The Service Department



Getting the most out of your service department or the service department challenge.

Paper on improving the Service Department

by Hubert Crowell



Table of Contents

Introduction

Chapter 1 Service, the end users view

What is expected

Experiences good and bad

Promises not delivered

Down Time

Chapter 2 Service, the Manufacturers view

Need for Service

New Product Phase

Mature Product Phase

End of Product Life

Chapter 3 The Service Department caught in the middle

Wake up time

Turn around time

Factory Feedback

Keeping it Simple

Replace or Repair?

Chapter 4 Improving the Service Department

Repair Flow

Tracking the Repair

Use of a Web site for status of repairs

Customer relations, contact with the customer

Should the customer have to make more than the first call?

Are feedback forms needed?

How do you measure customer satisfaction?

Keeping Sales involved

Making Changes

Chapter 5 Warranty Repairs

Priority

Repair or Replace

Chapter 6 Non Warranty Repairs


Introduction

After working in service for 23 years with Eastman Kodak Company as a service person, technical support and training specialist, followed by another 13 years working for other companies in the service field, I have decided to share my ideals on improving the service department. I would like to thank Jack Ingram, my supervisor at Eastman Kodak Company for the encouragement and guidance until his retirement.

I would also like to thank Barco Projection Systems and all the great employees that worked with me for the last seven years before I retired.

I have been fortunate to be able to work in the service area during a time when equipment was still being repaired. It has been a rewarding field to see the results of your efforts appear before your eyes as you replace a blown transistor and the equipment comes back to life, or to see the expression on some TV owners face when the picture improves. There was also the joy of teaching others from vocational school television repair courses to new product training in big corporate training rooms. There have also been hard decisions to stay in service or move onto management. I choose to remain at the repair and training level and was able to find some companies late in my career that were still making repairs at the component level.

I watched with interest recently as the copy repair technician worked on our old model copier at our church, I could see the pleasure he was having searching for the solution. And also shared with him in the celebration when he solved the problem. We shared a few service "war stories," as he left for his next call. He also related how he was going to miss the older copiers.

When I was working every day in a technical support role, I believe that I was so close to the problems that I could not see the overall picture. You go in each day and face the day to day challenges and your mind is centered on these and not much else. Now that I have been away from service for about a year and started to reflect back on my career I see things a little different. It's like working on a problem and then when you get away from it for a while, things begin to clear up and answers start to come.

Service is more than just repairing equipment and future service may not involve repairing equipment at all. Technology is changing at a very rapid pace and replacement rather than repair is more common than ever. In this paper I will try to explore both possibilities. What can we do to improve the service department that we know today and what can we do to be better prepared for the future?

We have no way of knowing the future. However, we do have some clues. We see small IC chips now doing the jobs that before took hundreds of parts, this also leads to the need for smaller power supplies that are even now single components. Even the mechanical parts are improving and lasting the life time of most products. Liquid Crystal Displays are replacing the television and computer monitors, and even the LCD and Plasma displays will soon be replaced with organic LED displays that will require even less power and look as good or better. All products are going through similar changes and further reducing the demand for service repairs.

Chapter 1 Service, the end users view

What is expected

Customers expect equipment to be returned in good working order in a reasonable time frame. They also expect all settings and adjustments to remain as they were when the equipment failed. The end user is reasonable, and they do not expect overnight repairs at any charge. They have been taught through experience not to expect to much. So it should be easy for a service department to exceed their expectations.

A happy customer is one that is kept advised of the status of the repair and is aware of the cost before the repair is made so that they can make cost-effective decisions. I have found, in talking with customers over the years that the more that they understand about the problem the more they are willing to work with you. One must however, be careful not to disclose negative short comings of the company or of fellow employees. The best rule is that if you cannot say something good or positive about the company or a fellow employee, then say nothing at all. However mistakes do happen, even with the best employees. Mistakes will be made whenever action is being taken, we learn from these mistakes and try not to repeat them. Honest mistakes can be admitted without mentioning names and this can be a positive from the customers' view point. Mistakes are always best disclosed before the customer discovers them and brings them to your attention.

Employees should be encouraged to bring mistakes to their supervisors as soon as they are aware of them. This should not be viewed as a bad thing but a good action on the part of the employee, so that the mistake can be resolved as soon as possible. An employee that never makes mistakes may be too cautious and may not be productive, I would challenge this type of employee to be more aggressive and try new things.

