INSIDE TRACK: Elsie De Nys is a powerful force in Volvo CE’s dealer development
by Cathy Smith
Her friends joke that she runs on long-life batteries – a reference to her high level of energy and preference for multitasking. Elsie De Nys admits she does have a lot of energy, whether she is driving her tractor to maintain the land around her home in the Flemish countryside, carrying out renovations in her house, or hosting a global teleconference in her role as Global and EMEA Director of Dealer Development.
Relaxation comes in the form of tai chi and yoga courses organized by the company, traveling, cooking, enjoying nature or hard physical work at home – an antidote to her office job – with responsibility for two horses, a dog, two cats and chickens in the company of her five-year-old daughter: “An excellent companion and helper,” says De Nys.
Although she studied law, De Nys has always been attracted to the world of business. Her parents ran an electrical appliances company on the Belgian coast, so she says that growing up she had the commercial and customer-minded approach “spoon-fed” to her and the importance of customer centricity has never left her. She describes it as a fil rouge – common thread – which has run through her career since she joined the Volvo Group in 2002.
At Volvo Trucks in Sweden, De Nys worked on a project to develop a sales tool for dealers in Europe. She later developed websites for Volvo Trucks in the Benelux, while encouraging dealers to increase their own Internet presence to better inform customers. She went on to manage international trade shows for Renault Trucks in France.
What she describes as a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” came in 2009 with a chance to lead 12 Renault trucks in a grueling four-and-a-half month road expedition crossing 21 countries from North Cape in Norway to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Despite relishing the challenge, spending day after day on the road brought with it real highs and lows. Faced with extreme temperatures, halted by flat tires, tough border-crossings, stuck on flooded dirt roads and stranded during breakdowns, the team nevertheless reached their destination. As well as being an adventure, De Nys says it gave her something of an insight into the tough conditions many Volvo CE customers encounter on a daily basis.
Before setting off, De Nys qualified for her own truck driver’s license.
“Learning to drive a truck meant getting the feel of the product you are selling and understanding the needs of the customer and their conditions. It is not so easy to do that with Volvo CE products – I do not have one in my garden, although it is on my wish list,” she jokes.
So how to top an experience like that? Well, look for another challenge, of course. This time it meant a move from trucks, via Volvo Financial Services, to construction equipment. Quite simply because “the machines are awesome” laughs Elsie.
“Maybe it sounds a bit cheesy, but I’ve always seen the yellow machines as fantastic – powerful and impressive – and I hoped my career path would lead me to Volvo CE one day.”
And her positions within Volvo CE – initially, heading up brand management and marketing communications for Europe and now global and region EMEA dealer development – have kept her firmly in touch with her customer-centric principles. Working in brand management meant De Nys was kept on the move giving brand workshops to dealer management teams in the company’s EMEA region. It was the discussions during those sessions that sparked her interest in dealer development.
Seeing the potential for giving greater support to dealers around the world since starting in her current position, De Nys has worked to develop the Partnership Development Program, which aims to bring manufacturer and dealer closer together. This also involved the creation of dealer operating standards, aimed at increasing customer satisfaction by helping dealers improve their customer approach and consistency of service delivery in the more than 200 Volvo CE dealerships across the globe.
“For the dealer it is clear we are there to support them and everything should lead back to increased customer satisfaction,” explains De Nys.
“It could simply be that a dealer is using outdated marketing materials – a small thing but one which has an impact on the customer,” she points out. “Or it could be a parts warehouse where we see issues in the way it is being run – it could be made to be more efficient. We provide more guidelines and help to make it better.” Partnership, she says, is the backbone of dealer development within the company, so it is not only about helping dealers improve: Volvo CE also assesses its own performance and works at continuously improving it.
“Analyzing our participation in the marketplace helps us to understand where we as a major international company developing, manufacturing and marketing equipment for construction and related industries might be lagging behind. Maybe we have a product availability or product specification issue. The aim is to improve our offering to our customers.”
De Nys says dealers have welcomed this initiative – “they want to be part of the discussion” – and she says she gets plenty of positive feedback, particularly when everyone realizes that giving customers a better service is inevitably good for repeat business. “You do not set up a partnership from one day to another; it takes time before people see this as a mutual relationship with both sides needing to put energy and time into it. We want to grow together with our dealer-partners.”
These strategic quarterly face-to-face meetings are an additional opportunity for dealers to let the manufacturer know where they need extra support. De Nys says both Volvo CE and the dealers are eager to prepare to cater for customers’ changing support needs.
“Customers are demanding more advanced services from us so how are we going to prepare the dealers for that? Some dealers are already piloting these schemes, but others would appreciate more guidance and training as well as more information about what to expect in the future. We share the ambition of our dealers to become a true solution provider for our customers.”
Twice a year, De Nys hosts a dealer development council – a think-tank where eight dealers from different markets sit around the table and discuss the issues which are keeping them awake at night. She calls this a great opportunity to keep a step ahead of the competition. Volvo CE, she stresses, has to be fast and agile – not always as easy as it may sound for a big company.
De Nys describes herself and her dealer development team as being passionate, energetic and engaged in what they do. A high level of mutual trust and open dialogue combined with a sense of fun, she maintains, make for a productive mix.