Sophisticated Technology Still Requires Tech Support

We all know technology has pushed electronic security products to a level of durability and reliability unheard of five or 10 years ago. A few months back, I wrote about warranties and service contracts, and how they are becoming less significant once equipment passes the initial burn-in stage. Unfortunately, this leads to another unforeseen problem.

When a product fails, the easiest solution usually is to replace it. While this worked at one time, the convergence of reliable electronics, product complexity and increasing amounts of environmental hazards make this option far less effective. Often a brand new product won’t solve the problem, particularly if the problem is related to a software bug or operator error.

Rely on Experts for Tech Support
Having less of a need for new products increases our reliance on support resources, both from the integrator and the manufacturer. We need guidance from people who have been there before and lived to tell the tale. Experience counts, and looking for that experience is becoming more of a challenge.

“As manufacturers consolidate and combine tech support groups, we find that the person on the other end of the phone is just a few pages ahead of us in the manual,” says Jim Arsenault, senior technician at the Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake, Minn. “We rely on our peers, the manufacturers rep firm and the integrator more and more when we run into something we haven’t seen before.”

Arthur Bourque, president of Surveillance Specialties in North Andover, Mass., agrees. “We are very internalized for tech support. We rely more and more on our own technicians and have found that in most cases, they know more about the products we sell than the support person at the factory. In fact, when we hit a brick wall, we usually go right to the engineering team that developed the product to save our customers time and aggravation.”

Integrators Are 1st Line of Support
The selection of the right integrator is often the single most important step end users can take in solving their support problems. Manufacturers encourage end users to consider the integrator the first line of support, as their knowledge of unique job site conditions and customer requirements can make them more effective than a person halfway across the country.

“If our customers are calling tech support directly, we want to know what we’re doing wrong,” Bourque says. “We see our support capabilities as a competitive advantage, and have used this strength to win new customers that have called for help when they didn’t know where else to turn.”

Many end users considering changing suppliers use the issue of support as a measuring stick. In my experience, pricing, terms and delivery are almost always negotiable but skilled, knowledgeable employees are hard to replicate in a bid situation. If you can call and check up on the level of support you’re likely to receive in the future, you can avoid unpleasant surprises down the road.

Manufacturer rep firms can also be an excellent source of support. Many of them have added technical staff as their product lines have gotten more complex, and they often spot trends and are the first to report them back to the manufacturer. They can often confirm the existence of a problem, saving hours or days of frustration, and can point the end user to a more qualified integrator if the one they are using isn’t up to the task.

“We view the manufacturer’s rep firm as the face of the manufacturer,” comments Tim Bohr, surveillance director at the Foxwoods Casino Resort in Mashantucket, Conn. “We make sure they are aware of any problems we are having, and often look to them for feedback and problem resolution.”

Get a Little Help From Your Friends
Networking with peers is an excellent support resource as well. “Sometimes we’ll go to integrators outside of our market area who may be experiencing the same problems,” Bourque says. In many industries these networks can be more formal, linking casino surveillance directors and technicians, law enforcement personnel and other like-minded professionals. In fact, many members of the Security Industry Association (SIA) and American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) list networking opportunities as a primary benefit of membership.

On a recent airplane trip, the pilot told me that for years, experts had been predicting airplanes that would fly themselves. Soon the pilot would no longer be needed, but first they’d have to do the impossible — build an airplane that could never have any kind of malfunction. “Air travel has become so routine that people take us for granted until something goes wrong,” he remarked.

I believe the same thing applies when selecting an integrator and manufacturer, and urge my clients to do the same.


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