Thu, Sep

Great expectations

Great expectations

Are you getting a gold rated service from your suppliers? If not, is it all their fault or are you expecting too much?

We're not renowned for great customerservice in the UK. The mere mention of it is enough to star pulses racing and in the print sector it's become a real pressure point. Long periods of downtime while waiting for engineers/parts, arguments over who's responsible for what and lack of clear communication are commonly cited issues, but are suppliers really that bad at service?


The nub of the argument is expectation - and who's responsibility it is to manage those levels of expectation. Toooften there's a huge gap between what we expect in terms of service and what suppliers actually deliver so where do westart to manage the problem? The obvious answer is up-front, in opening a real nitty-gritty conversation between both parties before any kit purchase is made and certainly before any kind of service contract is signed.

Allan Ashman, managing director of Atech, says: "Many people I come across haven't looked at their servicing contracts in any detail before having a machine installed, only to find that by the end of year five, they'll have paid twice the value of the machine again! No wonder they expect fabulous service when they need it - expensive service contracts are a killer. However, it does mean that now, print companies are starting to scrutinize those service contracts."

At HP, where servicing issues raised the temperature somewhat following the NUR acquisition last spring, the company has fought hard to improve the situation. Nancy Janes, UK&I large-format country manager, says: "Merging the companies proved more difficult than expected and I admit there were service issues during the initial six months but all that acquisition pain is now behind us." Itzhak Stolak, EMEA service manager for HP, adds: "Since we acquired NUR we have doubled the size of the service team across the whole of HP Sign and Display."

As one of the largest providers of wide-format inkjet kit HP is at the forefront of discussion with users on service issues and is currently piloting an out-of-hours service scheme. The company is also doing some serious talking with printers about the shape of service agreements. "We are aware that different groups of users have different service needs which is why we are talking to various users to set up differentiated services agreements. At the moment we are talking to Designjet FB7500 users in Europe," says Janes.

Fully understanding what service agreements include and ensuring your specific needs are covered is key to having your service expectations met. For instance, are the printheads covered? What are the guaranteed response times? What about support when moving equipment around? And what about the pecking order when it comes down to who gets the fastest response? "It's a case of what spare parts are available and how quickly we can get them as to who gets their machine serviced first rather than having anything to do with service contracts," notes Janes, adding: "However, it is important that printers log their problem with the service centre. We have found that some printers perhaps think they'll get a quicker service if they phone their sales guy who can then shake the tree. At HP it doesn't work like that." And she adds that "as soon as a company starts to have multiple machines we talk to them about remote service contracts whereby we train one of their operators to become an on-site service engineer."

Fujifilm UK customer service and support manager Martin Prior agrees that proper operator training is critical and that the PSP takes steps to ensure minimal kit breakdown. "The machine operator really should be involved in the initial installation but this often doesn't happen, so Fujifilm provides post-installation support, in which it can reinforce the importance of routine daily maintenance." At Fujifilm servicing is prioritised by contract and warranty status, combined with the machine status at the time of the problem being logged. "To get the best level of service work with the support centre directly, make sure you have all the relevant details to hand, a clear fault description and what has been done to try and resolve the problem. More than a third of the calls logged at Fujifilm are resolved via the phone, and a further 20% of site visits could be prevented if customers worked more closely with the support centre."

Service is always going to be a topic for discussion but the suppliers do take the matter seriously so open a dialogue about your concerns early on so that you're clear about what to expect should the worst happen.

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