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As the economic climate continues to hit hard so businesses in the print and mail arena are evermore conscious of driving added value from supplier partners. Pre- and post-sale service support is emerging as a key differentiator during the downturn. But what does good service look like, and what are the challenges facing suppliers in a competitive and demanding marketplace?

David Hart, International Service Director at Pitney Bowes Document Messaging Technologies, explains how the company is setting the industry’s service support benchmark through innovation, integration and continued investment.

[img_assist|nid=227444|title=Pitney Bowes|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=16]Within the business-to-business arena the typical view of the service function – and indeed, the reality in a great many cases – is of a reactive resource, a band-aid only required if something has broken and needs fixing.

At Pitney Bowes we’ve built an operation that turns this rather negative, fire-fighting approach on its head, instead looking to pro-actively engage with customers on service and support activity.

Quite how seriously we view service support as a differentiator and as a vital tool in growing our European customer base is evidenced in the level of investment that Pitney Bowes has made over the last few years. The company has invested some $2m in its International Technical Support Group (ITSG), a business function aimed squarely at delivering and sharing technical support excellence throughout Europe.

Previously, service support was provided on a country-by-country basis, with centres of excellence created in the more established territories. This approach – common to many multi-national providers – was recognised as being disjointed, with some of the smaller European countries not enjoying an equal level of technical support. The ITSG has been created to both drive and deliver best-practice across the entire European region.

Today, data analysis forms the cornerstone of Pitney Bowes’ service approach and we are one of the very few organisations to employ a Data Analyst within the service team. Through data analysis we are now in a position where we know our customer has a problem before they do – and before that problem impacts on productivity. We are able to extract performance data from each and every one of our inserters in the marketplace. This provides our analyst with data on areas such as operator and machine efficiency, mean cycle-rates between stoppages, performance of specific machine parts and more.

The data collected from the field is assessed and presented in a suite of reports. These reports identify machine performance trends and are an essential tool in directing our focus in terms of training and educating our team of engineers.

Using knowledge acquired from the field we have been able to fine-tune our preventative maintenance operation to ensure that engineers across all territories are able to perform this function in the most efficient time-frame. Convincing a customer to hand over one or more inserters for maintenance is no easy task when one considers the increasingly challenging deadlines and service level agreements that abound in today’s competitive marketplace. However, the benefits to the customer are made much clearer when we present detailed analysis of machine performance pre and post maintenance.

The evidence from two of our biggest customers – both amongst Europe’s leading document processing output firms – is typical. Through preventative maintenance we have been able to extend service intervals from ten million cycles to fifteen million. For every three preventative maintenance checks that we were previously running, we now need only conduct two. Thus, through our pro-active preventative maintenance approach, not only have our customers machines become more efficient, they are also away from the customer and inactive for considerably less time.

Other initiatives are also in place which have enabled Pitney Bowes’ Document Technologies Division to realise a 9% improvement in customer loyalty since 2008. One such is the development of a robust and fluid web-based escalation programme called Remedy. Here, if there is a problem with technology on one of our European customer sites, we first aim to tackle it using senior team-members at a country level. The issue can then be escalated further if necessary, via the web to the ITSG, then further to Technical Assistance in the US and, ultimately, all the way up to our experts within product research and development. At each stage, important information is captured to drive future service excellence.

We have also developed a service portal called Knowledge is Power (KIP). Over the last five years, Pitney Bowes has grown at a staggering rate, making numerous acquisitions en route. With acquisitions come legacy systems and embedded knowledge and working patterns. Through KIP we have been able to present this information in one easily accessible place, including service booklets, technical bulletins engineer reports and technical notes from around the world. Not only is this a critical resource for our service team to find information quickly, the intention is to use this tool as a highly-informative self-help site for customers.

Data on parts usage is also invaluable. Our Corrective Action Team (CAT) analyse common parts failure and compares data with that captured in the US. As a result, we may go back to the manufacturer of a certain part and ask them to re-design. Often, Pitney Bowes will invest in parts re-engineering in order to deliver greater uptime to customers.

In conclusion, service is a key differentiator at a time when businesses are fighting tooth and nail for market-share. The supplier businesses that are winning are those that recognise service as a pro-active support function rather than a reactive fix during equipment downtime. This cultural shift takes time, commitment and investment. But our own results are showing that the long-term benefits of such a shift far outweigh any points of pain that might occur along the way.

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