If your customers deal with more suppliers than you, then you need to know what the other suppliers are doing to meet their needs. End users are usually more than happy to share this information with you. This will help you in your decisions to replace or repair and to what level. You should always try to exceed their expectations.

End users expect some startup problems with new products, but also expect fast corrections, this is where the need for fast and effective communications with the factory or manufacturer is required.

When a customer calls in with a problem, they are grateful for any help they can receive. Any time the problem can be resolved by phone or e-mail you have exceeded their expectations. So a good service department starts with good phone support.

Experiences good and bad

The second call made by a customer relating to the same repair is a bad experience and should be prevented. If the stage of repair is phone support, the person providing the support should always try to be the person returning a call, not waiting on the customer, unless this is not convenient for the customer. There is nothing wrong in taking the customers' number or e-mail address and telling them that you will find the information and get back with them, just be sure that it is in a timely manner.

After the equipment has been returned for repair contact should always be initiated by the service department by a phone call or by e-mail. E-mail is now preferred by most customers and should have a very clear subject line. Sometimes the subject line may be all that is required, letting the customer know that the equipment as arrived or that the repair is in progress.

An employee that does not come in contact with the end user will be very reluctant to call or contact the customer. This fear can only be overcome by making repeated contact. I have found that even after years of phone support with end users, the more time that goes by without this contact makes it harder to start the contact again. Don't let an employee fall into the trap of just repairing equipment without becoming involved with the end user.

The repair person should be contacting the end user anytime there is a question about how the equipment is used, settings that are in question or even to find out what the end user is expecting from the equipment. Many times the problem cannot be found, returned to the customer and then returned to the service department again for the same problem, only to discover that it is not the equipment but what is being expected of the equipment by the end user.

Promises not delivered

How many times have we promised a repair will be ready on a given date? If we make a commitment to a customer, then we should have a backup plan in place in case we cannot deliver. Have a service loaner available, or be prepared to replace the product with a new one or an equivalent restored unit. Employees should be encouraged to leave such commitments up to their supervisor, who would have the back up plans.

There are always unknowns when making repairs, we may see a problem and make a commitment only to find another problem later which will delay the repair process. This should be viewed in the same way as an honest mistake or oversight and be brought to the attention of the supervisor and the end user, so that they can plan accordingly.

One broken promise can wipe out all the promises delivered in the past to a customer. A good friend and coworker of mine had a saying "Some times you eat the bear and some times the bear eats you!" We can't always win but it helps when we have a backup plan or someone to call on for help. That fresh approach at a problem from another person is sometimes all it takes. Just don't take too long to ask for help.

Down Time

Down time is critical for a customer and when equipment arrives at the service center for repairs, every effort should be made to assure a quick turn around.

Starting with the phone support, calls should not drag out. If progress is not being made on the repair, then the next step should be taken. Some companies have a Red Alert system for onsite service. A 4-4-4 Red Alert system works very well when working with an onsite service person. When the onsite service person has spent four hours on a problem and does not have the answer or know what must be done to resolve the problem, they must then call for technical support. Technical support then works up to four hours with the technician on the site. If both parties have not resolved the problem in a total of eight work hours, then the problem is escalated to a Red Alert stage. At this time sales should be advised so that they have the opportunity to work with the customer on non repair solutions. In some cases the problem is escalated to a senior technical person or maybe the factory.

If repairs are normally done at the service center then the decision, by the phone support person, to return the equipment should be made within the first four hours or whatever time frame is acceptable in your market.

If phone support is working with a customer doing their own repairs, then care must be taken not to proceed beyond the technical ability of the customer. This will vary greatly and will require skill on the part of your phone support person.

When working for the RCA Service Company, when color television was just becoming popular, they had a 30 minute rule for the regular house call. If you did not have the answer to the problem within 30 minutes, you were required to call the bench person for assistance. They would give you a couple of things to try and if that did not fix the problem, you removed the chassis for return to the shop for repair. Taking 10 to 15 calls a day will really sharpen your skills. One trick I soon learned was to line up the easy looking calls for the morning (when possible as I laid out the route), and then I would save up some extra time so I could spend it at the end of the day working on a good problem on my own.

