Who commissions a Brabender feeder? Who maintains or services loss-in-weight or weigh-belt feeders? Who answers a customer’s questions on the phone if something no longer functions properly? That’s right – the Service team.
“Without an expert and reliable service team there to back it up, new equipment cannot be sold,” is Ralf Eikermann’s response to the question of how important service is to Brabender Technologie. The overall head of the Customer Care department began his career as a service technician and knows their daily routines from personal experience. The Service department consists of eight employees, who are constantly visiting customers, plus three other colleagues, who man the technical hotline. “Around half of our assignments involve commissioning equipment,” Michael Richtmann, head of the Service unit, explains. “Repairs and maintenance account for the other half.” Only maintenance can be planned long-term, meaning that the staff in his team has to be very flexible.
“We have a central Service infrastructure here in Duisburg, which handles the bulk of global customer contact and billing,” is how Ralf Eikermann explains the way the department is structured. Added to that are other Service staff based at the agencies and branches. “Canada has four of its own Service technicians, who look after the North American market and Mexico. In China the Service team in fact numbers five. We cover this huge country from three locations in the major industrial centers.” Peking, Shanghai and Guangzhou are the bases from where we look after our Chinese customers (see box). In the Middle East Brabender Technologie runs an office in Dubai, where Service employees are based, and elsewhere in Asia, in India and Russia too.
Extensive know-how is key
Since a Service technician is on his own when visiting a customer on-site, Brabender Technologie attaches a great deal of importance to proper training. The human resources usually involved here are electrical or mechatronics engineers, who initially spend six months in Duisburg familiarizing themselves with Brabender’s extensive product range and accompanying colleagues on assignments. Once they have gained a sound knowledge base, these new colleagues visit customers on their own.“ Major corporations employ weighing technology engineers, who want to deal with contacts that have the appropriate know-how,” Michael Richtmann relates.
In order to describe the perfect Service technician, Eikermann makes use of the familiar “jack of all trades” image – the job requires superb knowledge of electronics, mechanics, IT, control technology and process engineering. “The latter is particularly difficult. People gain an understanding of processes through experience.” Last but not least, soft skills, such as how people conduct themselves when in contact with customers, good knowledge of English, willingness to travel and flexibility, also count. Assignments abroad sometimes last for one to three weeks. “But that is not the general rule; our employees are usually at home on weekends.”
Empathy is also required of colleagues manning the hotline. They are the first point of contact if something is missing or does not work as the Service team is responsible once the equipment has been delivered. Managing loaned equipment is also often handled by phone, as this is considerably cheaper than on-site management.
Important: regular communication
Brabender Technologie has an international team at its disposal, which meets up every three years for an intensive week of training. Employees from the Service agencies in Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Brazil, France, Spain, Belgium, Italy, the UK, Sweden and Austria also travel to these events. In between times regular regional meetings are held, but the company believes this direct form of communication with all Service personnel is invaluable. “At these meetings we showcase our latest equipment and provide staff with documentation and analysis software,” Richtmann explains. “Although our external service personnel are always in regular contact with the hotline, it is important to bring everybody up to speed regularly.”
There is of course plenty of cross-departmental communication, and it’s particularly intensive within the Customer Care division. This includes the Spare Parts Service, which is also responsible for sales and loans of used equipment as well as for the replacement (retrofit) of control and drive systems in older equipment. Modification of older equipment is in turn the responsibility of the Service team. Furthermore the repairs department, a training officer and the test lab are part of the Customer Care division. We shall be profiling other departments in future issues of FLUX.
(published in FLUX 1/2016)