Connecting our farmers with the Co-operative

Connecting our farmers with the Co-operative

24 September 2019

The Farm Source Service Centre play an integral part in resolving real-time farmer concerns and will also play a role in the implementation of the Co-operative Difference On Farm programme.

The Service Centre have the highest amount of touch points with our farmers and so are a key part of the Co-op’s farmer facing strategy and a strategic channel for Fonterra and Farm Source.

The team is made up of 48 individuals who are required to have a strong farming knowledge and/or a passion for Customer Service and are based at the Farm Source head office in Te Rapa, Hamilton. They are tasked with developing and maintaining excellent relationships between farmers and Fonterra and offering a positive point of difference by truly supporting farmers to maintain and grow a world-class, sustainable milk supply.

As the manager of the Farm Source Service Centre, Melanie Tuck is charged with leading the farmer and customer-facing team, which is comprised of an On Farm Excellence Team, Farm Relationship Team, Support Team and Virtual Sales Team. Their goal is to connect our farmers and customers into the Co-op and provide exceptional support to the Co-ops farmer and customer base.

“No day is ever the same and I love the fact the farmer is at the heart of everything we do,” says Melanie of her role.

Some of the more common enquiries the team deal with include questions around tanker collections, milk quality issues, shares and payments, card activations, website/digital support and supporting sales campaigns. The team are required to think on their feet and problem-solve quickly.

“A majority of our work is via our voice channel. However, we do offer other channels, we implemented webchat about a year ago and its use is growing every month. Webchat is particularly useful when we need to help our farmers or customers complete online forms – we can ‘co-browse’ and see where our farmers or customers are having problems and therefore talk them through the process. This functionality has enabled us to reduce these types of calls from 60-plus minutes down to 10 to 20 minutes. We also have an email channel and head out into the field from time to time to provide support to our field teams,” says Melanie.

Unlike a traditional call centre environment, the Service Centre don’t actively measure the time it takes to resolve each enquiry. “We encourage our team to talk to our farmers for as long as they need,” says Melanie.

Over the past season the team received 146,244 inbound calls. As you would expect, the daily volumes fluctuate across the season but keeping abreast of what is happening on farm is crucial.

“The ever-changing environment we work in can be a challenge – our team have to keep across a huge breadth and depth of knowledge to be able to confidently talk to and support our farmers. There is always something new to be across, an event to be aware of, legislative change we need to know, a project impacting our team or farmers, weather events affecting our farmers and milk collections, new government regs, environmental challenges… and the list goes on. We have our finger on the pulse and the team do an amazing job at keeping on top of everything – it is my job to make sure they are supported and have the tools they need to do their jobs. Our people are what make us successful and we want to make sure they are fully supported and communicated with in a way that resonates at an individual level,” says Melanie.

It's important the team are well-prepared ahead of any announcement or issue likely to cause the queries or feedback from our farmers. “Before any media announcement the Service Centre are part of the field team briefing calls. We also receive FAQs and will usually utilise our related ‘Subject Matter Expert’ role (SME) to add further support to our team in order to better support our farmers,” she says.

There is a long list of subject matter experts within the team. They are responsible for learning about their subject and then sharing this knowledge with their colleagues and keeping on top of the detail.

“These roles can also fit with development aspirations of individuals within the team, for example our Sustainability SME is keen to learn as much about this area as possible and look to develop into a sustainability role within the business. We do have a a lot of internal movement from our team to the wider Farm Source and Fonterra business, in line with people’s internal development.”

One of Melanie’s direct reports is Amanda Sullivan, who heads up the On-Farm Excellence team (previously called the Milk Quality Team). Amanda leads a team of 12, who are responsible for helping farmers specifically with any Milk Quality issues.

Food Safety and Milk Quality is paramount to running a successful farming business and the On-Farm Excellence Team provide a key role in proactively supporting farmers to supply high quality milk in line with regulations. “Farming businesses are complex so being able to play a part in identifying Milk Quality solutions, which in turn makes their businesses more profitable in the long term, is a key driver to why we do what we do every day,” says Amanda.

It’s imperative that the On Farm Excellence team have a deep understanding of the complexity of modern dairy farming operations so it is made up of people with either strong dairy farming backgrounds, Ag qualifications, or Ag industry experience. This includes people who might have been 2IC farm managers, relief milkers, farmhands, veterinary assistants, grew up on a farm or whose family are Fonterra Shareholders.

“In short, they are a group of people who are passionate about the Dairy Industry and are strong believers in the Co-operative,” says Amanda.

“By having the combination of on farm experience as well as knowledge of compliance relating to Milk Quality, Animal Welfare etc, they are in a strong position to speak to the practices involved in running farming businesses. More importantly they are in a position to understand the seasonal pressures our farmers face.”

Grading on farm can be stressful, especially when you can’t pinpoint exactly why issues are occurring. Amanda says to be successful her team needs to have strong relationships not only with the farmers themselves, but also with the experts from the likes of FIL, Asure Quality, Qconz, Regional Food Safety and Assurance Managers who go out on farm and support them to deliver great results.

“Every day our team are talking to farmers, being able to link in with them when they are having Milk Quality issues and then providing practical solutions to resolve these. This is what drives our team to do what we do. Our farmers want to be the best they can be, so we want to continue connecting with them and supporting them throughout their farming journey,” says Amanda.

The On-Farm Excellence team will play a part in helping to make the new Fonterra Co-operative Difference model a success by supporting farmers to deliver high-quality milk, as well as preparing them for any changes which may impact their business.

Through them, farmers will have access to specialised regional knowledge, expertise and services to support best practice farm management, proactively stay ahead of regulatory requirements, and satisfy evolving consumer, customer and market expectations.

It’s a new approach to sustainability on farm and aims to make it easier for farmers to know what is expected and recognise those farmers who go beyond the minimum requirements to produce high quality milk in a more sustainable way.

“The Co-operative Difference is about Fonterra working alongside farmers to help them meet the expectations of our customers and communities, now and into the future,” says Amanda.

If you want to get it touch, call 0800 731 266