Having a good support is important.  In fact, service and support should be one of the most important factor in your purchase.  If you don’t agree, you should really read this first. [Article: Ask before you buy; Service & Support]  In order for you to get good service & support, you need to be supported by right organization.  In earlier article I addressed importance of asking who is supporting you and what you should ask regarding service & support before purchasing a unit.  One part of this puzzle is manufacturer’s support.  Even though you may never hear from them nor ever talk to them, they play a very important role in successful service & support.

Having a presence make a big difference.  Anyone who lived in NYC or Philly can tell you a key difference between wrong side of the town and tourist/university area is police presence.  You can literary spot police at every corner of the street.  When I was going to college in Philly, I was told that University of Pennsylvania employs 2,000 police officers to protect their school campus and surrounding areas. (on top of regular security personnel)  And in those areas, you know you are ‘safe’ to walk around alone even at midnight.

The point here is the presence.  If you’re shopping for a product and you looked at the back of the packaging, in most cases you expect to see some sort of 1-800 number.1-800  And sometimes those phone numbers lead us through maze of pressing ‘right’ selections or talking to someone in India.  But we tolerate such hassle as long as we can get the service we need.  Let say you purchased a TV from Best Buy and it breaks in 6 months, you better hope that there is 1-800 you can call to get help because you know Best Buy isn’t going to help.  And if back of the box only had long international numbers you don’t recognize, what would you do?  Would you still have purchased the unit knowing the fact?  What if that unit had the best value?  This exact question should be asked when purchasing a medical device.

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[Image courtesy of Stuart Mills / FreeDigitalPhotos.net]
On my earlier article [Article: Service & Support]  I talked about typical structure in supporting a medical device.  If you purchase a brand new medical device, it’s very typical for you to get on-site support from your dealer (one you bought from) who gets parts and troubleshooting (expertise) support from the manufacturer.  Because you’re only calling and getting support by the dealer, it’s easy to think that’s all you need to know.  But often times a lower priced unit does not have manufacturers with U.S. presence. (aka no 1-800 number)  And believe or not, this creates similar problem you’d experience from ebay sellers from Hong Kong.  Consider these situations.  What would happen if a technician who came for service your unit encountered something they never seen?  Or maybe they’re not well trained?  Or what if he need a part that they don’t normally keep in stock because it’s not one of common parts? (and when is last time your unit had ‘common’ issue by the book?)  I’m sure technician has some training but does he know everything about the unit?  Or perhaps he was trained only on common issues and told to call if problem that wasn’t covered in their brief training who work for the manufacturer.  If he has a 1-800 number to call, it’s not a big deal.  Because you can troubleshoot real-time with the experts and ship required parts overnight.

I worked for a foreign manufacturer for few years who opened a U.S. office.  Initially, even though we were owned 100% by the manufacturer, they were only willing to stock parts that would commonly have issue and even then only if the branch office will issue PO for the parts.  And they promised that those parts will take care of 90% of the issues.  Reality of that percentage was about 60%.  It took two years of negotiating and never-ending requests and threats to get all parts in stock with ability to program all the boards. (And they agreed to keep a technical expert from HQ in branch office as well)  I do understand the business behind this reluctance because in order for them to stock two set of all the parts needed, they have to purchase those parts with no potential income from it.  And often times parts are stored over 2~3 years and get outdated and no longer holds value.  But that’s the reality of it.  You have to choose to invest in good support.  Even though this was within same organization with parent company owning 100% of the sister company, there was this much hassle to get all the needed parts to be ready.

Imagine how they feel about their distributor wanting to keep parts in stock?

Let’s say your unit is having an issue and technician who came running from nearby office has a question and need to speak to experts at the manufacturer who does not have a U.S. number.  Let’s say they are in China or India.  China’s 8am is 4pm PST (7pm EST).  So even if your tech got to your office in the morning, he can’t do anything until late afternoon.  And what if the issue your unit has is not ‘common’ and they need to ship parts from manufacturer located overseas?  In most cases, from my experiences, if foreign manufacturer use express DHL service, it’ll get to the site in 48 hours.  So, one day to troubleshoot and two days to waiting for the parts, total three days to fix the unit isn’t the worst thing in the world.  But what if your parts get caught and inspected by custom?  This does happen about 25% of times from my experience which result in 1~2 week of delay in average.

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[Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net]
Sounds messy and risky?  It is.  The good news is you can prevent this!  Make sure to ask ‘Is there manufacturer’s support in US?’, ‘Is there direct phone support from manufacturer for US customers?’, and ‘Do manufacturer keep all parts within US?’.  And on the last question, it is important to clarify and ask if they hold most parts, common parts, or all the parts that goes into the unit.  And don’t let them evade answering this question.  Be careful when they say they’re OEM manufacturer or exclusive distributor.  Both term means they’re wholesaler of the product.  And being a wholesaler (even exclusive) and having manufacturer support are two very different things.

You must differentiate true presence and illusion of presence.

So why don’t they just make an US office with warehouse to support their customers?  If you ask me, it’s about dedication and willingness.  Having an office and warehouse in a territory is not an easy thing to do.  It takes tremendous amount of work and great deal of investment.  And only companies who are serious about providing good support can even think about doing this.  And I’m not talking about one person office or sending a guy or two in rotation to their partner company.  While those implementations are better than nothing, it has limitations.  Having a functional office with full support capacity is dedication and service to their customer.  That’s why so many manufacturer will just make OEM manufacturer or exclusive distributors overseas, because it’s easier and cheaper for them.  So next time you’re on the market for a medical device, ask them about manufacturer’s support in US?  And don’t be surprised if a unit without full support has the lowest price or best package.  As the old saying goes; You get what you pay for.

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