What's this fool going to want?

July 1, 2007
This month's cover story talks about hiring and training, the ways the market is changing and the types of skills that might be required going forward.

This month's cover story talks about hiring and training, the ways the market is changing and the types of skills that might be required going forward. We also address an ongoing issue, that of finding good service technicians. As I talk with rental professionals around the country, I see more of them working to develop apprentice programs and training programs, in some cases along with colleges.

We also observe a growing trend of looking for inside and outside sales staff with customer service skills. Years ago, before I became a professional journalist, I worked as a dispatcher for a taxi company. I remember one night a customer called about a problem. When I told the supervisor a customer was waiting to talk to him, he muttered underneath his breath “What's this fool going to want?” His “why-are-you-bothering-me?” attitude was evident when he picked up the phone to talk to that customer, whose minor complaint could have been easily handled with a positive response.

A couple of nights later another customer called with a more serious complaint. There was a different supervisor on duty that evening, and he picked up the phone and said, “This is Ken, can I help you?” His choice of words, after identifying himself by name, immediately showed concern about the customer's problem, and he listened patiently and responded warmly.

Long story short, the first customer, or “fool” as the supervisor regarded him, never called back and took his business elsewhere. The second customer became a regular. It was simply a question of attitude.

Of course rental counter personnel need to know enough about equipment to help customers, but equipment knowledge can be taught. More important, that knowledge can be learned — that is, if the new hire has the right attitude and genuine interest in helping customers solve problems, he or she will be diligent in learning about the equipment. If your rental company provides that employee with the materials — be it learning videos, a training program or whatever resources you have available — and that employee is gifted with a real customer service attitude, he or she can learn about equipment quickly.

Like the Sunbelt Rentals official quoted in our “A Dozen and One Tips” says: “Why not a cell phone guy?” In other words, if a person was successful in selling cell phones, that person can be successful in promoting equipment rental services. It's all in the attitude.

Barry Himmel, of Signature Worldwide, who specializes in helping rental companies hire the right people, also writes about attitude in our cover section, saying one of the first questions rental companies should ask applicants is to relate a situation where they helped a customer who was upset solve a problem. The ability to do that may be more important than the ability to explain what a backhoe does to a customer who may already know. But can they handle a contractor upset because his equipment was delivered late or the wrong piece was delivered or he thinks he was charged too much and is cussing out the employee on the phone who he has never met and was not at fault? Find an employee who can handle that, not get aggravated and even enjoy the challenge and you have found gold.

This month, once again, acquisitions and mergers are dominating the headlines in the rental business. In this case, it's the acquisition of Snorkel by The Tanfield Group, the British company that has done a great job resurrecting UpRight. Snorkel of course was similarly brought back from the dead a few years back by St. Joseph, Mo., businessman Al Havlin and aerial industry veteran Frank Scarborough along with a group of fine employees who cared about the quality products Snorkel has made for so long.

My sense is the marriage of UpRight and Snorkel, with Tanfield's backing, is extremely positive for the aerial industry. The product lines of the two companies are complementary, with little overlap, and the combination of Snorkel's strength in the Americas and Asia with UpRight's in Europe should create a strong force.

If you haven't heard about it, check out our story in Industry News and stay tuned to www.rerreports.com for ongoing updates.

And don't forget to check out this month's On Site section about Terex' new dealership in New Orleans, led by industry veteran Donald Charbonnet and three other rental industry veterans who are lifelong New Orleans residents. As Terex Construction president Bob Isaman says, when you have dealers with passion and commitment and you invest in peoples' dreams, what can be better than that?

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