Ed Miller: Leveraging after-sales service for competitive advantage

In a world where competing on product pricing alone is problematic, more companies recognize the importance of after-sales service as a means of enhancing brand value, strengthening customer relationships, and boosting revenue streams. Moreover, feedback from service activities is necessary in tracking maintenance and product configurations in the field.
By Ed Miller October 1, 2008

In a world where competing on product pricing alone is problematic, more companies recognize the importance of after-sales service as a means of enhancing brand value, strengthening customer relationships, and boosting revenue streams. Moreover, feedback from service activities is necessary in tracking maintenance and product configurations in the field. This information can be used by engineering to update product designs and develop new products with service and customer needs in mind.

In particular, product life-cycle management (PLM) serves as an indispensable approach to handling large, dynamic volumes of product-related information to improve customer service and maintenance, and developing and executing service and logistics plans and functions.

Product-related information is used by service and logistics personnel to ensure effective product support and maintenance, and to reduce both scheduled and unscheduled downtime. Service planning and execution requires knowledge of a product’s configuration; its maintenance and repair history; how it can be serviced; and what spares, test, and service equipment are needed to maintain the product.

PLM solutions integrate a product’s definition, configuration, and change history with its maintenance history so service personnel can easily and accurately obtain information they need.

Once a service or repair is completed, service personnel can update the as-maintained configuration information within the PLM solution, log the actions taken, and identify any issues encountered. Added to the PLM product definition database, this historical information is used for planning and product improvement, and to track reliability and maintainability of the product. Improvements in reliability, maintainability, safety, and maintenance can by initiated by service personnel based on their experience with the products in actual use.

PLM is a foundation for Maintenance and Repair Operations (MRO) solutions that enable companies to provide support centers for maintaining and updating product documentation; maintenance manuals, records, and histories; and as-built through as-maintained configurations for products and systems of multiple companies. Such shared or outsourced logistics and maintenance services reduce maintenance costs by sharing both infrastructure and inventory costs across a larger customer base.

Managing warranty programs to control costs and improve service response is prompting companies to more fully integrate these activities within an overall PLM environment. Information concerning how a product and its components may be disposed when they reach the end of useful life also can be maintained within the PLM environment.

In this way, after-sales service is an important element in the broadening umbrella of PLM, and an integral part of the product definition life cycle, utilizing current information for maximum efficiency and effectively providing knowledge regarding customer requirements and serviceability for new products. Undoubtedly, such PLM initiatives will take on ever greater significance as a growing number of companies recognize that, in terms of competitive differentiation, they may live or die depending on how effectively they perform after-sales services. PLM can be the key that enables them to do so effectively.

Author Information
Ed Miller is president of CIMdata Inc. (