The value of support throughout the customer lifecycle

As a product vendor, we’re sometimes asked the question: “If you have such great quality, why do you need to have a support organization?” While this sounds logical, the question shows a lack of understanding of the role of the support organization in a modern technology company.

Of course, one part of the workload of the support organization is obviously to solve customer questions relating to quality issues. But the day-to-day work of a support engineer covers many other areas besides this.

Support throughout the lifecycle

Customers contact support long before the purchase and installation of the product, to ask questions that help them make the right choice of vendor and product – questions that perhaps would be better suited to a pre-sales organization. For example: “Which product should I choose for this specific application?” “What’s the difference between product A and product B?” “What is the benefit of this technology?”

In addition, during operation of the system, many support questions relate to issues outside  those related to quality. Examples would include: “How should I best upgrade my system?” “I want to add more products, how do I make sure they will work with the existing ones?” “Is there a newer version of this product coming that I should be aware of?”

This demands that the modern support person needs to be skilled not only in fixing product-related issues, but also to have a good knowledge of the product portfolio, customer challenges, typical application areas, etc. Even more importantly, the support person needs to know exactly whom to hand over the question to at the right time; whether a sales engineer, product specialist, or sales representative.

Working together to help the customer

In previous years, within a technology company, there was a sales organization and then there was a support organization, and “never the twain shall meet”. Sales handled everything up until delivery, and support took it from there. Obviously, today the world looks very different. Mature organizations understand that the best way to serve customers is for sales and support to work together to ensure that the customer can reap all the benefits of the deployed solution. For the customer, it shouldn’t matter which part of the supplier’s organization he/she engages with, it should all add up to one complete, seamless – and positive – experience throughout the lifecycle.

There’s a technical aspect as well. Products that are IP-based and built on open platforms form solutions that can evolve over time to deliver new value to the customer. And the fact that they are connected over a network makes them much easier to manage, upgrade and adapt as customer needs change.

On the supplier side, these trends further blur the lines between the roles of sales persons, solution architects, field engineers and – yes – support.

Sometimes time is not on anybody’s side

We recently encountered a support situation in Germany that put extra pressure on everyone – the user, the system integrator, and us. A video surveillance system on a ship was experiencing technical difficulties. A video encoder that was installed to connect analog pan-tilt-zoom cameras to the ship’s network didn’t work properly on all its video channels. The ship was only in dry-dock for a few days, and the problem had to be fixed then and there, because it was crucial for the customer to keep the ship in traffic. This is an example of how technical problems with a video or security system can have far-reaching financial consequences with potentially huge indirect costs for the customer – not unusual in transportation sectors such as railway, traffic monitoring, airports and shipping – and also how the time pressure can be quite extreme in a support situation. Check out the video interview with the Axis partner:

In this case, the problem was solved through tight cooperation between the user, the integrator and various functions within Axis, with support at the center. A workaround solution was quickly developed and the ship could leave the dock as planned, to the great relief of everyone involved. Maybe not a typical day at the office, but it highlights the type of situations a support organization can face and how important it is to be able to solve problems fast and under pressure.

Read more about the support Axis can provide you with.