Getting back to basics - service and support

Monday, September 1, 2003

As most systems integrators know, maintaining system integrity and providing ongoing customer support are vital to their relationship with a customer or end user. Yet, as financial times get tough and budgets continue to shrink, both end users and system integrators must find new measures for not only ensuring their systems stay current, but also for maintaining a constant cash flow through the sales channels of the organization. It is times like these that service and support enter the picture and take center stage.

To offer the highest level of support, an integrator should have excellent documentation of every installation and a trained staff that not only understands each customer’s specific needs, but also is knowledgeable about the latest technology.

In today’s dynamic security world, service specialists are required to know much more than the general inputs and outputs of a system. They have to be knowledgeable on every aspect of a system’s design, programming, installation, documentation and history. For this reason, proper documentation during the installation of a system is vital to a service organization. The “nicer and neater” the installation, the better a service organization will be able to perform its job - keeping the customer happy for years to come. A carefully executed installation will include complete labeling and documentation of each connection. Plus, during the installation, the technician must make each decision considering the complete customer relationship, which involves service in the future.

The systems integrator’s well-trained staff makes a crucial difference in systems support, as well. They represent the front line defense and customers expect them to not only be on time and have the right parts to fix a problem, but to also know the system’s layout and history. In addition, the proper documentation of an installation is vital to providing the prompt and accurate service that customers require. Companies that complete careful documentation and provide knowledgeable service will reap the benefits of customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Therefore, systems integrators must implement documentation processes that start with the project estimate and end with the last service call ever placed to a customer’s site. The records will note times, dates and issues, as well as all the steps taken to resolve them. The integrator must document everything that is ever done to a system and educate the customer throughout the entire process. These efforts will ultimately save time and improve service.

Today’s systems integrators are required and expected to think outside the box and become knowledgeable experts on different aspects of a customer’s operation, making them a true full-service provider. Individual industries and businesses each have very different security needs. The systems integrator must understand how to meet these demands and offer flexible solutions to customers.

Manufacturers are also aware of the changing demands of the marketplace and provide invaluable support to integrators. By taking advantage of manufacturer’s training opportunities, systems integrators learn about new technologies and practices designed to ensure the reliability and survivability of their systems. As systems change more rapidly, integrators are expecting more from manufacturers as well, and documentation is one of the most commonly requested items. Some manufacturers are including installation and application guides with every order as well as providing front-line support.

Documentation, customer and product knowledge and innovation are all components of outstanding customer service and support. This formula for success not only adds significant value to the user’s system, but also creates customer loyalty. Training the staff to think in terms of building these long-term customer relationships is one way for an integrator to get an edge on the competition - and bring “the basics” back to customer support.

Steven Turney is Security Solutions Manager for TAC Americas. He can be reached at