Biological crop protection is a total package. In addition to the products, a large part of it is the service. With more than 30 years in the sector, Biobest is convinced that there really is more to it than just sales and delivery. “For us, custom advice, personalised for each customer, has become the standard,” says Martin Zuijderwijk, Director of Technical Support Services at Biobest. That means nowadays they are helping growers remotely.
“Handling customers’ challenges – that, in our opinion, is our greatest concern. We want to deliver a product to the customer that he or she doesn't have to think any more about. In that sense, Biobest does not consider personalised, custom advice to be an extra; we consider it standard service.” Every single day, Martin Zuijderwijk sets the bar high at Biobest. Personal advice delivered directly to the customer is the touchstone. Biological crop protection is not just a television or a car that you purchase and then simply switch on using a button or a key. Biological crop protection concerns living insects or organisms, not robots.
“We believe that advice must be part of the total concept,” says Martin. “For horticultural companies, there are many variables in the greenhouse that can influence the final outcome our products achieve. These include temperature, humidity, the number of crops, the pests present as well as their population size… These conditions are different every time, which makes it essential to monitor the impact from close up. This enables you to respond in time, which in my eyes is more than half the success of our approach.”
“If an infestation arises, it is important to detect it as quickly as possible. While most growers know exactly which product they should use, it is better for one of our advisors to determine the dosage as a minor miscalculation can have major consequences. If an infestation evolves too quickly, we can still resort to chemical products and sometimes there are several alternatives. Often, growers are not completely at home in this field, and by reaching for the wrong pesticide they may unknowingly aid in the destruction of the entire ecosystem in the greenhouse. These are areas where our advisors add such value. On the one hand, for determining the introduction method. For example, on which leaves and at what times? On the other hand, for evaluating the existing equilibria between the pest and the beneficials present. With our extensive knowledge, we can look ahead and anticipate what is to come. There are so many different situations that can increase the complexity of the problem, and all these factors are interrelated to some extent.”
He explains how growers can put their complete trust in their advisors. By providing the combination of the right person and the right knowledge, this trust often creates a close bond between the customer and the advisor. “There have been occasions when Biobest advisors have attended a wedding or birthday celebration of one of our customers - this just shows how close these bonds can become!”
150 strictly technical advisors
One of the determining factors is the undiluted role of the technical advisors. As the Belgian pioneer in biological crop protection, Biobest aims to deliver the best service to its customers. And that is why they only engage the most specialised advisors when it comes to guiding their growers. “Worldwide, we have 150 specialists whose only job is to take care of growers, their problems and their concerns: from scouting to the specification and implementation of a strategy. Our advisors do not have to occupy themselves with sales figures that is the job of our commercial team. In other words, the people we send out to our growers are not concerned with profit margins and bonuses as, in our opinion, this could create mistrust. Our aim is for growers to put their trust in someone who is solely concerned with the condition of the crops and nothing else.”
Flexibility and advising remotely
Besides trust, flexibility is also an important requirement. At Biobest, advice is part of the package – unless the customer requires something else. Quality checks at regular intervals and rapid responses in critical situations. “In principle, our growers can expect a weekly or fortnightly visit from their specialist. In addition, they can call on our team at any time if a problem arises. If at all possible, we will pay a visit within 24 hours."
Over the last couple of weeks, the flexibility of the advisors was tested. Due to the coronavirus, they cannot visit their customers greenhouses. "We have been given the status of 'essential company' by the government in order to continue to work and provide our customers internationally with our products," explains Martin. "Horticulture is crucial for society, we also take social distancing into account. Since a few weeks we support all our growers remotely. That takes some getting used to, but to our full satisfaction. Our people have all the technological means at their disposal to still be in close contact with the growers via video conferencing, social media, e-mail traffic or other options. They can also use photo or video to make the necessary assessments and provide the appropriate advice. In this way, our service is maintained. Soon we will launch 'Crop-Scanner', an application with which we can guide the grower remotely even better on the basis of the scouting data.
Remaining alert to innovations like these and other ones in the sector is an important part of Biobest’s company vision. "Our advisors are kept up to date and are always well informed of the latest developments. To begin with, they grow their expertise themselves, in the field, by keeping their eyes open and sharing findings with one another. Of course, they also work together closely with research stations, independent researchers and our own Research & Development department. The third aspect is training, which takes place whenever possible; attending conferences; conducting demo testing at customers’ locations; and reading specialist literature. We then collect and incorporate the information gathered on our own knowledge platform."
Currently, the company is setting up a ‘Biobest Academy’ - due to be launched in the third quarter of 2020. "This Academy will enable our teams to take training courses, participate in webinars via the Internet and will also offer continuing education and training in the classroom. Another Academy goal is to provide information more broadly, ultimately to growers who will also be able to earn certifications. We want to increase customers expertise to obtain even greater results. We think it is important they are not 100% dependent on our advisors but are able to assess and understand the advice they receive.”
The cornerstones of Biobest’s success appear to be paying off. The majority of our customers are extremely loyal. “Reliability works,” concludes Martin. “The lion’s share of our customers have been following our approach for 10, 20 or even 30 years. They realise it is best for their harvests to rely on a partner they can implicitly trust. We have also noticed that many customers who, despite our efforts, decide to try another approach soon make contact with us again. It only goes to show that our customised advice and the trust that our approach instils leads to impressive results.”