Last week, during a discussion with the CEO and the Board Chair of a new client, I was asked “How long do we have to support products that we sell?” Have you ever been absolutely certain you knew something and then found out you were way wrong? That happened to me.
My assignment is to help the business design and commercialize a series of service and support contracts where none currently exist. During a discussion, I was asked “How long do we have to support products that we sell?” Like most of my associates, I knew the answer, which I willingly shared. I said, “According to the UCC, you must support products for a minimum of seven years after last customer ship!” They were extremely grateful for the quick response.
When I returned home I did a Google search and found lots of links to the UCC (Universal Commercial Code). Unfortunately, as I looked around, I could not find any references to any length of time for product support. I got a little anxious so I reached out to my network. First came a response from a Product Manager. He said:
“The source for your answer is in your license and support agreement with the customer. For example, agreements have a warranty clause such as “Vendor warrants that a program licensed to you will operate in all material respects as described in the applicable program documentation for one year after delivery.”
In general, as long as you are collecting payments for support, you must support the product. To avoid major conflicts, make certain you use standard product management best practices for life-cycle management when ending support for a product, including but not limited to a published end-of-support timeline and a replacement or upgrade path for the purchased functionality. Hope this helps,”
That sounded very insightful, and it made sense but, after all, he is a Marketing person and I am from Service. So, I next reached out to a good friend who is a long-term General Manager of his company’s Service Division. We had a long and rambling discussion over good Vietnamese food, but I will spare you most of the conversation. His key points concerning the UCC and product support were:
- Most people believe the requirements are specified in the UCC
- Most people believe the term is either 5 or 7 years
- Most people are incorrect
- You are only required to abide by your company’s written offers and by any contracts your company has signed. In other words, this is a case-by-case situation for you to manage.
How Did I Not Know This?
Easy! I was fortunate to work with people who, like me, tried to always do the right thing and treat people well.
- We stopped selling service contracts long before we determined that we would no longer be able to support old products
- We communicated with all effected customers at every step of our decision making process
- We made sure customers knew the features and benefits of our newest products and we offered incentives to upgrade old products
- We maintained repair parts, trained support and field technicians, and had a capability to repair old parts long after they were out of production.
- We took old items in trade-in for new equipment
- In other words, we really did the right things. And our customers appreciated the efforts we went to and rewarded our efforts with their loyalty and their money.
In summary, read and monitor all purchase orders and make sure you are prepared to support your products for as long as your customers expect. If there is a disconnect, negotiate. You may lose a little business but you will certainly earn their respect. And you will probably land on a solution that works for both parties. For example, they may want to purchase and stock critical spare parts that you think will become obsolete first.
In any case, the service and support organization has to be working closely with product management planning end-of-live long before that fateful day arrives.
PS – I immediately wrote to the CEO and Board Chair and they were both very grateful that I followed-up, quickly corrected my error and clearly communicated my story to them. I believe I earned their trust and boosted my earned confidence with them.