Chapter 2 Service, the Manufacturers view

Need for Service

Most manufactures view service as an added expense and burden. Their goal is to build a product that does not require service. Upper management and sales usually present design with a need for a product, and when the product has been designed and sales estimates have been made, it is up to manufacturing to produce the product at the lowest possible cost. Serviceability is usually over looked unless the company has a strong service department that becomes involved in the design and manufacturing stages.

New Product Phase

During the new product stage manufacturing may look to the service department for flaws or early problems. This is usually a very short time frame with few numbers of equipment to work with. So it is very important to keep the factory advised of all failures during this period and supply as much detail as possible. It is very tempting to make easy repairs at this stage and not inform manufacturing, however these problems will continue to occur throughout the life of the product, resulting in a poor image for the company.

A tempting trap for the service department, is to find an easy fix and not share the problem with manufacturing. This problem is usually lumped into the list of easy repairs shared between repair technicians, and in some cases not shared, resulting in a quick turnaround of the repair making the technician look good. This may result in additional profit for the service department, however the company as a whole will suffer due to more frequent equipment failures. If you are not seeing modifications for improving new products, then there is something wrong. Problems are not being reported or are being ignored by manufacturing.

Near the end of the new product stage, manufacturing will believe that they have a good product and will become very reluctant to listen to the service department about problems. Even more details and numbers must be collected in order to correct design or manufacturing problems.

Mature Product Phase

If chronic equipment problems have not been addressed by this time, you can expect to deal with the problems through the remaining life time of the product. A good service department will then stock the required parts for quick fixes or come up with their own modifications to avoid repeat repairs. If the cost of these repairs can be reflected back to manufacturing and design, then you can usually get help with the modifications, however this is rare. So do everything that is possible during the New Product stage to identify problems and notify the factory or your supplier.

End of Product Life

At this stage, sometimes within two years, the product is being replaced and the company would rather sell the new product over the older one. The service department now has a real problem. How do you keep customers happy who are not ready to upgrade to the newer equipment?

At the end of the warranty period, the service department has an opportunity to make a profit on the repairs for the company. However, this may be at the expense of loss sales in a new product. Each repair must be evaluated for the customer to see if it is more cost effective to buy the new model or repair the old. Guide lines should be in place for each product with a set percentage as a guide as to when to advise the customer that a trade up would be advisable. Maybe a trade in value could be worked out with sales to encourage the sale. The service department should be credited with these sales in order to show a profit as the profit from the repair would be lost.

Is there a market for the old product? If there is a market need for the old product then the service department can continue to make a profit repairing the product as long as manufacturing is willing to keep supplying parts.

When I started working for Eastman Kodak Company, I was working in a reconditioning center where we rebuilt equipment from the bottom up, even with a fresh coat of paint. There was a good market for the used equipment as smaller companies could not afford new equipment right away. Sales would use the lower priced rebuilt equipment to get in the door and later take the equipment back on trade for upgrades on new equipment. I can recall rebuilding the same unit more than once. However the life time of a product was 10 years or more, where now the life time of a product may only be months.

Chapter 3 The Service Department caught in the middle

Wake up time

By now you may be realizing that the service department is really caught in the middle, between the sales department and manufacturing. This is a real challenge for the service department. In order to survive we must build a strong working relationship not only with the customers but also with the sales department and the manufacturer or supplier. I would recommend that each employee be assigned to a liaison group by product line to work as a point of contact between sales and manufacturing. This should be at least two or three employees meeting weekly on new products and monthly as the product ages. They should discuss items such as equipment problems, guide lines for upgrades, trade in values, critical parts, and other items that would improve the relations with the end user. It would help if the groups maintain a list of general subjects to go over to help remind each member of problems they have experienced or of information that was given to them by other technicians.

The service department should initiate this process as we have more to gain, (our jobs). The service department should accept the challenge of pulling these four groups together for the good of the company. The service department is usually the point of contact when problems arise.

I would recommend that one person in each liaison group be assigned to be the contact person for sales and another person be the contact person for manufacturing, so that each has only one primary responsibility and that they contact their counterpart after each meeting even if to report that there are no problems. This will insure that the lines of communications remain open.

If aggressive action is not taken by the service department to address problems and work toward solutions, then others will take action and question the need for the service department. In the future products will not be repaired, but discarded I see this taking place all the time. As an example, I own a very expensive DataScope compass, it started to loose one of the segments in the readout. This is usually a very common problem of a bad contact. The company would not repair, only replace the scope at the dealer cost after the warranty period. The unit was completely sealed and non repairable. I destroyed the unit to discover that I was correct, a bad contact.

