January 4, 2017

271 Views

The Key to Successful Product Support

Co-author: Divya Thiruvenkada Krishnan

A product can be an electronics item, a web application or an Android/iOS application. It can even be a water dispenser or a cable/dish connection. Product support can be availed via paper format (product pamphlets/manuals), customer support via phone, online chat, walk-ins, AMC (Annual Maintenance Contract), online analysis, or resolutions. It is delivered in-house or can be outsourced to third parties. The support is often controlled by warranty norms where free-of-cost services tend to cease post the warranty period. Manual support is predominant in case of customer walk-ins or a technician visit to the customer site.

LIFE CYCLE:

Organizations developing products are disposed to industry audits which make them comply with the industry specific standards. All products go through a life cycle. Development and testing may go hand-in-hand. Now the question remains - Is the Development and Testing team doing its job to the fullest?

Many times, the development and testing teams may have bad times. Delivery of software/hardware gets hit and it impacts testing. Too many defects towards the end of the life cycle will lead to higher costs. Sometimes, testing and development may be outsourced to different companies. Of late, companies have started valuing testing and getting product end-to-end tested across different phases depending on the manufacturers’ needs.

QUALITY

All industries claim quality to be the success mantra and customer satisfaction as the pulse of their business. The question that flashes in mind is - Is quality not compromised during the lifecycle of a project? We all have had experiences where our electronic gadgets like television, refrigerator, or even pedestal fan last more than 20 years without even a chance to visit the product support center, except for very trivial repairs. We now are in a fast paced electronic gadget era where digitalization engulfs our lives. But the products purchased do come with a warranty and are not even lasting the warranty period.

Are today’s products end-to-end tested? Do companies release products without proper quality checks?

We have started to hear woes from all over the world of exploding mobile phones or washing machines. We did not face any of these annoyances in the products released 10 or 20 years before. The competition is getting tougher in all electronics/digital services, but quality is not a concern anymore. How quick companies release their product into the market to retain their shares and competition proves that they are releasing only prototypes by boundary testing products.

SUPPORT

Having said that, quality is compromised right from the product development stage including using substandard materials, no/minor testing, and reduced time-to-market timeframe, which means that one has to live with products which are no longer reliable. We stand in long queues to get our issues resolved. Sometimes there were too many product issues like a blown up device, heating issue, low battery issue, brittle screen, or less reliable motors, where the main propaganda of digitalization itself is compromised.

THE FUTURE NEED

Not all products face this reliability issues. There are few product companies which still believe high in quality and customer satisfaction. The customer visits by a technician and online resolution of issues are still successful and the customers are happy with the service offered. The customer expects the product to be 100% error-free. However, error-free software/hardware is a myth. It is high time, the product companies invest in the usage of real-time monitoring of products and its usage, customer feedback, channelizing prolonged support, and effective supervision / audits of outsourced product support operations.

Product companies should learn from their mistakes and failures. They need to quantify the hardware/software issues against each product and either question the reliability score, or backtrack the problem. Doing so will improve quality and customer trust in the product. All companies will surely do this analysis, but the need of the hour is more stringent activities towards breaches of quality. The government norms towards the customer products should be tightened, so that in the future, we do not receive half-baked products in the customer’s hands which are both a risk to the life and the economy. The government should also mandate certifications/audit against products released to the customer, so that any such grievances towards the product usage will not appear again.