Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business

The Evolution of Equipment Service

The quality and reliability of your laboratory equpment is central to generating results. Those results have a vital impact on the success of your lab, and when an instrument fails, your reputation can suffer. Choosing the right service provider is therefore essential.

by Joachim Joerger
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State-of-the-Art Customer Service Organizations Look at Technology, Applications and Processes, and People to Resolve Issues

Equipment service–the business impact

The quality and reliability of your laboratory equipment are central to the generation of results when running projects and routine testing operations. As a production device in your experimental setup, that equipment delivers data that is pivotal for your business objectives and has direct impact on the success of your laboratory and your reputation. Failure immediately impacts your laboratory routine and reduces efficiency.

When you perceive the failure of an instrument as a business issue, it opens the perspective for a comprehensive, multidimensional way of looking at possible solutions. The choice of the right service providers is essential in this process. A business issue, as well as its solution, usually consists of three dimensions: technology, applications and processes, and people. All are aspects that need to be acknowledged in order to identify a quick, sustainable resolution to the issue.

The life beyond error codes–increasing complexity

We would not talk about customer service and its role in maintaining a lab’s productivity if equipment were intuitive to use and generated highly specific error codes, or if sample materials and application processes were standardized. If this were the case, one call or one service visit would always be sufficient to solve any issue. In reality, increasing the variety of sample materials and processing applications and enhanced technologies adds to the complexity of an automated system.

Today’s service organizations must be capable of understanding all dimensions of the business-related service inquiry. “Understanding the user” is always the first step in understanding the issue and defining the resolution strategy.

Choosing the right customer service provider– active risk management

The flip side of complexity is risk. It is the ultimate goal of a lab manager to control the business components in order to minimize the risk of failure. State of- the art customer service organizations look at the dimensions of technology, applications and processes, and people to resolve issues quickly, thereby maximizing productivity of the lab and minimizing interruptions of the routine processes. These organizations combine modern diagnosis and communication technologies with skilled specialists who are capable of covering the full scope of the failure syndrome. By choosing the right service supplier, companies actively manage and mitigate the risk of business issues that go along with dependency on automated systems.

The new triumvirate of business services

A new triumvirate in modern equipment service is evolving and is aimed at mitigating risks: technology improvements, such as remote instrument monitoring and diagnosis over the Internet; improved alignment between the service provider and customers, including the creation of phone-based automated applications; and support teams that provide an elevated level of service by including highly skilled field service teams comprising scientists and engineers cross-trained on all aspects of instrumentation. The novelty of the triumvirate is the full integration of these teams under one functional umbrella that is facilitated by global call centers and connected through IP telephony to improve availability and an overlap between phone- and field-based functions for application and hardware analysis.

In the beginning

In order to appreciate the benefits of the advances in service, it is important to take a step back and assess the benchmark of what has been accepted as the standard.

In the past, if a researcher were experiencing difficulties with an instrument, he or she would call the customer support team. The customer service representative would focus on the specific piece of equipment that was causing difficulty and ask questions related to error codes, log files, module tests, etc. If a question arose about an error message on the equipment, there would be a defined technical specialist to contact. If there were a problem with the application yielding the expected outcome, an application specialist would be called. Since the application runs on a piece of equipment, the issue could very well be with either component. Bottom line: Researchers were forced to work with multiple contacts.

Even after multiple time-consuming calls, the issue might remain unresolved. In that case, the service person traveled to the lab to resolve the issue in person. This individual came prepared to deal with the problem, based on secondhand information received from customer care. There were many risks in this process, including the fact that there must be equal skill sets on the supplier side and researcher side to understand the technology and/or application.

Whether the support is offered via phone or in person, the standard operating hours for service traditionally have been Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Eastern Time. Standard operating hours are useless for diagnostic labs processing samples late into the night in China. As the level of innovation increases, so do the demands a lab manager places on his or her service partner. Eighthour service windows five days a week are no longer enough to provide the high level of support that customers require. For this reason, it is time for researchers to demand a new level of service.

Today’s best practices

Many service suppliers have incorporated novel technology into their offerings by blending highly skilled people and robust technology.

Today’s call centers are staffed with scientists trained in engineering and service. With this background they are able to perform comprehensive analyses that blend knowledge of the instrument and application to target the issue. This becomes a personal interaction between two highly trained individuals that focuses on analyzing the issue at hand. The service representative considers the application and chemistry to determine if there are product usage issues; concerns with the customer’s experimental setup; challenges presented by the method of sample storage; or equipment issues, such as those resulting from technical errors, maintenance effects or equipment handling. It may even include additional training for researchers to help build their skill sets.

If there is a requirement to bring in a field service specialist, customers can rely on the fact that the specialist is cross-trained on both the equipment and the application. Like the call center teams, field service teams have an engineering background and are cross-trained on the application. This marries their strong technical knowledge with an understanding of the application, thus enabling comprehensive analysis. Additionally, field-based application specialists who conduct in-depth on-site analysis are able to talk to the customer in the same language (i.e., the same scientific vocabulary), allowing a deeper understanding of the current issue.

Robust technology creates the optimal offering, and technology enables detailed analysis. Internet-facilitated service tools are available that allow the service partner to connect directly to the instrument in the customer’s lab. This alleviates the need for the service partner to interpret errors and issues described by the customer. The equipment diagnosis tools support the error resolution process by allowing the service partner to connect to the instrument and understand the issue firsthand. The positive effect is the ability to identify the error before field service intervention is required. Also, if repair parts are required, the correct parts can be sent the first time, for a speedy resolution.

Technology also offers an extended reach. Virtual global call centers make technical knowledge available for all customers. If a researcher encounters an issue while running a process in Italy early in the morning, and the customer support center is not available until 9 a.m. Eastern Time, all work must stop. By the same token, if a U.S. researcher is working late into the night, and the call center is open only until 5 p.m. Eastern Time, a potentially critical process must be postponed. Global call centers, powered by state-of-the-art IP telephony and business rules, enable extended business hours through automatic transfer of calls when the request comes in outside of local business hours. Anywhere in the world, researchers simply call the support number provided, although they may be unaware that they are transferred to a support desk in Asia or Europe to obtain the answers they need.

The service evolution has come so far and brought a positive impact on the industry. With service partners raising the bar for what they expect of themselves, they are able to deliver unparalleled, innovative solutions to their customers, providing them with a competitive edge. There are already efforts under way to take these offerings to the next level. Continuous equipment monitoring and preemptive service in case of performance deviations are a reality today and will further develop in the near future. Automation provides tremendous savings in time and manpower, not to mention a dramatic reduction in errors. If errors can be caught as they are about to occur and can be resolved remotely by the service partner, downtime will be further reduced. This may facilitate 24/7 equipment availability, paving the way for more groundbreaking research and discoveries.

Equipment service–part of your future risk management

Through linkage of people and technologies, service providers facilitate a comprehensive and streamlined equipment support process. They assume responsibility for minimizing a company’s business interruption by addressing all potential service-related delays. Also, service providers will continue to leverage the service triumvirate for the benefit of efficient equipment service, so selecting a service provider today is also the selection of your business partner for maintaining all equipmentrelated processes.