Offtopic Bearwall rant!
Okay, a lot of consumer level Customer Service people are pretty wonky, but when you step up into commerical purchasing, it’s a whole new ball game.
In the comsumer market, you might think that when you’re buying a $120 DVD player, sure you deserve some reasonable customer service help if the thing doesn’t work, but you don’t expect someone to hop in a lear jet and fly out from corporate headquarters to hold your hand, right?
You’ve got certain expectations. You figure someone should really try to help you, but you know that, in the end, it’s a $120 DVD player, the person you’re talking to on the phone didn’t actually break it personally when it went out the door, they’ve got rules they’ve got to follow, they’re not being paid all that well in the first place unless customer service is only one facet of the responsibilities of their position, and if you’re being a tool to them in the first place, well…
What about consumer Customer Service for things other than goods? What about monthly services, like, oh, let’s just say for example cable internet?
That’s where you start getting into interesting territory in the consumer side of things, right?
Because I know NONE of you have ever been trying to log into WoW 30 minutes before raid time, only to find out your internet was dead, had no way of letting anyone, you know, online know what was wrong with you, and had to frantically call customer support for your internet service provider, desperate to get it fixed.
On the line is your current irritation at a momentary interruption in service, weighted against your inherent laziness when it comes to changing service providers. They know they don’t have to be good enough to win your business, they just have to not suck so much that they piss you off enough to throw off your laziness and switch.
God help you if they’re the only high speed game in town. Sucker.
Someone should actually do an audio montage of those phone conversations. That’s got to be one hell of a sub-cultural bubble, right there.
Protip: If you’re afraid it’ll be a problem in the future, have a “swim buddy” in your guild that you share cell phone numbers with, so if your internet goes out, you’ve got someone to get in touch with and let ‘em know.
Okay, fine, so everyone has their customer service horror story.
When you step up into the commercial arena, you’d expect things might be a touch different, wouldn’t you? Sure, a $120 DVD player is one thing, but drop a few hundred thousand on some gear, you’d expect just a teensy bit more, right?
The first change is, in most cases, you don’t ever go to a store to make your selection or final purchase.
Instead, you start with a specific need, you identify companies that make products that fit those needs, you contact their sales offices, make appointments to meet with them, sales people fly out to meet with you and do the hard sell, you read their brochures, check schematics and characteristic data, and in some cases actually visit other customers already using the equipment, to see how they like it, see how they’re using it, and observe it in action.
When you’re contemplating buying a $250,000 to $1 million+ machine made in another country that will be designed and built from scratch based on your requirements, and that will have a several month lead time, preceeded by preparing a place in your production facility with appropriate power, water, pneumatic and exhaust capacity, it’s a whole other experience than walking into Best Buy or Sears.
If YOU were preparing to drop a cool million in another companies’ pockets, you might think that they’d treat you a nice, right?
And the sales people do.
But once the sale is made, what about when you need something later on? Like the machine ain’t working right and you need help figuring it out? Or a part broke and you need a new one?
Do you think when you call in to customer support on that big ticket machine, you get treated the same way the sales guy treated your company president?
Oh, hell no.
The majority of us in this position don’t expect or want trips to Cancun or other kickbacks when we call in with a problem, either.
We just want someone to do the bare minimum. Help us get going again.
What you don’t see the upper management types who will make the final decision considering is what happens AFTER the sale.
What is their support like?
What happens when you need parts to fix it when it breaks down?
See, when you buy a custom high-cost machine like this, you’re chaining yourself to their repair parts system. It doesn’t matter if you like it or not. They built it, and they intend to make money off of you. BIG TIME.
You’ve got two choices when something breaks down. Buy it directly through them, or try to find it somewhere else on your own.
If you buy it directly from them, then if you’re lucky, they have some in stock, or know where to get it already, so you know it won’t take that long to get it. Maybe. BUT, they are buying it somewhere else, or having it made by a fabrication shop somewhere else to their specs, and then adding a fee on top of it before selling it to you.
If you find it direct from the manufacturer, it may be a lot cheaper, but it will often have a long lead time… like weeks or even months before you’ll get it.
Especially if you just bought a piece of equipment designed and manufactured in another country. Guess what? Japanese engineers seling machines to the American market aren’t known for looking for American solutions to engineering problems. The parts they choose to build from are sold, guess where? Japan!
