The woman on the phone line gasped and said, “I’m going to cry.”
Until that moment, John Deere customer Diana Forrester of Ohio didn’t know that Deere & Company CEO Sam Allen had not only read her letter, but decided to frame and hang it in a prominent place for employees and visitors to see at the company’s world headquarters in Moline, Illinois.
The letter gives her account of a bad experience with the John Deere brand: She was denied a military discount on a John Deere lawn tractor at a retail store. Her note also explains how Deere employees went out of their way to make things right and how much that means to her.
“I’m just flabbergasted,” Forrester said. “This gives me the shivers. I’m overwhelmed and so impressed by how John Deere has handled this.”
Forrester’s letter isn’t the only thing inside the frame. There’s also a gun shell casing she sent with her letter. The casing is from the 21-gun salute presented during her son’s U.S. military funeral service four years ago. A small engraved placard inside the frame says, “Importance of Taking Care of Our Customers.”
Allen said he was touched that Forrester sent the casing, knowing how much it must mean to her family.
“I elected to have it framed and displayed as a reminder of the importance of our day-to-day dealings with customers,” Allen said. “We can make a big impact when we do the right thing for the right reason.”
An Emotional Connection
When it came time to buy a new lawn tractor, Forrester wanted a John Deere for deeply personal reasons.
Buying a Deere was her way to honor the memory of her husband Bill, who was 67 when he died of colon cancer in 2010. Together they owned John Deere tractors and a John Deere Gator for their Ohio acreage. They shared a lot of great times involving that equipment, she said.
“My husband was a John Deere guy, and his favorite thing to do was to mow grass,” she said with a laugh. “That was his hobby. When he retired, he would even mow our kids’ lawns.”
The chance to get a military discount on Deere equipment was incredibly important to Forrester, too. She wanted to use it to honor her son, U.S. Master Sgt. Shawn Hannon, who was killed by a suicide bomber while serving in Afghanistan in 2012. He was 44 years old.
The discount was a way for Forrester to feel as if he was still part of her life, she said.
“His death was the worst thing that’s ever happened to our family,” Forrester said. “We miss him every single day.”
Her son’s widow came along when Forrester went to buy her new lawn mower. When they were denied the military discount, the family was very offended and angry, she said.
So Forrester immediately bought a different brand of lawn tractor, and went home to write a complaint letter to John Deere.
Personal visit with customer humbles Deere employee
That first letter ended up in the hands of Brad Sponseller, division customer support manager for Deere’s Ag & Turf Division in Region 4. He and the territory customer support managers in the field have the tough jobs of handling customer complaints, product performance issues, quality issues, and other situations that dissatisfy customers. These field managers call on customers daily, going face-to-face at John Deere dealerships, in the field, and at the customers’ farms and homes to talk about their issues and work to offer solutions and rebuild relationships.
Sponseller ended up visiting Forrester’s home, listening to her talk about her experience and share stories about what John Deere means to her family.
He explained to Forrester that only active military members are eligible for the military discount and that was most likely why it was not offered. However, he remembers Forrester saying, “Our children can sacrifice everything for our country, yet we don’t honor their family with a discount?”
The retail store had its own military discount program for Deere equipment. Deere also has its own new military discount guidelines.
Forrester’s request didn’t fit a current company program, but he understood why she was upset. So Sponseller reached out to Sean Sundberg, mass retail marketing manager at Deere, to figure out what the company could offer.
“We wanted to do the right thing,” he said. “Knowing how important the brand is to this family and what they’ve gone through in their lives, we wanted to make this right.”
Sponseller and his colleagues worked with a local John Deere dealer to provide her a new lawn tractor, which was discounted to offset the price difference on the competitor’s lawn tractor that she had purchased, along with the military discount.
The customer gratefully accepted the offer, and then wrote her second letter to John Deere, which now hangs on the wall at headquarters. In the letter, she thanks Sponseller for taking the time to visit her.
“The thing that is always so humbling to me is how she and other customers talk about John Deere – how John Deere was part of her family members’ lives,” Sponseller said. “That really puts it into perspective. We don’t just manufacture products. We impact our customers’ lives and they hold us in high regard, and have high expectations of us.”