To Have Smart Services, You Need Smart Products

One of the most peculiar behaviors I have witnessed inside a product manufacturer has been the relationship between the support/service organization and the product development group. The relationship defines insanity.

I witness this repeatedly. Larry, the support manager, feels the pressure of maintaining warranty performance on the products he supports. Every so often, the support group, doing its best to support a difficult product, reaches the boiling point trying to keep their heads above water. They have had enough of inheriting the product’s quality problems.

At which time, Larry stomps down the hall to product engineering with documented facts in hand. He pounds on Stefan’s door, the development manager. Waving his supporting data, Larry demands certain fixes be made immediately because support is falling down on their face trying to fix things in the field.

Stefan, being quite used to this by now, listens intently as Larry has his rant. It happens at least a couple times a year.

Stefan is quick to placate him, “Yes Larry, we are going to have a maintenance release as soon as these other features get done…I promise I will make this my next priority.” Poor Larry is gently subdued and leaves Stefan’s office with cautious optimism. Sort of like when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football while Lucy holds.

Stefan has no malicious intent here. He places Larry’s papers in the appropriate stack and makes a note to consider them during the next engineering development cycle.

Along comes Michael, the product manager, knocking on Stefan’s door. He has big plans for the next release. It is going to make a huge splash in the marketplace. Everyone is excited.

Stefan, being the good development manager he is, plans the next development cycle based on market priorities and fits in what he can.

Of course, Larry doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of seeing any of his desired fixes in the next maintenance release. The only thing “fixed” were new features, not any old problems. Larry’s maintenance requests fell off the end of the table as market requirements filled the cycle.

Should we be surprised? No, not at all. The company should and will continue to focus on market needs. Whether or not they are properly interpreting them is a different story.

Larry, I have some advice for you. Why don’t you practice some Lean Six Sigma and just throw the paper in the trash yourself. It will save everyone a lot of time.

There is a better way. In fact, there is a way for the company to take advantage of a larger opportunity and for Larry to get what he wants. It all begins with the service group and the product group having the right relationship.

Let’s imagine for a moment that customers are shifting their buying criteria towards more emphasis on “Total cost of ownership.” Financial decision makers playing a more involved role in the buying process would indicate this shift. Are you seeing this behavior?

If so, let’s assume the product manager would score some serious points with the head of marketing if the company could say, “Our product are less expensive to own than anyone else’s.” Of course, having the data to back up that statement would be critical for Marcomm.

Here is an interesting idea. Let’s have Larry and Stefan sit down with a couple industry experts from marketing who really understand the customer’s business. We will have them talk about lifecycle costs and challenges associated with owning these products.

Let us also reset the boundary of the sandbox. We won’t confine them to the limitations of the product but allow them to consider “service” as part of the “system” of the product footprint – that extends back to the product manufacturer itself.

This is fertile ground. Not many know how to uncover the game changing potential here. The ones that do stand to make a quantum leap forward in market sophistication.

Luckily for Larry, all the things he wished for will come true in this scenario – but as a byproduct of remaining competitive.

That is ok. He can live with that. Either way, the company will be much further ahead in the marketplace. More importantly, design for manageability now has a place at the marketer’s table.

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4 Responses to “To Have Smart Services, You Need Smart Products”

  1. Capt192 says:

    Design for manageability is more important for customers than the manufacturer. Product management still does not get that. We see customers ask for those things but it is the last thing the engineers want to hear. They are too busy inventing the next great thing.

  2. Tim Gee says:

    If only medical device vendors would include a basic SNMP client in their product they’d be miles ahead. So many missed opportunities.

  3. zed says:

    Deming once said, “The purpose of a business is to create customers.” One could argue that is what the product manager is doing.

    Creating customers doesn’t always mean increase profits. Your example above of expanding the scope of the product is a great example of how thinking has to evolve as it gets harder and harder to make margin just by “shipping boxes.”

  4. Aaron says:

    What’s needed here is a lesson on design for manufacturing. All stakeholders should be involved in the initial planning process. This includes engineers, marketing and sales, vendors, assembly personnel, technicians, etc. Some will argue that this is more expensive since so many individuals are involved, but ultimately it will be much less expensive as future design iterations, support issues, and other challenges will not arise.

    Aaron

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