So when you call in looking for parts, where do you think they’re coming from? That’s right!
Another fun issue is, companies don’t want you to go around ‘em for cheaper parts. A lot of companies work deals with the manufacturer to use custom part numbers on their labels, and only sell those part numbers to the guy who makes the machines. You call, say, Koganei in Japan looking for a new air cylinder, and tell them the part number, and Koganei sees in their system that part number is for something they only sell to Toshiba… and they tell you to talk to Toshiba, ’cause they won’t sell ‘em to you. You want one to fix your machine. Toshiba buys them by the hundred. Guess who they’d rather piss off.
And lots of manufacturers don’t want to deal directly with the end user. They’d prefer dealing with a middleman willing to put up with your bullshit. So they don’t sell to end users at all. They only sell to people that are set up as regional or local distributors. So, you have to find a distributor in your area… and hope that person is willing to help your one time purchase.
And if they are, you tell the distributor you want an air cylinder, they say sure, they email the manufacturer in Japan, the manufacturer in Japan sends the email to a translation department, a few days later they get it back, they get some info on your part, send their reply to the translator, then get it back, then send it to the distributor, who calls you, if they even remember you since a week and a half has passed since you asked for a quote on price, availability and lead time.
Now you can place an order.
But okay, you deal with what you got.
What blows my fragile little mind is how hard it is, even if everything works according to plan, in GETTING THE DAMN PARTS.
Every day, every single day, about half my time is spent calling people and asking where the stuff I ordered is, days, weeks or even months after I was promised I’d receive it.
That’s exactly right. This is not time spent ordering items.
No, this is time spent asking where the (%^ the shit you promised me is, damnit!
You won’t let me order it from somewhere else? Well, damnit, then you’d better sell it to me when I need it!
“Hello, yes, I do have a question. I’m trying to find out what the status is on the part I ordered on PO# P349087. Yes, yes I did order it. No, I’m afraid you’re wrong, I did place the order. Oh, you have no record of that on file? I must have faxed it to the wrong location, or the fax didn’t go through, so it’s my fault you don’t have it? Well, what would you say if I told you that thanks to the last three times you’ve pulled this same exact shit, Amanda, I now document all phone conversations, take down all names of people from your company that I talk to, and that I email AND fax in all orders I place, and then call back to verify your companies’ receipt of said order before I consider it ordered? Do you remember the order now? Would you like me to fax all of that documentation in to you now to helpfully remind you?”
“Still don’t have any record on your end that I ordered that $5000 servoamp, huh? Must’ve been one of those famous computer glitches in the database, right? Dog ate the homework? ”
“Oh, is it a ten week lead time on getting one from Japan? Really? And now that it’s really ordered I should wait for ten more weeks before I call back if I don’t see it?”
“Yeah… that’s what you told me ten weeks ago. Thanks!”
You think I’m joking. I bet you do.
Here’s another example.
I am sitting here, telling this person on the phone, “My company has one of your machines, and cash. Your company made the machine, and presumably wants cash. Tell you what. Your machine broke. I need the part. You buy the part from someone else, and keep the part in stock. You actually charge us $150.36 for a part that the manufacturer charges us $36.54 each (real freaking example from 5 minutes ago), but I’m willing to pay you that extra $115 bucks right now because you have one in stock, right now, and the manufacturer wants a two week lead time to ship from Japan. So here’s what we’ll do. I’ll order the part, you’ll put the part in a box, toss it at your UPS guy for overnight express, and we’ll pay you. Okay? We get the part tomorrow, the machine will be back up and running after one day of downtime, and you’ll get money at a truly bullshit markup. Okay?”
You give me goods. I give you cash. You’ve made stupid profit because your design engineer used a substandard part for a high stress application in the first place, so the parts wear out frequently.
Sounds good, right?
And yet… AND YET… a week later, I’ll have made 10 phone calls asking WHERE THE HELL THE PART IS. I base this knowledge off of past history with this company.
Third example. This one is still going on.
We’ve got three machines made by a German-based manufacturing company. They’ve been in the plant about ten years, they cost a ton of money, and none of them have ever worked quite right. A lot of money has been sunk into these machines over the years, trying to get them to work reliably.
In particular, one machine has a Rube Goldberg invention for an outfeed carriage. I’ve been trying to get it working properly.
