Customer Engagement

It’s time to change the thought process of service providers, says Bhaskarudu Peddakotla, Consultant, Mining & Construction Machines.

We are now in the ‘Age of Customers’ where the buyers are empowered and are demanding a high level of commitment from suppliers. Simultaneously, technology is advancing rapidly in the manufacturing of machines, making equipment manufacturers competitive in incorporating the advanced features in their products, ahead of the others. Also, globalization has enabled consumers to get more options while choosing their products. Words like brand value or brand image are fading out as customers are now making their purchase decisions based on their experience of the product, and not on any perceived brand value.

Customers too have to compete to get their business going and to have their growth plans executed profitably. Asset utilization to the extent of 85% (20 hours a day working) has become a common phenomenon with a majority of the customers in order to realize their capital expenditure in the shortest possible time. So, asset reliability with consistent availability has become critical to the profitability of a business.

Customers are seeking products that perform consistently as per their expectation. They also prefer doing business with companies that offer continuous support and guidance. They will appreciate a service provider who will identify gaps in the operation and maintenance practices and advise corrective actions from time to time, rather than simply finding faults after the breakdown of a machine. A debate following a breakdown leads to conflict between the service provider and the customer as both try to defend their line of argument.

Sometimes, the service provider may win but it is at the cost of widening the gap between the customer and the service provider, and the customer may begin to consider alternative options for his new requirements. So, the major differentiator for sustaining businesses today is the quality of the aftermarket service and not just the quality of the product.

The time has come for equipment manufacturers to review their channel partners (dealers) afresh and assess their customer engagement capability. Areas where service providers need to focus:

Site conditions: It is essential for a service provider to study the site operation and maintenance conditions and guide the customer to bridge any gaps. Site conditions include haul roads, gradients, dust suppression, loading pattern, operator’s skills, adherence to scheduled maintenance of the machine, workshop, tools, warehouse, etc. We often see a thorough evaluation of the site conditions when a job is awarded to the service provider on an hourly cost for a certain period of time, with guaranteed availability. But such a focus is required for retail customers as 80% of the customer segment comprises retail customers for all construction machines.

Leveraging technology: This includes data downloading from machines, telematic operating reports, technical inspections, fluid analysis, etc. It is essential for a service provider to display value addition by analysing the data, identifying areas of improvement, and partnering with the customer in fixing the gaps.

Training operators and technicians: Most operators follow the basic operating methods as they are not aware of the advanced features in the machine. For example, they are not aware of the consequences of excess idle run of a machine, excess traveling of an excavator, the appropriate mode selection, gear shifting practices, engine switch on and off practices etc.

There are certain myths such as running the engine on idle means keeping less burden so the engine is extra safe. But the fact is that excess idling leads to issues like diesel dilution, premature wear of engine parts, unnecessary fuel consumption, etc.

Another myth is that more the engine speed, more is the load it takes. But the fact is that in any engine, the torque keeps rising up to a certain speed (say up to 1500 RPM) and starts to drop when speed increases further.

Technicians too need to be well trained; they must adhere to the scheduled maintenance (oil and filter change) and cleaning of the machines, oil storage and transfer etc. By training and monitoring the technicians and guiding the customer, the company will strengthen the bond between the customer and the service provider; which could lead to repeat orders from the satisfied customer.

Unfortunately, many service providers limit their customer services to scheduled calls during the warranty period and doing the documentation; they do not focus much on operational and maintenance practices. The post-mortem on the machine starts once it is down and the debate starts on who is at fault, followed by bargaining from both ends. Surprisingly, about 90% of premature failures are preventable if one has undertaken regular monitoring of the machine.

Main issues with customers and service providers:
  • The service provider feels that it would cost him more to spend extra time at the jobsite
  • The customer feels why should he pay service fee as long as his machine is under warranty
  • The salesperson feels that adding service cost will escalate the product cost and it will be difficult to convince the customer
They may all be correct; but when all three parties focus on the core requirement, which is, asset availability and reliability, they can come to a consensus. In fact, the service fee is a very small component when compared to the benefits obtained through consistent availability and productivity of the machine. It is the responsibility of the service provider to bring some case studies on the benefits of condition monitoring, operator training, improving site conditions etc.

Service Contracts: Most of the service providers follow a pre-defined service contract model. But one must understand that a pre-defined service package is only for guidance and not necessarily to follow. Any service contract should be tailormade as it is for the customer’s site conditions and infrastructure. Most importantly, the service provider must bring some value addition to the customer. A well executed service contract will make the satisfied customer to remind the service provider about renewing the contract.

A successful and effective service provider is one who identifies his customer’s needs and supports him to meet his intended purpose, which is consistency of machine availability with reduced downtime and reliability in performance.
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