Effective aftermarket support is an opportunity. If done poorly, it could lead to unnecessarily lengthy downtime – for example, through the slow delivery of replacement parts – which will cost both the vendor and the customer. Loyalty, money and reputation are all at stake.
It’s been argued that manufacturing companies are becoming more and more like service companies, and any line between the two is getting harder to draw. There have been many articles recommending that manufacturing companies invest in a high performing customer service team to better meet their customers’ needs which previously may have been neglected.
In fact, in many ways I could say I am now tasked with much of the responsibility of selling our machines, a role that traditionally sat with sales and marketing. I say this because the most effective way to build customer loyalty is by providing excellent aftermarket support – by being agile and responding quickly to customer requests. We recently interviewed our customers and after sales support was by far the number one priority.
Technology is transforming how a traditional customer service team operates, with remote diagnostics and preventative maintenance quickly becoming the norm. This technology shift has made the importance of a quality service team paramount to its customers’ success, ensuring they can minimise machine downtime and maximise production efficiencies.
An obvious place to focus on is in after-sales service, for example in providing effective troubleshooting advice, education and training on how to get the most out of a purchase, or in finding better ways to provide replacement parts if there is an issue.
Service offerings within manufacturing companies can increase revenues, provide differentiation from competitors, and increase the loyalty customers feel. “Providing support generates a low-risk revenue stream over a long period of time,” a group of experts pointed out in Harvard Business Review in 2006.
“Aircraft manufacturers, for instance, can reap additional revenues for as long as 25 years after a sale. The longer the life of the asset, the more opportunities companies will find down the line.”
Seizing the opportunities
Machine tool buyers are increasingly expecting things like around-the-clock, unmanned operation and remote diagnostics. A machine breakdown is a critical issue, and around-the-clock responses to such an issue are expected.
As technology is enabling better use of an asset, it’s also enabling better service when there are issues. For ANCA, this means offering remote diagnostics and responding to error codes. Remotely logging on to a customer’s machine to explore issues is also possible.
But we need to continue to offer our customers face-to-face support as well. To up-skill our customers so they get the best use out of their investment.
Customer service also means responding swiftly to issues and with an installed base of over 6,000 machines, some over 20 years old, worldwide. It involves a lifetime of support for an asset, regardless of time zone or remoteness. A network of over 60 service technicians, and branches in USA, Europe, and China are also part of this, and all work in service of a simple goal: being number one in lifetime customer experience.
For all manufacturing companies, the future brings challenges, but many exciting possibilities. This includes Internet of Things concepts for customer support, and providing better information to customers on how their assets are being used through sophisticated analytics. The increasing importance of services is likely to continue, and technology will provide new and better ways of solving customers’ problems.
Five tips on how to deliver great customer service:-
- Be Responsive: It’s important to respond quickly to all enquiries, even if it’s to say you are looking into the issue and will get back to the customer. There is nothing worse than non-responsiveness to a customer who is trying to get help. Customer support response times can dictate how a client perceives your company and can affect the overall customer experience. Keeping your customers informed in a timely manner by answering phone calls and responding to emails within a reasonable time-frame are essential to great customer service.
- Ask for Feedback: You may be surprised by what you learn about your customers’ needs when you ask them what they think of your business, products, and services. Excellent customer service often comes down to consistently checking in with your customers and making sure they are happy with the products and services you’re providing. If you do that successfully, you are on your way to becoming known for providing excellent customer service. Just remember to use the feedback you receive to make improvements where needed.
- Commit to Continuous Improvement: Ask yourself at the end of the day, “What is the one thing you are going to do tomorrow to make your business better?”
- Invest in Great People: The quality of your customer service will never exceed the quality of the people providing it. If you plan to out-perform the competition, plan on investing heavily in a team that can deliver, treat employees well as there is a distinct correlation between the quality of after-sales service and customer intent to repurchase.
- Be a Good Listener: Take the time to identify customer needs by asking questions and concentrating on what the customer is really saying. Our customers are the reason we are still in business and our job is to serve our customers to the best of our ability. Good customer service starts with a genuine desire to delight your customers.
Global After Sales Manager, ANCA