After 2014 launch, in-house program is already seeing updates for 2015
For more than a decade, Polaris Industries offered extended service contacts as many OEMs do — Polaris worked with third-party providers as a sponsor of their ESCs, leaving the claims decisions and administration to the third-party company.
However, recently Polaris decided that it wanted to stop sending customers away to another company and instead wanted to be more involved in the buyer’s new vehicle life cycle.
“It just got to a point where our dealers kept asking and actually, our customers wanted, the company experience, or a factory experience, so we made the decision about two years ago to take the business in-house to be administered by Polaris,” Tony Poll, extended warranty manager for Polaris Protection, told Powersports Business. “So using some of the same synergies of how we handle our standard factory warranty, we’re able now to offer all of those same benefits and that same customer experience throughout that whole extended warranty period as well.”
Polaris didn’t go into its own ESC administration on wishful thinking, however. The OEM conducted extensive consumer research that confirmed its reasons for wanting to bring the service in house.
“We found through our consumer research that 82 percent of consumers want factory-backed coverage; they want factory-administered coverage, so it was really an easy decision once our ducks were lined up,” reported Chris Splan, Polaris Protection marketing analyst. “Our dealers are asking for this; we know our consumers want this, so why don’t we marry the two together? We’re already partnering with our dealers; let’s bring them something that Polaris is known for, which is that premium Polaris experience.”
Research also found that 46 percent of consumers said they wouldn’t buy extended coverage unless it was offered directly by the vehicle’s OEM. To Polaris, this meant that without a factory program, its dealers were missing out on about half of the ESC business they could be earning.
With research showing significant upsides to an in-house ESC program, Polaris went to work developing its Polaris Protection, which was launched in January 2014. Polaris Protection covers Polaris off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, Brutus, GEM and the Slingshot, while Indian Protection is designed for Indian motorcycles, and Victory Protection covers Victory motorcycles. Each program offers up to five years of an extended service contract.
Long list of benefits
Polaris’ primary goal when developing its own ESC program was to streamline the process for customers, allowing them to work with one company throughout the buying and aftersales process.
“We wanted to get to a new level — a new level of customer service, expectations and where we can actually make it better and have a better impact,” Poll said.
However, there were also a number of positives found in the program for dealers and Polaris itself.
For Polaris dealers, the program is seamless. All Polaris Protection products are available in the same portal dealers use for other Polaris services. Dealers can add, cancel or transfer a contract with the click of a button, and the same customer service reps that dealers are accustomed to working with handle any questions. The ESC is also integrated with warranty registration, so a service contract can be sold as the vehicle is being registered for warranty. Dealers are also billed for ESCs through their open lines of credit with Polaris, meaning they don’t have to keep track of how many they sold each month or week and mail a check. The ESCs are also active immediately, so dealers could hypothetically file a claim as soon as an ESC is sold.
Polaris is also running its ESC claims similar to its warranty claims, so the process is nearly identical. No claim administrators or adjusters will be sent to the dealership; instead the same team that approves warranty claims at Polaris also approves ESC claims. And that team provides a decision in less than an hour in most situations, so dealers can quickly get their customers’ vehicles repaired and back on the road.
“Dealers don’t have to take a risk; they don’t have to guess what may or may not happen with Polaris because they know us,” Poll said. “They know us first for their factory warranty period and then they know us there and beyond. They don’t have to chance it by losing customers because of a bad experience.”
Polaris has also seen positives in terms of efficiencies. The OEM has mostly leaned on its already-existing warranty and customer service teams to help with the ESC process. And though the administration system had to be built from the ground up, Polaris was able to leverage its internal staff and resources to complete the task. The only additions to the team specifically for the ESC program were Poll, who has worked with Polaris since 2004 and most recently served as an Arizona-based DSM, and Splan, who joined the company in March 2014.
“We built the machine; our service techs are trained on the machine; they know what to look for on the machine. It’s all that same one-company process,” Splan said. “If you have that gap in there of people that don’t know your product and don’t know your machines, you find inefficiencies in the way that you adjudicate claims.”
It was a learning year in 2014 for Polaris. Luckily, when ESCs are sold on brand-new vehicles, few claims are filed within the first year, so 2014 gave Polaris staff time to ease into the ESC process.
“2014 was really good. It gave us the opportunity to learn, to establish benchmarks in administration, to get our service levels to optimal points out to where our hold times and our claims times are fast and efficient. We didn’t really see a whole lot of claims volume in the beginning because obviously as you buy a new contract, you don’t really see new claims,” Poll said. “We’re starting to see that and toward the end of the year, we started to see a good volume come through claims, so we could actually adjudicate and administer those claims, and we’ve seen some really, really strong results from the way that we handle them.”
With one year of the in-house ESC system behind Polaris, the OEM is already focused on improving the program.
Starting March 1, a number of changes have been implemented. One is a new pricing structure. When Polaris introduced its ESCs, it launched with pricing based off MSRP, which was different than the former cc engine-size pricing model. However, the MSRP pricing was confusing to some, so this year, pricing will be per model.
“The way that Polaris is advancing, it’s not about the motor. It’s more about what does our rider look like, what do our chassis look like, what is the technology that goes into the machine. So it’s much more dynamic, and our new pricing structure captures that. It captures that rider and that type of experience, so it’s really a very accurate way to reserve those dollars, so that when a claim comes in, we’re not over reserved, and we’re not under reserved — because either way, it’s an inefficiency,” Splan explained.
Each ESC product will be available in a new Quick Quote system on the dealer intranet, allowing dealership employees easy access to the pricing, so they can offer quotes from anywhere in the dealership.
For 2015, Polaris has also added a second tier of coverage. Customers can now choose from Total Coverage, which is the same as the ESC offered in 2014, or they can buy Powertrain coverage, which is similar to an automotive powertrain product and will cover the engine, transmission and electronic control unit.
“Then [buyers] have the ability to say, ‘You know what? My risk isn’t that great, but I do want to have my motor covered,’ so they’ll be able to buy Powertrain-only coverage,” Poll said. “We’re going to allow the dealers to use Quick Quote to see what those prices are for both coverages and then be able to spin the computer monitor around and do a customer view and say, ‘Here are your options. Which one do you want?’ They’re all boxed out nice and neat, and so that’s a nice tool, and we’re excited that we’re going to be able to put the power in the dealers’ hands to deal with presentation that way.”
Polaris is also going to offer more benefits with the ESC, such as towing reimbursement and rental assistance, so if an ATV, for example, comes with six months of factory warranty, and the buyer also purchases Polaris Protection, the buyer will receive those extra benefits.
Other value-adds to the ESC for 2015 include a $1,000 trip interruption benefit for vehicles that need ESC-covered repairs on trips more than 200 miles from home, and Polaris has added complimentary motorized accessory coverage for winches, spreaders, heated cabs and other motorized Polaris-engineered accessories purchased with the vehicle.
As the program advances, Polaris also expects to continue to enhance it year after year. The goals: giving customers the best coverage for their Polaris vehicles while easing the process for dealers.
“We just really like the way that the customer gets the service from us,” Poll said. “It’s clean; it’s simple; it’s understandable. It meets their expectations.”