Remote Diagnostics: Cut Costs and Offer Cutting-Edge Customer Service15 Feb, 2005 By: Richard Heckelmann imageSource
Remote Diagnostics: Cut Costs and Offer Cutting-Edge Customer Service
Remote diagnostics is not the
freshest of concepts as most in the copier/printer business know. But there will
always be those obstinate dealers out there that refuse to change their attitude
At one time, Darren Metz,
president of NovaCopy, was one of those independent dealers. He was under the
belief that a service technician is most productive when operating in the field.
Three years ago, however, Metz had a change of heart while pursuing an account
for First Horizon National Corp., a national financial services company.
"We initially responded to a
request for proposal from First Horizon," explained Metz, who has dealerships in
Memphis, Nashville and Jackson, Tennessee. "The RFP asked what kind of advanced
technology we would use to manage, monitor and service their networked devices
installed throughout the country. We knew that emerging remote diagnostics
technology would be essential to providing the level of service First Horizon
required and landing the account."
Remote diagnostics software
enables the firmware in a copier or MFP to electronically communicate status
information about the device to a service technician in a remote location,
typically at the dealer’s main office. This can be an invaluable capability for
dealers whose customers employ networked digital systems that provide important
functions from copying and printing to Internet-fax and document management.
NovaCopy, which sells Konica
Minolta and Panasonic office systems products, eventually won First Horizon’s
account, based in part on its ability to implement and use remote diagnostics to
service the company’s networked office equipment. The dealership was familiar
with the technology since NovaCopy had been a beta-testing partner for
Panasonic’s Remote Diagnostics System (RDS).
NovaCopy began installing
Panasonic RDS for First Horizon in February 2002. When the implementation was
completed and the system proved to be a success, NovaCopy contacted its other
customers about using remote diagnostics. Today the dealer has 500 customers
that benefit from the technology, and Metz expects the number to grow.
Metz said his company’s
experience shows that once a commitment to remote diagnostics, the RDS
technician is far more productive in closing calls than a field technician. A
NovaCopy field technician completes an average of five calls per day whereas,
the NovaCopy RDS technician closes 20 calls per day; nearly 20 percent of all
requests for service at NovaCopy.
The Top Four Benefits of Remote
1. Auto Meter Readings and
Elimination of Billing Errors—One of the most important benefits of remote
diagnostics for dealers is automatic collection of meter readings and the
elimination of billing errors caused by traditional phone calls and fax
broadcasts to end users who do not always report meters accurately or on
"Meter billing accuracy is a
challenge for any dealership," Metz said. "Invoice errors can be costly and can
interrupt customer service." Metz added that in extreme cases, incorrect billing
can cost a dealer an account.
With RDS, meter information is
sent electronically to the dealer via fax or email on a recurring monthly
schedule, ensuring accuracy and eliminating irregularities in the meter reading.
Using RDS as a platform, NovaCopy customized a meter-reading billing program for
First Horizon that allows meter information to be sent directly from the client
machine to NovaCopy’s online billing system where it is automatically entered,
completely eliminating data entry of meters for billing purposes.
Metz pointed out that customers
detest meter read phone calls or fax requests because they interrupt their work
day and cut into their productivity. In addition, fraudulent toner telemarketers
use fake meter reading calls as a ploy to gain information about a customer,
which they later use to trick the customer into paying for supplies under false
Widespread toner telemarketing
fraud has made many customers wary about giving out any information about their
copier over the phone and in some cases they refuse to report meters to their
legitimate dealer. Metz said NovaCopy reached a point, prior to implementing
remote diagnostics, where its customer service reps would often have to convince
customers they were actually from the dealership just to get the meter reading
over the phone.
"Requiring customers to report
meters is a problematic process," he said. "When we tell a prospective customer,
‘With remote diagnostics, we’ll never again have to call you for a meter
reading,’ the response is always positive."
2. Reduced Costs and Improved
Service—Remote diagnostics technology enables dealers to reduce costs and
improve customer service. Dealers who do not use remote diagnostics must first
dispatch a technician to the customer site. The technician then has to determine
the part that is required and make a return trip with the correct part. This is
an inefficient process that results in downtime for customers and two site
visits at the dealer’s expense to repair one problem.
Remote diagnostics eliminates
this duplication of site visits by enabling the dealer to diagnose problems
without having to visit a customer site and determine if the machine needs
consumable items such as a drum, rollers or developer.
"When a technician knows what
part is needed before visiting a customer, a whole cycle of activity is
eliminated, and that technician can be far more productive," Metz said. "The
likelihood of fixing a machine on the first call increases substantially with
3. Telephone Support—Remote
diagnostics also enables dealer telephone support staff to resolve customer
requests for service just by providing assistance over the phone. Many times a
customer reports a machine malfunction when in fact the machine is not broken.
