The subject of on-site service can be one of the most frustrating topics to discuss for both the Buyer and the Supplier. Buyer’s expect immediate service when something goes wrong. Suppliers expect to be fairly and directly paid for their time. Sometimes neither situation happens which tends to drive a wedge between the two groups. Does this conversation sound familiar:
BUYER: “I need someone at my facility within the hour to work on this product.”
SUPPLIER: “The serviceman you want is at another client’s facility. Besides, that’s not a warranty item so I’ll have to charge you for the time.”
BUYER: “You didn’t send someone who knows the product the first time. Now it’s going to cost me twice as much to get it fixed.”
SUPPLIER: “I sent someone to your facility for three days last week but you’re only paid me for two”
BUYER: “You didn’t get anyone to approve your work order so I can’t pay you.”
SUPPLIER: “I showed up to qualify the product but your installation crew didn’t complete the job.”
BUYER: “Your products don’t work. I’m tired of having to call for service.”
SUPPLIER: “You’re not maintaining the products per our recommendations and warranty statements. It’s not our fault that it’s not working.”
The main problem in regards to on-site service is that the Buyer and Supplier rarely sits down in the early stages of a program to agree to the rules and define responsibilities for on-site service. Too many assumptions are made on both sides and it ends up affecting both parties. At the very least, the Buyer and Supplier need to meet to review the following items:
1. Define and detail exactly what a service warranty covers. How long does it cover the product and exactly when does it start? Where will the Service Rep be coming from to support the warranty and what is the timeframe between the service call and the Rep showing up? How will both parties resolve issues on whether it was a warranty service call or not? What is not covered under warranty? Exactly what Client actions (or lack thereof) will void the warranty?
2. Clarify the differences in definition and price between a standard service call and “emergency service”.
3. Define the entire process of service work: Which facility entrance should the Service Rep show up at? Who should the Service Rep contact if any issues arise during the on-site visit? What, if any, safety items are required by service? What type of work order needs to be approved before service can be called or work can start? Who has the authority to sign and approve the work order?
4. When the call is made to the Supplier for service, find out exactly what the problem is and what type of service is expected. If the issue is not known, try to get a feel as to who should service the product. An electrician? A mechanic? Someone from IT? Nothing is worse for either the Buyer or the Supplier to have an expert Service Rep show up for the wrong problem; something that’s our of their service realm.
4. Determine what each party expects out of the other. Buyers should expect a competent and professional service crew, while the Supplier should expect the products to be ready and available for service when they arrive.
5. Finally, maintain an updated contact information sheet, including who to contact for emergencies and during off-hours (weekends and Holidays).
Products never seem to fail at an opportune time. When a product fails, loss of time and money are inevitable. The quicker the service, the less time and money is lost. But when a Buyer’s corporate processes dictate that a simple telephone call to a Supplier is not an accepted practice to allow them to work, it becomes a mad rush to either convince the Supplier to show up or push through a work order as soon as possible. So what does the Buyer do in an emergency when the product is down and it takes several days to get a work order through to the supplier? These are the types of questions that the Buyer and the Supplier need to sit down and discuss BEFORE service happens. After all, is the Buyer’s company willing to lose production because they can’t get a work order to the Supplier in a reasonable amount of time? It’s understandable that Suppliers become gun shy when they show up without a work order but never get paid as they were promised. The Buyer should follow through in ensuring the Supplier gets paid within a reasonable amount of time. In fact, that time frame between service completed and invoice paid should also be discussed and agreed on.
Suppliers need to know where they stand with the Buyer regarding service calls. Are they allowed to be a proactive Supplier and show up then their product is not working or must they officially receive an order before showing up at the Buyer’s facility? If the latter is the case, then the Supplier has every right to refuse to send service without a work order and without feeling the indignation from the Buyer. It is imperative that the Supplier find out what their obligations are in regards to servicing the client.
One last thought about Service. Maintaining good local support is incredibly important to the Buyer at their facility. Some Buyer’s actually get evaluated on production outcomes based on the products they bought. Keeping products running properly, maintaining uptime and meeting (if not exceeding) production requirements are major concerns for the Buyer. A Supplier who can go above and beyond the call of duty in providing adequate service in a timely manner, without financial or personality issues to appease the Buyer’s concerns, will stand out from the competition. It will also encourage the Buyer to place future business with that Supplier. Most Buyer’s will admit they expect problems with products; that there is no perfect mousetrap. What gets their attention is the Supplier who does everything in their power to ensure that their product is working again as soon as possible and without being prompted to do so by the Buyer.
Some of the Buyer’s I’ve talked with about this also recommended that if a Service Rep is in the plant and has successfully completed the scope-of-work, they should find out if anything else in the plant requires their assistance before leaving. At the very least, talk to someone in charge on the way out and ask how their other products are working. Not only will it show to the Buyer that you’re proactive, it may very well increase the value of your service call!