The service department must evolve into an information service from a repair service. There will always be a need of more information about products and a point of contact for our customers. We should learn all we can about each new product and become the information point of contact within the company. This information will help now with repairs and later justify our existence when repairs are no longer needed. There should always be a need for a technical person who understands how the equipment works that can explain this to others.

Turn around time

We should always be looking for ways to shorten the repair time. I have already talked about some ways this can be addressed when doing on site repairs, but what about when the equipment is returned to the shop or repair center.

One approach I learned from a coworker in my first year with BARCO Inc., was to go through the repair list each morning and clean out all the easy repairs, saving the harder ones for later in the day, this assured him of always completing several repairs each day. When you work on one unit at a time not moving on until you have completed each repair, you can become bogged down and defeated. It is good to see some completed work each day to feel good about yourself. If you are stumped on a problem, switch off and work awhile on another unit, when you come back to the hard problem something may come to mind to try. However, don't leave the harder units alone for too long before requesting help. Set yourself a time limit to use as a guide for when to ask for assistance.

Lack of parts is usually the most frequent cause of long delays in the repair time. Those who are in charge of stocking parts are always under pressure to keep inventories low and only stock parts that have a high usage and scrapping or returning parts that have not been used in a given time frame.

After years of service work I have observed an anomaly, and if you talk to someone who has been in service work for a long time I believe they will tell you the same thing. The need for a given part will run in threes, you may need a part three times in a row and then not need the part again for over a year! I have always had a problem with stocking procedures that are based on usage.

With onsite repairs where the technician carries some parts, it helps when the other technicians know who has what. When I worked doing on site repairs for Eastman Kodak Company, we each kept a list of the parts carried by the other, then if it was quicker to meet and pick up a part rather than drive back to the stocking location, we would do so. We also made sure that someone had at least one part that may be needed if it was not stocked at the stocking location.

Some times a unit will be stripped of parts for repairs, the problem with this is that the part may not be replaced right away and the time for removing and reinstalling the part is doubled. Another solution is to keep assembles in stock and replace the assembly when the smaller parts are not available. Technicians will usually start to keep a hidden stock of parts from previous repairs if the parts are not available.

I think that the best solution would be to keep a well-stocked part department, with every part that would be required. The level of repair that you are performing should determine what you stock, assembles or smaller parts.

Factory Feedback

We have discussed some of this in an earlier chapter. However, I cannot stress strong enough how important this is with the introduction of a new product. I would advise sending your contact person for each new product to the factory for a visit. They should tour the assembly line, take notes, pictures, and collect part numbers to use as manuals until the manuals are available. They should also talk to the workers on the line to find out about any difficult areas or problems they are experiencing.

Now you have a strong contact person who will know who to contact and will have the most impact when a modification is needed.

Try not to always send the same person, make sure that each of the technicians experience at least one trip to the factory. If the only person that is visiting the factory is the trainer or supervisor, then you will have only one contact and a large chance that problems will be pushed aside or feedback delayed due to other pressing projects. The technician is the one who is working on the problem and will have the most knowledge about the problem. The factory will also listen more often to the person who is experiencing the problem than second hand information.

The earlier you can have someone involved in a new product, the better, get the jump on the new information and maintain the lead with the information so that the rest of the people in the company will know who to come to when they need help.

Discuss with the factory about a time frame for all problems to be reported to the factory. At the start of a new product the factory will welcome all information, later they will want only the problems that have high numbers. Don't be the weak link and fail to report problems. If your company has more than one service center, one problem from you may mean serval reports company wide.

Keeping it Simple

Long reports and reporting forms look impressive. However, they can be time consuming and discouraging for someone who enjoys working on problems. The liaison contact person should describe the problem in their own words and offer suggestions for the correction when possible. E-mail would be the best means of feedback, unless the return of parts is required. Pictures with the e-mails are great. A picture is worth a thousand words, with the cost of digital cameras now below the $100 mark, each technician should have one at the ready on their bench.

I recommend one that does not require software and works like an external drive, pictures can then be simply copied to the e-mails and shared. Vivitar has the ViviCam, a 3-mega pixel digital camera that is very small and requires only a USB port, and no software. It can even be used as a camcorder when connected to a computer. Great for documenting even the repairs, more about this later.

