The needs and requirements for service and support differ greatly by equipment, by customer, by site, by usage, and by many other aspects too numerous to mention. In fact, it may be said that every piece of equipment, at any particular customer site, has its own requirements for service and support.
That is why it is so important for services providers – both companies, and their service technicians – to understand the unique customer needs, requirements, and expectations for service in each of the key customer segments that it serves. Only by understanding, and acting upon, these key characteristics and patterns can a services provider hope to eventually succeed in meeting the unique needs and requirements of all of its customers, in all of its customer segments.
To assist in doing so, we suggest the following five easy guidelines:
1. “If you can speak the customers’ language, you can understand their needs better”
The only way you can truly understand your customers’ critical needs and requirements for service is to be familiar with the terminology, technology, and “buzz words” they use whenever you interact with one another. For example, if a customer tells you that they absolutely, positively have to have the system back up and running for an important weekly production run, or a regularly scheduled staff meeting, you really need to know exactly what they are talking about before you can truly understand the criticality of the failure in terms of how it will impact their business operations. It is not good enough to only understand how they use their equipment – you also need to know what they are using it for.
Once you understand what is going on – in the customer’s own language, and from their unique perspective, you will be much better equipped to address their concerns, fix the equipment, and “fix” the customer itself. However, in order to accomplish this, you will first need to have a clear understanding of what your customers are telling you, in their own words, and using their unique terms, names and examples.
2. “If you know who to deal with, you can get to the root of the problem quicker”
Knowing who to deal with in each customer’s organization is critical to the success of any long-term service and support relationship. However, in order to be in a position where you can effectively identify the principal customer contacts and liaisons, you will first need to have a fair understanding of each customer’s organizational structure and hierarchy. This will require at least a general understanding of the various titles, roles, and functions generally utilized by the customer, as well as the specific individuals corresponding to each within the organization.
The time you spend dealing with the wrong individual(s) at any of your customer sites will be time wasted, as it will likely extend the overall length of the repair process. In some cases, information given to the “wrong” individual may be worse than not providing it to the customer at all. Of course, it will never be possible to acquire and maintain total information for every one of the customers you support – but you should place yourself in a position to at least maintain the basic information for each of the primary accounts you support on a regular basis.
3. “If you know how customers use their equipment, you can help them avoid common problems, and suggest ways to improve productivity”
In many cases, the causes of equipment failures may be more a result of the way in which the customer uses the system than as a result of problems specific to the equipment itself. For example, systems used primarily for simple office applications will typically not fail with the same frequency as systems used for more complex applications in a multiple-shift production environment.
You, as the primary services provider, are typically the most qualified one to assess exactly how the customer is using the equipment, for what applications, over what time period, and with what volume of throughput, to determine whether it is being appropriately used and managed. In situations where you suspect the equipment is not being used properly, or is being over-used in terms of the original product specs or suggested levels of usage, it will be your responsibility to diplomatically point this out to the customer.
But merely pointing out the problem will not be good enough from the customer’s perspective; they will also be looking for a solution, and that solution may very well hinge on your recommendation for either reducing usage to the manufacturer’s suggested levels, or to upgrade to a newer piece of equipment that has been designed to handle a heavier workload. This will ultimately be your “call”, and one that you will be counted on to make only after you have “done your homework” of understanding how your customer has been using the equipment, and what problems they will most likely be forced to deal with in the future if they continue doing so at odds with the manufacturer’s suggested guidelines.
4. “If you understand the importance of equipment availability to your customer, you will better understand how to provide them with service and support”
The best way to address the key components of equipment service and support for an individual customer or segment is to match its services needs and requirements directly against the “cost” of equipment downtime. In other words, the “real” value of the service and support you provide to your customers can be measured either in terms of the actual costs required to keep its business systems and equipment in working order and with maximum uptime, compared against the costs that would be incurred as the result of an extended period of downtime (i.e., missed project deadlines, overtime pay for make-up shifts, etc.).
By understanding the impact that equipment downtime has on the customer’s business operations (and costs) – and how it is actually measured by the customer – you will be better prepared to provide your customer with precisely the level of support it requires when such an event happens. In some cases, you may not even have to change the way in which you provide the support – merely the way in which you communicate with the customer as you are doing so (i.e., an extra courtesy phone call or two along the way, additional information on how to avoid or prevent similar failures in the future, etc.).
5. “If you understand how your customers’ needs will be changing, you can prepare yourself to support them in the future”
By understanding your customers’ plans for growth, along with their anticipated timetables for change, you will be better prepared to gauge the expected impact that these changes will have on their service requirements in the future. If you can anticipate their changing needs, you will also find yourself in a much better position to ensure that both you – and the services organization you work for – will be able to meet your customers’ evolving services expectations.
Basically, in a case where your company – or you, yourself – has been supporting a particular customer that is planning to acquire another company, or downsize its existing facilities and/or work staff, it would be helpful for you to be aware of the forthcoming change so that you can provide your “reengineered” customer with a new “plan” for ensuring that its changing requirements for service and support will be met seamlessly, and with no unnecessary disruptions or inconveniences.
If you have already established a direct line of communications with the appropriate internal manager of business systems and equipment at the customer facility, you may also have positioned yourself to obtain some form of “early warning” that such a change may be taking place in the near future. Armed with that information, you can go back to your company management and have an appropriate “transition plan” developed in behalf of your customer to both facilitate and expedite its move to a new set of service and support needs. This will require a fair amount of interaction with other areas within your own company, and you will need to be able to work internally as a team to assist the customer with its transition.
Services providers – like yourself – must understand not only how to fix the equipment, but also how to fix the customer, and this may vary greatly from one customer to another. As a result, the most successful services providers will typically be those which:
- Speak the same language as their customers;
- Know the appropriate individual(s) to deal with respect to fostering long-term customer relationships;
- Understand how the customer is using (or possibly misusing) the equipment;
- Understand the total costs that the customer perceives to be associated with equipment downtime; and
- Are prepared to change along with the customer’s evolving needs and requirements for equipment service and support
Ultimately, your customers will prefer that you are able to “partner” with them in order to ensure that all of their equipment service and support needs and requirements are being met – both now, and in the future.