This week I helped one of my best customers with an all-day education event at their 600-cow dairy. A group of us educated 150 fourth-through-sixth graders at the dairy, while another group taught the pre-K-through-third graders at the elementary school. Those kids learned more about cow feed and a funny thing called the “rumen” then they thought possible.
It was a long but great day, so when we were done the family and several volunteers met up in town to share stories about all the funny things the students said. Later in the conversation, Peter, in charge of all the feeding and employee management at the dairy, was giving his dad, Jim, a hard time about how loud the ringer is on his cell phone. I chimed in and said, “Yeah, and it still takes you seven rings to answer.”
I knew I was in trouble as soon as the words left my mouth, because I have a bad habit of leaving my phone in my car or on my desk. To be honest, sometimes I just don’t answer it when I am in the middle of something. Peter, his sister, Jacqui, who cares for all the fresh and hospital cows, and Jim quickly pointed out that I “never answer” my phone!
“But you know, if you text her she will get back to you in seconds,” Peter added.
What a learning moment for me. I was not communicating the way my customer preferred; I was forcing them to communicate the way that was most efficient for me. They are very family oriented, so it makes sense they prefer a more personal method of communication. All, that is, except for their sister, Stacy, a super detail-oriented calf manager and classic millennial who prefers email.
This got me thinking. Am I making the same mistake with other customers?
When is the last time you checked with each of your customers to see which communication tool works best for them? Did you stop and ask, “What is the very best way for me to communicate with you?” If you did, were you surprised at their answers?
Technology advancements, adoption
Farmer surveys show more than half have smartphones, and the percentage of the younger dairy managers with smartphones is much higher. However, some still prefer a phone call to set an appointment, instead of texting or emailing. The point is you can’t assume – you must ask.
I checked in with Matt Budine, president of California-based Progressive Dairy Solutions, to get his insight on finding the best ways to communicate with today’s busy dairy managers and owners.
“Take the time to learn about the customer,” said Matt, emphasizing the true reason for any communication is to “motivate positive change.”
“It is the job of the consultant to be flexible: to communicate differently with the fresh cow manger than the owner, and to be in synch with all of them,” he added.
Matt admits communication stereotypes are sometimes true when it comes to producer age.
“Older clients are more likely to prefer 100% face-to-face communication; they are more likely to want ration printouts on paper,” he explained.
This comment made me stop and think how much our jobs as nutritionists have changed. Fifteen years ago we printed everything on paper, and now I seldom print a ration. I email almost everything, and find I’m texting dry matter numbers more and more.
“Younger managers might text you all day long,” Matt continued. “The communication is continuous.”
There may be some truth to preferences based on age, but take the time to be sure.
While you are asking about the best tool for communication, ask a few other questions:
- Is there more than one person you need to check in with at the farm – maybe the feeder, fresh cow manager or calf manager?
- If you have been working with the farm for a long time, has the dairy grown? If so, is there anyone you need to add to your contact list?
- Are you communicating with all of them in the method they prefer?
A friend of mine runs a successful dairy operation of a few thousand cows. I asked him how many salespeople or consultants he works with have ever asked how he prefers to communicate.
“Only two, and they are my favorite ones,” he responded.
Are you communicating with all your customers the same way? If so, you are probably using the best form of communication for you, but is it best for them? We should be serving our customers, not gently forcing them to conform to what suits us.
So just ask. You might solidify your spot as their “favorite” consultant, the one who helps them – as Matt says – “motivate positive change” by showing them that you can change, too.
Laura Daniels is the owner and general manager of Heartwood Farm in Cobb, Wis., and a business consultant with Star Blends Feeds in Sparta, Wis. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.