I suggest keeping all the repair paper work short and simple, check the time being spent on paper work and entering computer data by the technician, you may find that more than half of their time is spent on the paperwork. Automate whenever possible, and avoid having to enter any data more than once.

Replace or Repair?

When each new product becomes available, you should conduct time studies on the disassembly and reassembly of each part and assembly. Compare the cost of this time with the cost of the assembly or subassembly to set guide lines for repairing or replacing a part.

You can use this time study as a hands on training session letting every technician take part and sharing ideals on the best way to remove the parts. I would let everyone take it apart and put it back together again. This may be the best training they could get. After the first person has completed the task, let them teach the next person, that way each will be exposed to the details of the equipment twice. And by talking someone through the procedures the learning will be reinforced as well as short cuts discovered.

Review these guide lines from time to time and make sure that everyone has a copy and understands why a replacement may be made instead of a repair. Remember that a technician will usually lean toward making the repair for the enjoyment of it.

Chapter 4 Improving the Service Department

Repair Flow

The repair process should start as soon as the equipment is received. As the equipment is unpacked and checked for shipping damage, technicians could be given a break from their normal repair and inspect the equipment for the depth of repair that may be required. You may want to rotate this job between each technician and pull as many as needed to complete this stage quickly, trying to keep this inspection period down to an hour or less.

Repairs should be flagged as to the difficulty estimated. Pictures taken of the condition that the equipment arrived and the customer notified if shipping damage has occurred.

The equipment should not be placed back into it's shipping container, this just duplicates the work of packing and unpacking and wasting time. Have plenty of carts designed for repair. Secure the equipment to the carts and tag with the Return Material Approval number (RMA number), and cover the equipment with clear static proof plastic to prevent dust from collecting and creating more work.

Repairs that have been tagged as quick and easy repairs should be moved directly to the repair area, or better yet, repaired right there in the shipping area. It might even be possible to return some of the units the same day.

The estimated medium repair time units, units that the problem is obvious but time will be required to replace the bad parts, should be moved near the parts stock area with a list of needed parts. The part's depot person can then pull the required parts and place them on the cart or on the lower shelf of the cart for the technician.

The estimated hard to repair units, units where the bad parts are not known or are in question should be moved to the challenge staging area. I say challenge, because this is where the fun begins. There should be an atmosphere of competitiveness in the work center to see who can get to these units and accept the challenge.

The Easy repairs should be completed first, before anyone is allowed to return to the hard units they may be currently working on.

Next the medium repairs should be cleaned up. This should be considered mundane work of just replacing parts.

The first technicians completing the above repairs could then move on to completing the harder repairs they were previously working on or select the challenge of their choice. This removes the need for tying up someone assigning work loads. This also reduces and tension that may develop from favoritism being exercised or maybe just the feeling of some employees that this is happing. The better technicians will start to surface and no one should be able to question the results.

The repair flow should be kept short, stay out of major traffic flow areas and do not block other work areas. A moving chain in the floor to transport the work carts to the assigned areas would be a time saver also. These are available with pins attached to the carts that hook into the moving chain or cable in the floor slot.

There could be two possible routes for the equipment, to parts or to the hard repair staging area. The easy repair area should be near by or in the inspection area.

With the repairs now flagged in three categories Easy, Medium and Hard, each unit is removed from the questionable area of cost and time and the customer can make appropriate plans.

Tracking the Repair

Pictures should be taken at each stage of the repair and posted on a web page by the RMA number for repair tracking. E-mails should be sent to the customer when the equipment arrives, with pictures. E-mails should be sent with the rough estimate of time and labor as soon as the preliminary inspection is complete. This e-mail should be clear that this is only a preliminary estimate and that a more refined estimate will follow. If this is a warranty repair then the estimate would be for time only. If the repair is not a warranty repair then you may want approval to continue with the repair, with the understanding that an updated estimate will be sent when the problem is identified.

You may also want to consider offering replacement options with each estimate along with any upgrade recommendations offered by sales. It may be good to copy sales in on the estimate and recommendations for possible follow up by sales. This could be automated based on the previous time studies for cost to repair each area. For example, if the estimate for the repair was $1,500 and a replacement or upgraded unit was $5,000 and support for the unit under repair would be only be for the next five years, with sales allowing a $1,000 trade in of the old unit toward an upgrade, then I am sure the customer would like to know this before spending the $1,500 for the repair.

