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“Making repairs is no longer enough.”

“Making repairs is no longer enough.”
Marginal Column
Bernd Bienzeisler

Bernd Bienzeisler is responsible for the subject of “Technical Service Work” at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering and Organization in Stuttgart. He is founder of the innovation association called “Service Platform Machine”, whose members include service specialists from industry. Bienzeisler is engaged in studying technological, economic and social changes in the service sector.

Copyright Photo: Bernd Bienzeisler


November 2015


Technical service in the mechanical engineering industry sector is facing a tremendous change, calling for new structures, business models and staffing – says Bernd Bienzeisler of the innovation network known as “Service Platform Machine”.

Which areas in service are most likely to see dramatic changes in the machine tools industry?

Essentially, I can see three great changes in the offing for the service sector. First of all, new technologies are creating new ways of designing the customer interface. This is also associated with Industry 4.0 – that is to say with the digitization of all the information and communication streams. The second change pertains to the relationship between development and service. And thirdly is the international service organization.

In what way is the customer interface going to change?

At the moment the telephone is still the main interface. If a machine breaks down, the customer calls up the service department. Further channels are now available to handle this situation, including smart devices and, above all, portals in which customers can not only review their own service history but also file malfunction reports or place orders. And advice is immediately available, on the FAQ page for example. In the future the customer will be doing a wide range of jobs himself.

If customers perform work themselves, where is the potential for service providers?

That is a completely new approach for this sector since self-service contradicts the classical notion of technical service, i.e. earning money by performing as much service work as possible. Many people fail to realize that Industry 4.0 services, in the classical areas, do not necessarily promote growth. But the benefits are generated elsewhere. Yields resulting from qualified and tailor-made services may culminate in orders for new equipment. Or businesses lose fewer customers because self-service inspires greater customer loyalty. These benefits are really difficult to quantify. Service must therefore remain an integral part of the entire business process.

How will manufacturers have to prepare for this in the future?

The second change I mentioned provides a good demonstration of this. Technical design and service-oriented business models must be more closely intertwined. There is absolutely no sign of this happening now in the business world. At the moment, classical machine construction business entails designing a sophisticated product, pricing and marketing it, and then selling it to the customer. Service business is a lot different, however. Here it is a matter of talking with the customer and finding solutions for his specific problems. In the medium term, the service, engineering and IT departments will have to be much more closely networked. There is still no blueprint for this.

Is there going to be stress between sales and service?

In the medium term, sales will be much more deeply involved in giving process-oriented advice to customers. The staff knows its customers’ processes and uses this knowledge to sell suitable solutions. Companies already doing this are very successful. They have introduced the service consultant as a new job description. This consultant visits the customer two or three times a year without any intention to make a sale. He keeps an eye open for problems which might call for assistance. And this is growing to a phenomenal extent: revenue figures are on the increase with this model.

Are new players likely to enter the arena?

One of the big questions is the role likely to be played by those already well acquainted with data analysis, such as Google, Apple or telecommunication companies. Beginnings can already be seen at Google. One should not overlook the fact that there is a conflict of objectives between component suppliers and OEMs. Where new services are being offered, the major component suppliers are quick to offer certain services in competition with their customers. One wants to sell service work for his drives, the other for the entire machine. These conflicts will be intensifying, at least in the medium term, particularly because the subject of Industry 4.0 makes more data available.

How will this affect small and medium-sized businesses?

Mainly in organizing services for an international clientele. The mechanical engineering and equipment construction sector is made up largely of small and medium-sized businesses – with an average of 250 employees. You cannot set up a worldwide service organization with such a small staff. In my opinion, there are two ways for SMEs to organize globally uniform service quality as quickly as needed. One is to cooperate with local suppliers. The knowledge required can be obtained using new technologies, such as augmented reality. An example is the use of smart glasses. Technical support staff at headquarters can see and hear what the local technician senses and can give him precise additional information. This means that foreign partners could employ less qualified staff. It is indeed difficult to find sufficiently trained people abroad. The second method is to offer self-service, as was previously mentioned.

To what extent is the job description for a service technician going to change?

There will continue to be service technicians, but their expertise profile will be different. We recently carried out a survey with 150 mechanical engineering companies. The queries were on the expertise of service technicians and their contribution toward corporate success. The result was that the solutions to technical problems are still the basis – but have no influence whatsoever on explaining the success of the service activities. This means that they are a necessary but in no way a sufficient precondition. The most significant explanation stems from a combination of several factors: communication and interaction with the customer, independent entrepreneurial thinking, and telling the customer about the benefits of the service provided. So businesses will need service technicians who can do more than just fix things: understanding customer processes, developing approaches to solutions, consulting with customers, and recognizing sales potentials.

That sounds a lot like the Swiss Army knife.

Exactly, and that is why businesses find it so difficult to find suitable people for service work. This leads us to the question about the extent to which new technologies and additional approaches will be able to help service engineers solve problems in the future. Pedigreed technicians will no longer be needed, but instead people with other capabilities. This is also a question of qualification. On the one hand, businesses are going to have to link technical services more closely to human resources development; on the other hand, they will have to set up their own training schedules to enhance these capabilities – but only large companies will be able to afford this. Simply learning how to make repairs will no longer be sufficient.