What is the role of manufacturers in providing after sales support?
4 Jun 2020
Traditionally, dealer-installers and/or integrators provide the front line of support to end user customers after a sale. Because integrators assemble and provide the “solution” – often using products from multiple manufacturers – they are most familiar with the total system and can troubleshoot any problems. However, manufacturers may be better equipped to deal with specific problems after a sale and also to provide a variety of resources to end-users. It’s a delicate balance, and the best approach may be dependent on the product or even the market. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: What is the role of manufacturers in providing support to end user customers after the sale?
Manufacturers have two key roles in supporting end user customers after a sale. The first is to make sure that the installation teams are offering the best service by ensuring they are fully trained and accredited, whilst keeping up-to-date with all the manufacturer’s guidelines and design recommendations. Secondly, manufacturers can add value by offering services directly to the end users – such as training and keeping customers up-to-date with developments in software and systems. This helps them to plan upgrades or be aware of the full capabilities of their purchases, ensuring they can satisfy enhanced use demands from changes in their operations. Undoubtedly manufacturers need to support both end users and installers, which is a win-win-win for all involved. Ultimately this means providing relevant education to installers and customers, rather than just bombarding them with marketing hyperbole.
After-sales support is one of the key elements in the lifecycle of a customer journey. The role of a manufacturer’s after-sale service is to delight and always be there for their end users, in good and not-so-good times. We are there to help, making it as easy as possible for the customer to get what they need to be successful. We want our users to know that we are invested in their success. A good after-sales service is an integral part of a quality product. While the innovative features and quality of a product are what might initially get customers interested, flawless after-sales service is what can make a sale and keep customers loyal. The customer feedback gathered by the after-sales team provides a litmus test of a manufacturer’s entire strategy and should be shared with the entire organisation from engineering to sales to communications.
While there has always been a need for manufacturers to provide ongoing support to end-user customers, now more than ever, this service is critical. Resources, such as videos, on-demand (and live) webinars, FAQs, product sheets and documentation, and much more are essential learning materials for end users when they are using our products. Integrators play an important role in training and installing a solution, but manufacturers can always provide additional value to ensure customers are receiving the training, support and resources they need to maximise their investment. This can be especially valuable in service-based products and software, where ongoing updates may result in the need for additional information to be disseminated to customers to allow for adequate use of the platforms.
The role of a manufacturer after the sale is crucial. While we do not sell directly to end-users, it is paramount we support these customers as the product has our name on the solution (hardware and software). The support we provide is everything from software upgrades, managed services, hardware support, system upgrades, and even technical support. Often, there is a support agreement that the customer's team subscribes to. These agreements differ from customer to customer and have varying degrees of support. Some companies refuse to speak with end-users, opting to push the customer back to the company who sold them the solution. While this is common, I feel it is a misguided method of customer service. It is essential that those who produce a product offer service and support to the customer who is using the solution.
A security entrance manufacturer’s responsibility to their end user customer is a substantial commitment, extending well beyond the sale with a wide scope of offerings. The goal is to keep all products working smoothly for a decade or more, maximising the owner’s investment and enabling hundreds or thousands of people a day to use the entrances safely. To begin with, the manufacturer should offer a preventive maintenance service package. A few visits a year to check on parts, lubrication and software will ensure optimal operation, keeping expensive breakdowns and urgent service requests to a minimum. What if there is a malfunction out of the blue? Interactive, online troubleshooting tools and live assistance by phone or chat can help end users problem-solve until a service technician can arrive. Manufacturers should also have a technical training programme that maintains a solid network of trained technicians. Finally, parts availability is also extremely important.
While some manufacturers like Verint do not sell directly to the customer, it is still important to support end users through the certified integrator channel. Integrators typically provide direct support to end users, but should a problem occur that the integrator is unsure how to deal with, Verint is just a phone call away. Beyond technical support, we host a variety of resources on our community page. End users can download documents, connect with others, share best practices and advice, and ask questions and get answers. By working closely with financial institutions — and partners — we are able to understand how their technology is installed and used every day, making sure that the company can appropriately invest in its portfolio. A relationship that allows the voice of the customer to be heard conveys understanding and respect. Technical support, paired with community resources, are vital when it comes to creating a trusted partnership.
The answer to this is simple if you are a traditional provider: resources that give more information about complete functionality. But to really set yourself apart, manufacturers have to do more for end-user customers than ever before. We at Arcules approach the end-user relationship a little differently, staying in constant communication as a means to assess how our service is performing and allowing us to gather information about a customer's pain points - or more appropriately, risk points. We go as far as to host co-design sessions with our customers, encompassing a couple of days to truly focus on a specific problem and build on these concepts for a broader audience. The customer gets what feels like a custom solution. We are getting insights and validation at speed. These aren’t new concepts, but in this industry that has trouble with velocity, we're finding that they are welcomed with open arms.
Companies must be helpful in the implementation of their products and also leaders in post-installation support. For example, our Delta Scientific Product Support Division is composed of dedicated, highly experienced technicians who have installed, maintained and serviced hundreds of barrier systems throughout the country and around the world at military bases, nuclear facilities, embassies, private buildings and other government facilities. Companies need to offer a range of maintenance services as well as onsite training and demonstration. Once they have provided turnkey installation services, the job shouldn’t be over. In fact, many customers ask suppliers to maintain their systems, keeping them up-to-date and functional, always ready to do their jobs at a moment’s notice. They want to count on the people that created, manufactured and installed their system to help keep it working properly. For instance, we offer monthly, quarterly or semi-annual maintenance services to cover customer needs.
Manufacturers are well positioned to provide a variety of services after the sale, sometimes in cooperation with installing dealers and integrators. Among the services listed by our Expert Panel Roundtable are training and accreditation; resources such as video, webinars and product documentation; software upgrades; and hardware support. Manufacturers should also ensure availability of parts and gather customer feedback to make tomorrow’s systems even better.
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