Tracking of the repair should be easy and available for the customer so that they can check on the status at any time. This should be an automatic update sent to the customer so that they will not have to call and check on the progress of the repair.

Use of a Web site for status of repairs

The use of a web site for the posting of the status of the ongoing repair, would be a very inexpensive and attractive feature for customers. Large blocks of web storage space are now being offered, 1,000 Mb for as low $20.00 / month. You could upload an updated web page (a html document) to the web site using the RMA number as the name of the document and e-mail the link to the customer advising them that they can view the status pictures of the repair in progress.

The web page would start with the report of shipping condition, of course with pictures. The parts' department would update the site with pictures of the parts on the cart and the technician could update the site at any time during the repair stage with added pictures.

And when the equipment is shipped a picture of the well-packaged equipment along with a tracking number could be posted to the web site. The web page could remain available for a given time frame and be used for future repair reference and even training.

Customer relations, contact with the customer

You cannot make too many calls to the customer, it is their equipment and they are eager to hear about the progress and discuss the problem in detail. If the symptoms are not obvious, then the technician should place a call, if the status of the repair changes then e-mails should be sent. Any time the technician needs information a telephone call should be made and any time a repair is completed or the equipment is moved to final check out then e-mails should be sent.

Complete details of the problem and the correction should be sent to the customer. Let the customer know if the product is getting close to the end of the product life and how long parts or service will be available. This will enable the customer to plan for the future.

Try to always give the impression that they are dealing with a small repair center where they can get to know the repair person and feel free to call for technical support.

Let them know about customer training classes, new products and new features that will help the end user with the operation of the equipment.

Use the customer's name frequently during discussions, comment on a good maintained unit and try to thank them for using your company's product. Avoid negative comments and highlight positive actions they have taken as well as the better features of the equipment. The customer may not have been aware of a simple test or adjustment they could have made to avoid the service call or repair, so be sure to mention these or list them in the final service report.

Should the customer have to make more than the first call?

I believe that this is where we tend to get into trouble with the customer. We should take ownership of the problem, letting the customer know that we care are doing all that we possibly can to repair and return the unit as soon as possible. We should take the lead in always making the call to the customer, to show them that their repair is the most important repair we have in the shop. Shipping companies have realized this and have set up easy tracking systems for their customers. We in service should do the same.

Are feedback forms needed?

If we are making contact with the customer and having discussions with them about our problem with the equipment, we will be getting the feedback and unnecessary forms are not needed. Why create extra work for customers by asking for feedback forms to be completed and sent back? If we fail to deliver on time or return equipment that is not up to standards, we will know it and I am sure that the customer will not only let us know about a poor repair, but others that they contact with as well. A happy customer is one that comes back and buys more of our products.

How do you measure customer satisfaction?

Customers that are pleased with our service will generally let us know, We have had customers send us gifts, cards and sometimes letters to management. If we are not hearing positive feedback from our customers, then we should be working harder until that positive feedback starts to flow. Use your liaison contact with the sales department to inquire if a customer is satisfied, A customer is more likely to let sales know if they are not happy with a repair than let us know directly. This will also give sales an opening to review the customer's needs.

I would not expect feedback from every customer. However, I would set a goal of say 5%, and then every three months, compare the cases of positive feedback with the number of repairs. Be sure to check with sales to see if they have had any customer comments about repairs, positive or negative. If the service person receives a thanks for an update on the repair or a call after the repair, then have them send you a quick e-mail with a subject line only. The subject lines need only say Positive/Negative feedback, you would then be able to see if you are meeting your goals. Avoid any long forms or lengthy comments. You may not need the details only the numbers. Be sure that the service persons understand what management is looking for, a small measure of results and not a lengthy detail report to get someone in trouble.

Sending the e-mail to sales checking on any feedback on a regular basis will also send a positive message to sales that the service department is concerned about our customers and is working hard to improve the image of the company.

Keeping Sales involved

The sales department is not our enemy. They are one of our customers. We should do every thing possible to help them promote our products and understand the operation of our products. We should keep them informed of problems by using the product group contact person, keeping them advised of product changes. The relationship we build between sales, manufacturing and the customer will be the key to our survival.

Keep sales advised of the life of each current product and when a product comes in for repair that is close to the end of the repair (parts becoming harder to acquire), sent the customer information to sales as a sales lead.