Without remote diagnostics, it is difficult to discern a legitimate service call
from customer error over the telephone.
Remote diagnostics allows a
technician located at the dealership to view the same thing the customer sees at
their copier control panel. The technician can then walk the user through proper
machine operation, eliminating the need for a site visit and improving the
customer’s satisfaction with their equipment.
4. Remote Programming—Another
benefit to dealers and customers is the way remote diagnostics enables the
dealer to make machine programming changes without traveling to the customer’s
location. MFPs must be programmed with speed dial numbers, the fax number of the
line it is attached to, and preferences for settings like "sleep mode." A common
complaint which dealers hear all the time is, "My machine’s going to sleep too
much, can you make it stay on longer?"
With remote diagnostics, a
technician can adjust the sleep mode setting on the customer’s machine
immediately upon receipt of the customer’s phone call without having to visit
the site and without charging for a service call, often causing a customer to
exclaim, "How did you do that?" Metz refers to this as the "Wow!" factor.
Most dealers provide free
programming of machines upon delivery and subsequently charge customers who
request a technician to come out and change settings such as fax numbers and
sleep modes. Customers typically protest these charges for programming as they
think reprogramming should be free with a service agreement. By enabling the
dealer to easily reprogram machines without a site visit, remote diagnostics
eliminates what Metz refers to as "customer annoyance charges."
Since the benefits of remote
diagnostics are readily apparent, why are many customers still opposed to
implementing remote diagnostics software in their network? The answer is that
most remote diagnostics programs run over a customer’s Ethernet network using IP
protocols and requiring open ports on the customer’s firewall. IT managers will
not give a dealer access to their network for reasons of security, thereby
eliminating the viability of most remote diagnostic products on the market.
Metz said that in addition to
security concerns, "Try telling an IT person that part of their job is to now
oversee copier maintenance and meter readings. IT people are usually overwhelmed
with other computer network issues and do not want to get involved in managing
their MFPs. They also do not want to create security risks by giving outside
vendors network access."
However, some remote diagnostics
software such as Panasonic’s RDS also allow a dealer to access a customer’s MFPs
through a fax port or email rather than just via the Ethernet network. A dealer
can receive service alerts, check meters, make programming changes, and diagnose
malfunctions all through the fax port. Since it is highly unlikely that someone
can hack into a network through a fax port, the need for special security
permission to install remote diagnostics is eliminated and IT staff are much
more likely to support implementation.
An early challenge for Metz and
his staff was integrating remote diagnostics into the dealership’s sales,
configuration, delivery, and billing systems. "Fully implementing remote
diagnostics requires you to rethink your business processes," he said. "We found
that it’s essential to assess every routine business function to determine how
remote diagnostics will change the process to ensure an efficient,
This, Metz cautioned, takes
discipline, training and commitment. "The dealer must pay attention to the
process or they won’t get the payoff," he said.
For example, NovaCopy changed
its service agreement forms to ensure obtaining the fax number of each MFP the
dealership services. NovaCopy clearly defined the machine setup and programming
process to make sure each machine was configured properly for RDS to operate.
The dealership also had to change its meter reading collection system to
segregate machines with RDS from those that do not have it, and change its
service contract database so customer service reps could easily tell which
machines could be diagnosed via RDS and which ones did not have the feature.
Dealers considering implementing
remote diagnostics should be aware of the challenges they will encounter
re-engineering business processes to make the technology work for them. There
are no shortcuts if implementation is to be a success.
Today, approximately half of all
the machines in NovaCopy’s customer base, about 800 machines are managed with
RDS, including hundreds of First Horizon’s machines installed all over the
“First Horizon and all our
customers appreciate the fact that remote diagnostics has eliminated the need to
report meter readings, and that many repairs are now resolved over the phone or
handled on the initial service call," Metz says. "There’s also no question that
remote diagnostics technology helps us get new business, in addition to
improving customer service.”
But how should a dealer position
remote diagnostics to customers? Of all the benefits of remote diagnostics, the
two that resonate most with customers are the elimination of meter reads and the
ability to diagnose supply needs or service issues prior to a site visit.
"Everybody talks speeds and
feeds," Metz said. "Remote diagnostics is a specific service that today
separates a dealership from the rest of the pack and gives it a competitive
edge. Today’s strategic advantage, however, is tomorrow’s check-off item.
Customers are already starting to request we provide this service."
Metz expects the trend to
continue, and that as decisions for MFPs move from traditional office managers
and purchasing agents towards the IT domain, there will be an increasing demand
for RDS implementations from IT decision makers.
As for dealers who look to
quantify the benefits of implementing remote diagnostics, Metz has this to say:
"The bottom line is, we have one tech closing out 20 calls per day instead of
just five and we don’t have to chase down people at 800 machines to read the
meters and give us accurate readings."