Every business has competition and even when your company sells its products, you still have competition for your after-installation services. While you think that your company provides the best services for its products, sometimes the best service organization is the customer. Your responsibility is to make sure that your customer gets the appropriate level of service that it needs and that you maximize your profit.
When Is The Customer The Best Service Provider?
In industries where there is expensive equipment with very high uptime requirements, like some medical instruments and semiconductor processing tools, equipment downtime can cause highly undesirable patient outcomes or revenue shortfalls of millions of dollars per hour. In these industries, some suppliers have enough installed product in any facility that it can assign one or more service engineers to maintain its equipment for a single customer.
For example, many semiconductor fabrication plants (fabs) have large enough concentrations of Applied Materials or KLA-Tencor equipment that the manufacturer assigns 2 or more engineers per shift to maximize equipment uptime. Likewise, GE, Toshiba, Philips, and Siemens frequently assign an engineer to maintain imaging equipment in one hospital or a few hospitals in one small area. If I’ve just described your business, then you are well positioned to create high levels of revenue and profit while maintaining a close relationship with your customer. But, if not, continue reading.
In the medical and semiconductor industries, and probably many others, each facility also has a trained maintenance staff that can work on all the installed equipment. The primary advantage is that their response time is measured in minutes and not hours or days. The primary disadvantage is that these in-house engineers are familiar with a wide range of products but are not expert on any one; and certainly not as good as your engineers working on your products. If your customer decides to use in-house technician then your opportunity is to figure out how to profitably support them.
How To Profitably Support In-House Technicians
Depending on your products, industries served, and support capabilities, there are a number of ways to make money supporting the in-house techs. Here are some examples.
- Train and certify the in-house team. Responsible managers will not allow untrained people to work on their equipment. They understand the value of training, both initial and follow-up. Run classes that end with a test and provide a certification letter to both the technician and the facility. Specify a time limit after which the person should be re-certified and follow-up as you would a contract renewal.
- Provide a dedicated technical support channel. There is no point in having a technician standing in front of the equipment and being uncertain on how to begin troubleshooting a new problem. Set up a dedicated or priority support channel to minimize the wait time before the tech starts solving the problem.
- Offer priority on-site response in case the in-house tech needs advanced help. I once ran a production department with a single high-speed machine and a number of operators who did work on the product both before and after it was processed in the machine. We had a good technician but when he saw he was in over his head, we paid a premium to have a factory technician fly in and work a weekend and I never even asked for a quote!
- Offer remote support to shorten the troubleshooting process. The ability to dial into a customer’s system and see what is going on is very valuable for troubleshooting. You can make it a billable service and include it in a full support contract.
- Offer special tool kits with unique items. If your products need special tool, you should put together a service kit, and also include some consumable items. As the kit is depleted, the customer will re-order from you.
- Offer an inventory kit with key parts and rapid replenishment. The value of inventory changes based on its location. It is much more valuable sitting in the customer’s facility then in your warehouse anywhere else. This is because, for the high uptime customer, access means fast restoral time. You can store it at the customer’s location and either charge a monthly rental fee or add on an up-charge when the inventory is used in an emergency.
- Offer one or more Preventative Maintenance visits. This is easy. Businesses like someone from the factory to periodically verify that the equipment is operating properly. This is an easy but valuable service..
In addition to selling each of these services individually, the real revenue opportunity is to work with your customers to package the items they see as high value into an annual support contract and show them the other services that are available to them.
This kind of analysis and commercialization is a big part of the service marketer’s role.