Always take the initiative with sales, this way they will know that they can count on the service department for the latest information, not only relating to the product, but also about the customer and manufacturing changes. Remember that information is the key to success.

Making Changes

Change can be good or it can be bad, change of any kind good or bad has an effect on individuals. This effect is sometime positive. However, most of the time it is negative. People naturally resist change and this resistance to the change cause's stress and then stress leads to other problems. If we work in an environment where change is occurring all the time, employees will be under constant stress, quality and quantity of production will be lower. We must make changes if we are to improve our operations. The challenge then becomes how do we make changes without creating stress in the work place.

A major change, like relocating a business or a total remodeling creates a lot of change at one time and this is not quite the same as when you make changes at an established work place. People are expecting changes when they move or remodel and they are prepared to cope with the stress that comes with it. With a major move it is the best time to make changes and most if not all companies change all the layout and procedures when making a move. I don't think you would ever see a move where everything was put in the same place and everyone conducted business exactly the same.

Changes at an established work place can be quite different and you can never know how it may affect different individuals. We are usually reluctant to discuss changes until we are ready to implement them, the person who comes up with the change is then fully prepared for the change and eager to get started. However the surprise to others may be more than they can handle.

Here are some simple guidelines that may help when implementing changes in the work place.

1. Establishing a sense of urgency

First comes the idea for a change to address a problem. While the idea is fresh write down why the change is needed. Get it on paper or in the computer. There must always be a reason for a change and you should be able to fully explain the reason. The stronger the urgency the greater the need for a change.

2. Creating the Guiding Coalition

Make others aware of the need and seek their input on how to address the problem. Create a guiding coalition to support you as you explore the possibilities.

3. Develop a Vision and Strategy

Next describe a plan on how the change will be implemented, develop a vision. Go into as much detail as you possibly can and in the process list all the people that will be affected by the change. Now arrange the list of individuals in the order by who will be most affected to who will be least affected. Try your best not to overlook anyone, the person you overlook will be the one that is upset the most and will oppose the change, if for no other reason for the simple fact that they were not consulted.

4. Communicate the Vision

Start with the top of the list and meet one on one briefly just to feel them out about the possible change and try to get their input. At this point I would only discuss the why or reason for a change and not go into the details. Make this a casual meeting at the employee's work area and try not to make to big of an issue about it. Keep the first discussion short and let them know that you are just looking for input. Continue your discussions with each person until you have talked with everyone on your list. Communicate the vision as clearly as possible.

Now take all the input you may have received and review the change you have written down as well as the plan for implementing it. You may be surprised at the results, make any improvements that are needed, then give yourself a few days to think it over. Think back over each of the discussions you had with the people involved. Were there any that seemed uncomfortable or ill at ease about the proposed change? Be very cautious and think about the reactions of each person when you approached the subject. Did you have anyone who did not respond and just listened? If so, then I would continue light discussions about the subject with that person until you get some feedback. If they disagree about any part, try to find out why. I would not proceed any further with the idea until you are sure that everyone involved is comfortable with the change.

5. Empowering Broad-Based Action

Now you may want to have your first meeting about the possibly of making a change or start empowering broad-based action. First discuss the reason for a possible change and make it clear that you are still in the planing stage and that no decisions have been made. Seek comments from the group as a whole. Again be sure that everyone is still comfortable with the changes before you proceed. If you proceed with even a single person in disagreement discussions will occur behind you back and they may sway other workers to turn and hinder the success of the change.

Only after everyone is onboard should you start discussions on how to implement the changes and whom it will affect the most. Always be watchful for disapproval and always seek input. Allow plenty of time for others to absorb the proposed changes, it will take more time for them to become comfortable with it than it took for you to come up with the idea.

You should now be able to move ahead with the changes and hopefully have a more productive and comfortable work place.

6. Generate short-term Wins

Look for small improvements as you move ahead with the changes. Set bench marks and let everyone know when these have been reached. Have a reward system no matter how small, celebrate even small wins.

7. Consolidating Gains and Producing more Change

Make changes in other areas that will support the major change. Seek input from those involved on how to better implement the changes. When everyone is working as a team toward bringing about the same change and end result, you will know that you are on the right track.

8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture

Pull together your key people and review the results. Look for new ways to improve the operation and then start the process all over again. Don't skip any steps, treat it the same way as when you first started. Develop a cycle of review, improve and implement. After about nine cycles of improvement it will become normal procedures in your work place.

