Recent trends in the shipping industry are changing how suppliers of marine equipment handle customer support. With more standardized equipment, the availability of increasingly sophisticated marine electronic systems, smaller crews and tighter deadlines, shipping companies have come to expect a higher grade of customer support available all over the world, year round. "We're seeing a demand for better, faster and comprehensive global service," said Dag Pettersen, president customer support for Kongsberg Norcontrol AS, a leading provider of marine navigation and control systems for the shipping industry. "Everything has to be done yesterday."
While today's advanced equipment is more reliable and requires fewer spare parts than ever before, the smaller crews combined with the more sophisticated systems has raised the demand for software assistance and frequent applications upgrades Lastly, the tighter sailing deadlines, make shipping companies expect twenty-four hour service, seven days a week, 365 days a year, wherever they are.
Indeed, marine system problems seldom occur at convenient times. "All our equipment problems seem to happen on Friday evening," said Tor Hagen, purchasing manager for Wilhelmsen Marine Services AS, "and we don't like to wait until Monday for spare parts."
Hagen notes that many suppliers do offer customer service on weekends and holidays, but such access doesn't help if spare parts aren't available until the following week.
For Hagen, customer support is an essential component when choosing a marine systems supplier. "We look for availability, quality and service," Hagen said. "We chose Norcontrol as much for their cutting-edge control systems as for their comprehensive customer support program."
Developing such a program is expensive and time consuming, but Pettersen is convinced that Norcontrol's reputation for effective customer support wins contracts
, and ensures contract renewals. That may help explain why Norcontrol has been quick to adapt to new market demands. "After listening to our customers," says Pettersen, "we have adjusted our support program to reflect our customers' demand for global access to support and parts."
Kongsberg Norcontrol has invested heavily in a network of stations and agents located in ports around the world that can provide support and spare parts to their customers year round. Since 1995, the company has more than doubled the number of service stations and agents around the world and plans to expand further, especially in the U.S.
For all their global ambitions, Kongsberg Norcontrol is determined to maintain high quality support staff. Today's shipping markets often use multi-lingual crews, so Norcontrol's staff must also be able to communicate effectively in local languages. These experienced technicians must also be available 24 hours a day, which is why Norcontrol representatives can access client information on the company computer network from home, via Internet. Furthermore, the newest generation of the company's products can be remotely diagnosed from shore via wireless data communication, which ensures the crews direct on-line support around the clock. Pettersen said the biggest problem he has filling orders off-hours isn't availability of staff or spare parts, but transportation. Many transportation companies don't deliver on weekends, often forcing Norcontrol customer support staff to improvise. Indeed, Norcontrol representatives are sometimes called upon to take spare parts by cab to airports for delivery to ports around the world.
With about 20 percent of Kongsberg Norcontrol's workforce involved in customer support and new local stations opening all over the world, Pettersen says the company will be able to meet rising demand for global customer service. What is good customer service? Pettersen answers: "You can't guarantee you'll never make mistakes, but you can guarantee you'll fix them."