Currently, the service business is already an important strategic business area for machine and plant manufacturers, accounting for an average of 30% of total sales. And the trend is rising. However, companies are only able to realize off around 25-30% of the global after sales and service revenue potential - the rest is lost to the competition. The reasons for this are, for example, slow service processes and a too low level of digitization.
In accordance with the PDCA cycle (Plan - Do - Check - Act), it is worthwhile to regularly put existing processes and products to the test and evaluate where there is potential for optimization. This principle of the continuous improvement process can also be applied to the after sales area.
5 Levers for Process Optimization
Many processes can be optimized, costs saved and efficiency increased through automation. In this article, we present 5 selected levers that you can use to optimize your after sales processes through automation.
Lever 1: Automated creation of digital spare parts catalogs and service information systems
With a digital spare parts catalog or service information system, your customers themselves can search for the spare and wear parts they need in an easy-to-use system, order them digitally and read the associated technical documentation. This makes an inquiry to your customer service or after sales team obsolete and frees up your employees' time to focus on other issues. At the same time, your spare parts and accessories seem to sell themselves.
How can a digital spare parts catalog or service information system be created? A digital spare parts catalog or service information system brings together what belongs together: parts lists, 2D and 3D graphics of your components, technical documentation, and supplementary information on the individual parts. For this purpose, data is imported from source systems such as the ERP system, CAD system, PLM system or other leading systems, linked and published from a central source in various media (online, offline, USB, print).
The entire creation and publication process can be fully automated. For you, this means: No manual effort and always up-to-date data in the system.An example: Komptech, a special machine manufacturer headquartered in Frohnleiten, Austria, uses a CAD system to design its machines. These 3D models are compressed and automatically converted into exploded views and single part representations. This automatically generates 3D spare parts catalogs that offer great added value to both customers and internal employees. Read more in our project report.
An example: Komptech, a special machine manufacturer headquartered in Frohnleiten, Austria, uses a CAD system to design its machines. These 3D models are compressed and automatically converted into exploded views and single part representations. This automatically generates 3D spare parts catalogs that offer great added value to both customers and internal employees. Read more in our project report.
Lever 2: Automated reordering of frequently required wear parts
Your machines and systems have wear parts that need to be replaced regularly? How about offering them a kind of subscription for automated reordering on a regular basis? This prevents your customers from having to stock these wear parts in large quantities and at the same time ensures that the machine does not break down because the required wear part is in stock.
Lever 3: Condition monitoring and automated triggering of processes
Another lever in the area of process optimization through automation is the automated triggering of processes by the machine or plant itself when processes are faulty or other problems may occur. For this purpose, it is necessary to use sensors to measure various parameters permanently or at regular intervals and to check them with regard to safety and efficiency. The measured data is compared in real time with ideal data so that problems can be detected immediately.
This enables the machine to automatically create a service request or order a required spare part - without the need for manual intervention. This not only ensures greater safety, but also prevents financial damage due to machine downtime, for example. Condition monitoring is also an important basis for the implementation of predictive maintenance.
Lever 4: Self Service Portal
Your customers' expectations of excellent service are shaped by personal experience in their private lives. As a result, your customers also expect you to provide permanent availability of information, direct response to service requests, and the ability to handle routine tasks and queries independently. An optimal way to meet these expectations while digitalizing and streamlining service processes is to build a digital self service portal as part of your digital spare parts catalog or service information system. This enables your customers to manage their data independently, view their order history, find out details about order and delivery status, download invoices, arrange service appointments, view product information and technical documentation, order additional products and much more.
What this means for you is that your customer service and sales team no longer has to deal with these routine activities, but has time for more complex tasks that require support from a competent employee. At the same time, a standardized response to standard inquiries is ensured, resulting in consistent service quality and high speed.
Lever 5: AI-supported chatbots and virtual assistants for the technical hotline and customer service.
Another option for process automation in service is the use of AI-supported chatbots or intelligent virtual assistants to supplement "human" customer service. These can bridge the waiting time until a real employee is available, answer routine inquiries or query data required in advance that is relevant for the service employee. The advantages of chatbots or virtual assistants are their permanent, 24/7 availability, independent of service times, as well as their efficiency in terms of costs and processing speed. With an intelligent algorithm and good training, chatbots and intelligent virtual assistants learn more and more. But even at the beginning of the deployment, a chatbot can already provide relief if it "only" acts on the basis of a decision tree and processes textual standard queries. Frequently asked questions can be answered quickly and satisfactorily without human intervention.
In the past, skepticism about virtual assistants or chatbots was still quite high, when customers had to speak robotically and unnaturally to be able to make their inquiries or had to repeatedly outsmart the automated systems to finally be able to speak with a "real employee." In recent years, however, speech technology has seen tremendous developments. An ideal, intelligent virtual assistant now understands customers' queries - regardless of their accent or way of speaking - and can answer them competently.
Conclusion: Technology and people must be an optimal match
Technology and automation in after sales are fantastic tools for increasing customer satisfaction - but they definitely don't make the human factor obsolete. In order to be optimally equipped for the future, it is essential to bring both worlds together in the best possible way. Which technologies are suitable for the individual company depends on various factors.
Service is the new sales. Companies that have recognized and taken this development into account have a good chance of staying ahead of their competitors and generating growth even in a competitive market.
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