Volume 7, Issue 7 - July/August 2006

Machinations
Shopping for a Supplier, Not a Machine:
How to Evaluate After-Sale Support

by John Ovsek

These days it happens at home as well as the workplace. You make a major purchase. Then at the first sign of trouble, you find customer support difficult to obtain, time-consuming and, ultimately, insufficient. That’s when you make the promise. No more decisions based on price and features alone; service and support will be an up-front consideration.

When purchasing capital equipment for your facility, the after-sale support and technical service capabilities of your supplier should be an important factor in your decision. Getting that information is easy if you know how to go about it. 

The ads or websites of major equipment suppliers typically claim “the largest service and support departments in the industry,” “expert technicians” and “customized training programs.” Those claims may very well be true, but to quote Ronald Reagan, the best course of action is to “trust but verify.”

The best way to verify these claims is to ask the right questions. Ask these questions of yourself and others in your organization who have worked with the prospective supplier in the past. Request this information from your sales contact if it is not readily available. 

Staff Credentials:

• Are the service technicians direct employees of the equipment manufacturer or outside contractors?

• What criteria are utilized when hiring these individuals? Is standardized mechanical and electrical testing conducted prior to hiring?

• Is there a formal service technician training program or are they hired and sent out the next day?

• Does the company track and post metrics on how closely machine install dates match promise dates?

• Does the company track and post response time to down equipment?

After-Hours Support:

• What are the service support hours? 

• If the company does advertise 24/7 support, try calling after normal business hours. Do you get a recorded answering service?

Training Offered to Staff:

• Is training done by dedicated instructors on staff or by a service tech demonstrating proper operation during install? 

• Is any kind of certification offered as part of the training process? Is there any verification that those trained can demonstrate what they’ve learned and operate the equipment effectively?

• Does the supplier have a dedicated facility for training, or will training be done in your facility? If the latter, how long must your line be shut down? 

Parts Availability and Documentation:

• Of all parts shipped, how many are within 8 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours, etc.? Is there tracking data readily available to prove it?

• Are parts readily available in the United States? Where are they being shipped from?

• Are manuals available with operating instructions and service information?

• What kind of information is included in the manuals–photos, schematics? Are there electronic versions available?

• Do they use metric or English measurements? 

• Does the supplier write and maintain its own software, or does it rely on outside services? 

Corporate History:

• How long has the company been in business in the North American marketplace?

• What is its salesperson turnover?

• Does it have a quality system in place like ISO9001?

To further verify the quality of support services, go beyond your sales contact and speak with the service personnel you would be dealing with after the sale. 

Also consider talking to other companies that have worked with the supplier. Ask them what went right and what went wrong after the equipment purchase. Talk to them about what the supplier delivered versus what was promised. 

Another important part of the evaluation process is to visit the supplier’s manufacturing and service facility. This gives you a first-hand look at the organization and the opportunity to talk in person with the service staff. If the manufacturer’s facility is organized, clean and running smoothly it likely translates into a high quality product.

You can trust, but always verify by asking the right questions up front.

DWM
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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.