All manufacturers of technology know that selling the right equipment is only part of keeping their customers satisfied. Steen Clausen of Vetaphone’s Customer Support Team explains how the Danish inventors and pioneers of surface treatment maintain their market-leading status.
Q: Do you see your job as reactive or proactive?
A: Very much proactive and this is what gives all market leaders the edge. It’s always far better to anticipate a situation than allow it to become problem that requires a solution – but that’s in an ideal world and the reality is often quite different.
Q: How do you go about avoiding potential problems?
A: It’s more a case of gaining a close understanding of each customer’s specific requirement and production capability, and then assessing how best to provide the technology and support they need. Each case is different, even within the same industry sector, whether it’s converting, laminating or extrusion, so we have to keep an open mind and be flexible in our approach.
Q: Does this apply to all types of customer?
A: Yes. With the OEMs, who handle the installations themselves, we need to work closely prior to commissioning so that it becomes a turnkey operation. Their customers prefer a single point of contact so it’s down to us to ensure that the Vetaphone technology supplied is well integrated into the main machine, whether it’s a press, laminator or extruder. By working closely with the OEM, we can ensure our part of the installation is seamless.
Q: What about retrofits?
A: The key factor is establishing what is the problem with their existing surface treatment system. It can be failing for a number of reasons and until we know precisely why, and it is often not for the reason the customer believes, we cannot offer advice and suggest the best solution. We are very thorough in our investigative work because we need to find a long-term solution for the customer. This can often require a degree of education in how the system works and how to use it correctly.
Q: So it’s not just about fixing and mending then?
A: Not at all. Although surface treatment is only a small part of the total production process it is a vital one and as the saying goes: ‘a chain is only as strong as its weakest link’. That’s the reason we see education and training as a key element in our work with customers. A Corona unit is not simply there to ‘set and forget’. You need to appreciate how it works and what it does, and we find there is a shortage of this knowledge across the industry.
Q: What are the main benefits of this approach?
A: One of our USPs is that Vetaphone technology offers its users a level of fine control that is not available elsewhere – but this is of no value if the customers don’t understand the importance of the process. By working with them and evaluating their problems we can recommend a programme of training and maintenance that will improve the performance of the entire production process and give them a greater degree of self-sufficiency. The more capable they are the less they will need to spend on service calls – we aim to fix any problem by phone/email within four hours – nobody wants to pay for a short-time call out.
Q: You obviously have great confidence in Vetaphone technology?
A: We invented what has become known as Corona treatment and have constantly developed the process since the 1950s. There is more accumulated knowledge of surface treatment at our HQ than anywhere else in the world! So, yes, I am very confident in the quality and performance of our technology. It’s designed and manufactured by the best in the industry because it has to perform 24/7 365 days a year. Its block design makes for easy remote troubleshooting and our online support prevents many expensive onsite visits.
Q: How does Vetaphone cope with the changes in market demand?
A: Our technology is upgradeable – and this is so important as we work towards a greener economy. Very little is thrown away as unusable – for example new Vetaphone generators are frequently fitted to Corona stations that have been working non-stop for 20 years or more. Our knowhow and technical capability even allow us fit our generators to other manufacturers’ treatment systems to improve performance and reduce waste.
Q: This must be a useful sales tool?
A: It’s all about quality. If you have faith in the integrity of your production process it gives you confidence to promote your brand. That’s why we don’t sell preventative maintenance contracts – we believe there is no need for them. If we have listened carefully to the customer’s requirements and supplied the right equipment, there should be no need for anything other than on-call support.
Q: Doesn’t this must make Vetaphone products expensive?
A: I always say: ‘cheap in – expensive out!’ Like most things in life, you get what you pay for, and when it’s something as apparently insignificant as a Corona unit but it has the capability of stopping the entire production line, then any user looking to run a profitable business cannot afford to skimp on detail. The knock-on costs of cheap surface treatment systems are the reason we secure so much retrofit business.
Q: How do you sum up your role at Vetaphone?
A: We keep the wheels turning. Sales and support go hand-in-hand and when you have a top-quality product in which you have confidence, you can focus on finding the best solution for the customer. To do that, you need to get really close to them and understand their day-to-day problems and anxieties. Any ‘fixing’ that we do is usually with their processes – the Vetaphone technology largely takes care of itself!