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Better Service Performance requires Better Product and Service Information

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A quick peek into some research on enabling service organizations with the right product information from Tech-Clarity Insight: Better Service from Better Product Information: Evolving to Visual, Product-Centric Service Communication. Service has become a higher strategy priority for manufacturers focused on keeping customers satisfied and taking advantage of higher profit margins in the service lifecycle. Providing technicians and customers with the right product and service information, particularly in a visual formats including 3D and animations, has become more important – and more attainable – over the last few years. The report highlights interviews with General Atomics, Nikon, and Whirlpool to understand the issue and how manufacturers take advantage of PLM tools to enable better service.

Backdrop: Strategic Importance of Service on the Rise

Ten years ago service was an afterthought for most manufacturers. In fact, most companies would call it a necessary evil. But even in the early 2000’s, The Service Lifecycle Management Approach: Strong Customer Relationships Result in Profit in the Service Industry indicated a shift toward a more strategic view. As one of the participants in that research explained, manufacturers were starting to realize that “Customer satisfaction is extremely important to building long term relationships. It is also good business, because it leads to greater profitability through customer retention and repeat business.” In other words, good service is just good business.

Service may be good business, but it is also a big challenge. This is even more true in today’s global marketplace where service techs may be located anywhere in the world and speak any number of languages. Product complexity has also risen, as explained by Nikon in the report and evidenced by Tech-Clarity’s The Five Dimensions of Product Complexity. Products are now more complex due to new materials, miniaturization, smarter product capabilities, and other trends. Without the right information at hand – or perhaps worse having the bad information – service techs are likely to waste time, incur higher service cost, and end up disappointing customers with machine downtime. See the report for more, but for now let’s talk about how to address the challenges and achieve better service.

The Research Findings

Customers want their equipment serviced quickly and accurately. To do this in a complex service environment, techs need to be enabled with the right product information and service instructions. They need to be able to access and use that information quickly, and it should be the most up to date information possible. As Debra West-Maciaszek for Nikon explains in the report, “Looking for information doesn’t help the field service engineer, and the customer is in their face saying ‘fix my machine’.” The report highlights a number of key factors that can help manufactures develop better, more timely service information at lower cost:

  • Use visual illustrations to improve communication and cut through language barriers
  • Leverage existing assets (including CAD) to develop illustrations faster and more accurately
  • Move to 3D to provide a more realist representation of products
  • Incorporate animation to demonstrate service procedures clearly
  • Provide rich product data behind the graphics to give service techs the details they need to do their jobs
  • Take a product-centric approach to service information and illustrations, including specific documentation for different configurations
  • Manage service documentation and illustration change holistically with product change

One of the key points is that visual communications offers tremendous advantages. First and foremost, it just fits the world we live in. I like to ask people to try to write text instructions for tying a shoe. It takes a lot of steps, and is very difficult to comprehend without pictures (do I hear some of you reciting “the bunny goes into the bunny hole” as you think about it? Even in native language text-based instructions miss the mark, and with variable language and reading skills in the global workforce the problem only gets worse. Graphical communication for products is the way to go. This is valuable for service and beyond, see Showing Off Your Products – 3D Technical Product Communications for more.

Another aspect of the findings is that there is a great opportunity to leverage PLM for service information. PLM has the right product-centric approach and houses the CAD and product specification assets that companies need to develop effective service communication. It also offers the opportunity to include service information as part of the product lifecycle, incorporating graphics and instructions into the umbrella of change management and allowing information to be tailored to specific product configurations. As the report concludes, “It is a natural extension for PLM to manage product-centric service information in the service lifecycle such as illustrations and documentation.”

Implications for Manufacturers

So what can manufacturers do with the information in this report? First, they can review (or develop) their service information strategy to ensure that it is providing the most up to date, graphical, tailored service information it can. Evaluate what technicians need to get their jobs done, and look for ways to leverage existing CAD and PLM assets to deliver it. The service lifecycle is getting a lot of attention in corporate strategies, and PLM solutions are now extending their capabilities further into the lifecycle. The time has come to see how PLM can improve service performance and profitability.

So that was a quick peek into some recent research on providing service technicians and customers with better product and service information, I hope you found it interesting. Does the research reflect your experiences? Do you see it differently? Let us know what it looks like from your perspective. Please feel free to review more free research and white papers about PLM and other enterprise software for manufacturers from Tech-Clarity.

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