Read Leading Change by John Kotter for a better understanding of the eight-stage process of creating major change.

Chapter 5 Warranty Repairs

Priority

Warranty repairs should have priority over all other repairs, When a customer purchases a product, they consider the warranty period. This is an important factor in the choice of whom they buy from and the faster a warranty repair is completed, the more likely they are to buy from the same provider again.

Warranty repairs should be tagged with a special color tag so that when one is spotted it can be kept moving in the repair cycle.

Repair or Replace

A quick decision should be made as soon as the equipment arrives, as to make the repairs or replace the product. Our church recently returned our projector to our supplier because a replacement lamp was not available at the time from the manufacturer. We were advised that if the problem where to be the lamp that the product would be replaced by the manufacturer as they could not provide a new lamp. The problem however turned out to be a bad power supply and a quick repair was made. We were left with a very good impression of the manufacturer and will more likely buy their products again.

Cost is the lowest factor and customer satisfaction is the highest factor when deciding whither to replace or repair. Guide lines should be worked out with sales and manufacturing on the replacement policy using your liaison team that you use for each product.

Unfortunately most service personal and service departments treat the warranty repair as an easy place to relax. The repair is often moved to the last and the service person will spend more time on the repair as they will not have to explain the cost to the customer. The danger for the service department is to isolate itself from the company and our customers taking a defiance mode instead of taking ownership of the problem.

Chapter 6 Non-Warranty Repairs

With non warranty repair, cost is the main factor for the customer with time usually taking second place. If this were not true, the customer would just replace the equipment instead of sending is in for repair.

I believe that the most important thing to keep in mind with the non warranty repairs is to get back to the customer as fast as possible with an estimate for the cost of the repair. I believe that a two-part estimate is the best way to proceed. As soon as the equipment arrives have a technician quickly check the equipment and make a very rough estimate. Be sure that the customer is aware that this is just the initial estimate and that a more accurate one will follow. No action should be required be the customer on this estimate unless they want you to stop the repair now. You could state that we will be proceeding with a more in-depth estimate of the repairs unless advised to stop the repair, in which case a reduced minimum charge would occur. You may want to give them a 24-hour time frame to take advantage of the minimum charge saving. This also gives you a built-in hold on the countdown to completion of the repair. During this time parts could still be pulled and the equipment could be moving down the line toward the repair station or final estimate stage of the repair.

When the final estimate is sent, the service department has a problem as what to do with the unit until approval or rejection is received from the customer. The estimate should require that the customer confirm that they have received the estimate. This can be automatic with e-mails. Set time limits and if you do not receive a confirmation repeat the process until you get a response. Also request a time limit for the estimate approval, allowing more time if a third party is involved.

I would recommend dust covers for the equipment awaiting estimate approval that are clearly marked 'Awaiting Estimate Approval', and the date or a copy of the estimate attached. An envelope with all the repair information could be tapped to the cover.

A calender reminder in the e-mail program could remind you when the time limit has been exceeded so a reminder e-mail could be sent to the customer. Make it clear that a failure to respond to the estimate within the time frame is understood to mean that the estimate has been declined and the unit will be returned with the minimum charge for the repair. You may want to consider storage charges for customers requiring more time for the estimate approval. This equipment will be taking up valuable space and work carts during the estimate waiting period.

Some times it may require less time to repair the equipment when making the estimate. Set some guide lines, say for example if the repair is within 20% of the minimum repair charge you may want to go ahead and complete the repair, taking the small risk of a rejection and saving valuable holding space. I would adjust the percentage as high as possible, so that when the approval is received the unit could be returned immediately. I would recommend even taking the additional risk and completing the repair and packing for shipment. If the customer declines the repair, then accept the minimum charge, and return the repaired unit. Charge the 20% loss to customer relations improvement. It will pay off in the long run. Just make sure that the percentage you set for this risk has the approval of all involved. Remember that you are saving the time of handling the equipment a second time and the repair can be completed, improving your turn around time.

Copyright @ 2006 by Hubert C. Crowell


As Featured On Ezine Articles

All rights reserved. No part of this work covered by the copyrights hereon may be reproduced or copied in any form or by any means-graphic, electronic, taping, or informational and retrieval systems - without the written permission of the author.

hubertcrowell@comcast.net


Banner

We trust 1&1 for our domains - Get yours for $5.99 today!

 
Read all Articles Written By Hubert Crowell