we knew their hunting dogs name.” But when you got into that long tail of customers that maybe we didn’t know so well, we had no way of gauging what that feedback was.

And so understanding that that’s where the future was going. We did a couple of surveys and we did some studies. We did some market research. And quickly, we were told that the perception was that we’re expensive and we’re hard to do business with. So, that’s not the type of market research that you’re excited about hearing. You want to be easy to do business with. You want to be price competitive and show the value of what it is that you provide to the customers. And we believed we had that.

And so getting the customer feedback on a regular basis became A1 in our book of things to do. Our task list quickly shifted from, not from, but just made much more of an emphasis on getting that customer feedback. So then we had to figure out how to do that. At the time, there were a lot of survey mechanisms out there, but we were introduced, of course, to Lynn, to you and your team, the Daniel Group, and the the evolution of the net promoter score at the time and the science behind it, was starting to take off.

And so, as a result of that, we said, “Well, if we’re going to be a customer focused organization,” which we had been for 80 years, “why would we stop? Maybe this would be a good way to do that.” So we launched that journey, looking at customers from across the spectrum, and started to get the feedback. And initially, the feedback wasn’t the best. We love Holt. You guys do a fantastic job, but you’re too expensive. You don’t communicate well. There’s a gap between what is said it would cost and what the actual invoice was.

And so being able to take that feedback and say, “Wow, maybe we believe in our own press a little too much. And we need to understand why it is that maybe we have some of these gaps in expectations from our customers.” We always talk about the what and the how. What we do is fantastic. We’ve got some of the best trained technicians and parts personnel out there. Our managers care deeply. We have a set of values that we live by where ethical and a caring attitude are at the top of them. And yet, somehow that wasn’t translating consistently to all of our customer base.

So as we started to get the feedback that there were gaps in the way that we were showing up, we started to consider that to be the breakfast of champions. We thought, if we can get that, we can eat it. We can understand it. We can love it. We can get more of it, that it could help our operations.

At the time, we were in the low seventies, as far as our net promoter score. And we thought, “Well, that’s not too bad, but it’s not where we want it to be.” As we looked at it, a mean score is interesting, but a median is even more so, in my opinion, because that looks at that distribution of your customers. And we were, again, the median was down there around 70%, low seventies. And today, I’m happy to say, we’re in the low eighties. Not where we want to be, but not where we used to be.

So it’s been a fantastic journey over the last 13 years. We’ve heavily relied upon Lynn, your team and your ability to execute against what it is that you provide to us, which is a fantastic customer touch point to gain and glean deeper understandings about operationally, where we’re hitting it out of the park, which we do on a regular basis. But more importantly, where it is that we can do a better job taking care of our customers.

Lynn Daniel (08:10):

How do you see your CX program evolving in the future, Edward? What are some things that you see changing about the way your CX program operates?

Edward Craner (08:26):

Thirteen years ago, when we kicked off our customer experience program, social media was a neophyte. It was something that was very much on the peripheral. We basically had, other than direct feedback, like customer giving us a call or talking to a sales rep, we had very few means in order to gain customer feedback. That’s why we engaged Daniel’s group and we did the transactional survey, which we do today, and we will continue to do.

But since then, probably the first thing that diversified our customer feedback was through what we call our signature line. And that was literally asking on every email for every employee is, “Did we earn a 10 today?” And a number of companies within different industries have done that and executed against it. That was a great way for us to go beyond the survey method, is just literally right then, I’m making a promise that I want to earn a 10. And whether that was with an external customer or whether that was an internal stakeholder, it really didn’t matter. I want to know, am I showing up the right way? And am I providing solutions to the stakeholder group?

And then, which we all know, the ubiquitous nature of social media. All of a sudden Facebook posts, Instagram messages, tweets, LinkedIn, YouTube, there’s all these different ways and all these different means in which we’re gaining and we’re grasping customer feedback. To be able to bring that in, in a rational way and then respond, has been an ongoing challenge. But we think that as we continue to filter in all the information, try to stay away from data overload and don’t make it one person’s responsibility.

We do have a customer experience manager and Denise Leaders in that role has done a fantastic job. But if it’s one person that becomes that constraint or that throughput constraint, then it becomes a challenge to get everybody engaged in it.

So one of the things that we’ve utilized is we utilize the Daniel’s Group, that survey mechanism, as a means to do employee engagement. So we recognize our employees based on the scores that they get. Or better yet, if they get a shout out from a customer, unsolicited, then we immediately reward that employee and say, “Hey, that’s a way to go.” We’d like to see more of this. And we know that’s happening out there each and every day. But if our employees know that they get recognized for their legendary customer experience, we call it, then that’s even a better way for us to just continually reinforce that a customer experience is truly the last differentiator. We can all sell products, we can all provide services, but it’s that customer experience that is the one thing unique to us and to every company that is the last differentiator in the market.

Lynn Daniel (11:48):

Edward, thank you so much. I very much appreciate your comments today, and very, very insightful. Again, thanks so much.

Edward Craner (11:56):

You bet. Thank you, Lynn.

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