About 5 months ago, I decided to start from scratch with perfect components, to make sure everything was set at zero per the manufacturers’ design, and then if things weren’t quite right we’d redesign things ourselves to increase reliability.
I ordered all the parts from Germany. I had to. They have all of the build drawings for fabrication. They are the manufacturer themselves, nobody else. They hold the keys to the kingdom.
We get the parts, we install them after the two month lead time, it still doesn’t work with a damn.
So I’m going over schematics, I’m reading exploded parts diagrams and design drawings, and I come across a mention, in a faxed memo in one manual’s folder pocket, about an engineer visit from Germany to install some modifications in 2007.
A what to the who?
I gather up all the manuals and documentation, and sure enough, in one manual out of the entire set, there is a note that the parts list shown is obsolete due to modifications designed and installed by the manufacturer to correct the very issue we’ve been dealing with.
But those parts as described ain’t in the machine, and haven’t been since I’ve been here. They do not exist on site. But now I do have their new parts list with a description of what they did.
The manual showing the changes was in our engineering library, not the maintenance OR production libraries. Nobody in the maintenance department back then, apparently, was involved in this project, and none of those people work here anymore now, anyway.
So, I’ve been fighting these problems for a year now, and I’ve spent thousands of dollars ordering things to repair this machine from the manufacturer, things that wear out too bloody fast, and here I find out that the very person in Germany that I have been talking to, and ordering from, is the person that according to this memo I found designed and installed an upgrade to permanently fix their machines’ original bad design.
I’ve been reinventing the wheel. And this guy has been letting me. “Oh no, no idea what could possibly be wrong, are you sure you set it up right?”
We even, and I’m not freaking kidding, we even flew this guy out from Germany to look at the machine and provide us with suggestions on making improvements. After all, he’s the expert, right?
When he came here, he acted as though it was the first time he’d ever heard of such a problem with this machine.
And he got away with it, because none of us were here when it happened. BUT, he also never volunteered any information about the modifications he had designed, the parts they had installed, nothing. He let us sit and spin.
So here I am. I need this thing fixed. So I tell him two months ago I need to order a full set of the parts from the modification, the CORRECT parts, so we can implement it. Again.
We’ll worry about how this all fell apart some other time. Fix the damn problem.
It’s been two months since I ordered the parts. Two months. I have followed up on this every week. Hell, several times a week.
I still… STILL do not have an estimated SHIP DATE, let alone the parts in my hand.
A month ago, I started telling them that if they are THAT busy, give me the design drawings, we’ll fab ‘em ourselves. They refuse to give design drawings to customers, because then… hold onto your hats, folks… then the customer would not buy their parts from their company anymore! Their company would lose revenue!
Never mind that there is no way in hell we’re ever buying a machine from them ever again. I’ve made sure of that.
At the moment, I’ve actually cut away that section of the machine, and modified it to use a belt driven conveyor with a variable speed drive I designed and installed so we can run. It works. It ain’t pretty, but it works.
It blows my mind. It really does.
And now that I’ve ranted about this… I am going to pick up my phone and give them ANOTHER call, to see if and when I will ever get my parts.
I just don’t understand these people. I’m literally giving them enough money for some bloody-be-damned milled plates and a rail that, for the same amount of money, I could use to buy a car, drive it to the East Coast, buy a plane ticket, fly to Germany, rent a car, drive to their factory, and BEAT THEIR ASS IN THEIR OWN F’ING LOBBY. And then come home again afterwards, tired but satisfied.
Don’t think I haven’t considered it.
Oh, and yes, in case you’re wondering, my unit of value when making commercial value comparisons is based on car equivalents. “I could buy your air cylinder… or I could buy a new Hyundai. I think, just possibly, your air cylinder might be a bit overpriced. It’s 6 steel plates, a spring, a bronze bushing and two threaded holes for quick disconnect air fittings. And you don’t even provide the fittings. And you think this is worth the price of a Hyundai?”
Look, if you’re going to put yourself intentionally in the position of being the only possible source for repair parts, PROVIDE THE DAMN PARTS!!!
Oh, as an FYI… this is why a proper maintenance management program involves analyzing machines for expected wear items and critical parts based on expected lead times, parts costs, and downtime. You figure out what is important, what you can’t live without if it breaks, how long it’d take to get the parts if they were ordered, how important machine downtime is, and then you build an on-site parts inventory to hold the most important stuff. And you also try to find alternate sources of supply for EVERYTHING.