Understanding Manufacturing Software Solutions (MES) and Customer Service

Take an honest look at your software vendor – are you a business partner or a commodity?

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Recently, I had to rent a car and wanted to know what was covered in my policy, so I gave the insurance company a call.  It turns out they couldn’t answer my question until I retrieved a number from my insurance card.  The entire experience made me feel like a number to a huge insurance-mega-corporation-behemoth.  My simple question couldn’t be answered until I retrieved a magic number they used to access my file amongst the sea of data the corporation swam in.

Ho confident are you in your MES or paperless manufacturing provider? Photo by www.colourbox.com.

How confident are you in your MES or paperless manufacturing provider? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

I first bought my current policy from a nice gentleman who came to my house and shared a cup of coffee while we looked at options.  But his agency was purchased by the mega-corporation, and, from what I heard, the nice gentleman left to open a restaurant.  So, now I am an account number to “Customer Service and Concern” reps who mangle my name each time they addressed me.  Even worse, I know each of those reps used a script as they spoke to me.  Yes, I just got scripted!

I am NOT against big corporations.  Corporations are made up of the same good and bad people you see in any company.  But I was dismayed when a commercial for the insurance company came on TV, obviously targeting new customers, while I waited on the phone to have a SIMPLE question answered.  New customers represent growth, and are the lifeblood of a company, but you shouldn’t sacrifice your existing customers in the relentless pursuit of new business!

This is especially true in manufacturing software.  Manufacturing solutions software, such as MES and paperless manufacturing, provides a vital service to the shop floor.  A well-crafted solution should work seamlessly with your current processes, but when a problem happens, you need an answer quickly… more quickly than a help desk can provide.  Because a shop floor is a constantly changing environment, especially in discrete manufacturing, the software can’t be installed and forgotten.  It needs active support to capitalize on the latest technology and processes, and a truly customer-centric solution shouldn’t gouge a customer for a simple update or necessary service.

That said, after spending (wasted) time on the phone with an insurance company, I’m proposing a simple manifesto of manufacturing software customer rights.  Here goes:

1)      All existing customers should have direct communication with a company representative they know by name, and not an anonymous “help” desk or an even more anonymous email address.

2)      A plan for regular software updates, to accommodate new technology and processes, should be offered before software is installed. Change will happen (anyone paying attention to the latest in 3D printing?) so you need a process to accommodate change.

3)      The manufacturing solution provider should know your company by name (not number) and understand your business to provide service and recommendations specific to you.

4)      Your software solution should be continually supported.  Any system that doesn’t have regular upgrades and releases will eventually become the obsolete legacy system so many companies struggle against.

5)      You should not be afraid you’ll accrue service charges if you call with a question.

Consider these the goal of manufacturing software customer service- an expectation you have before you go into business with a company.

Bigger doesn't necessarily mean better when it comes to customer service. Photo credit www.colourbox.com

Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better when it comes to customer service. Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

While this discussion started after a bad experience on the phone with a mega-corporation insurance company, I’m not specifically targeting the big companies.  I do think there is a tendency to focus effort on “new” customers and business, and forget existing customers.  The help desk and the customer service line become a sales tool, and not a tool for customers to find a true solution.  Sometimes, companies focus on the “sales funnel” to convert “prospects” into customers, but once a customer completes the sales funnel, they become forgotten.  The existing customer is a “commodity” measured in business statistics, rather than a partner.

Now that my rant is over, take a moment and think about the “manifesto” of customer rights.  How does your manufacturing software provider rate?  What confidence do you have in their service now and in the future?  What expectations do you have regarding customer support?

Questions?  Leave us a message.  I guarantee it won’t be answered by a help desk that needs a 13-digit account number to hear your question.

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