For those of you who may have enough years behind you to remember, there once was a time in the not-so-distant past when things were made to last; if a thing you bought broke, it could be fixed rather than thrown away; and a thing would not be considered old or obsolete upon the introduction of a new improved thing six months after buying an original thing. If you have awakened to enough sunrises, you may also recall a time when departments of people once existed who knew something about the thing their company made, and were charged with the sole purpose of helping you with answers when you had questions about the thing you bought, or if you needed help when something went wrong with your thing. One would think that such a combination of designing and making high quality goods coupled with support by dedicated and knowledgeable people would be a good and widespread practice, and embraced and owned the world over by companies. But alas, it is not universally so. Somewhere along the way, the value proposition consisting of durable products coupled with great personal service, shifted to a proposition consisting of the lowest cost products coupled with self-service. A widespread drive toward efficiency and a painful experience indeed for the one person who was most affected – the customer. Just try calling your cable TV provider for help as a case in point.
You might be wondering if these aren’t just the musings of a mind in the decline of its most productive years, and simply romanticizing the past in perfect reminiscence. Actually…it’s possible, but I don’t think so in this case. The facts are that products being designed and built today by innovative minds, and modern technologies and methods, are the best the world has ever seen. A new awakening to design has inspired a generation to the passion of creating products smarter, better, more easily used, and more beautiful at costs that allow access to more people than ever before. Engineering knowledge and contemporary design tools now available for product development (hardware and software) have sped technological change. Modern manufacturing has pushed hard against the boundaries of traditional thinking in order to continually drive greater efficiencies. These things are all good. It is indeed a good thing for new methods and tools to emerge creating greater efficiencies and better products. That is, as long as the company making the thing can align their definition of their product, service, and quality with their own set of values as an organization and the needs of their customer.
I hold on to a simple philosophy about how to serve a customer — serve them. Don’t pretend to serve them, nor rely on someone else to serve them for you. Serve them yourself if you want it to be right, and don’t relinquish control of the things (processes, people, programs, production, products and services) that make their experience the best it can possibly be. After all, there is no more important person in the world for a company than its customer. If you depend on someone else to design for, create for, educate, or support your customer, then you are placing your customer’s experience with your company into the hands of someone with different interests and priorities for their experience than you do. Particularly in our business where complex systems are designed and assembled, there are no substitutes for having ownership of the engineering, education, and support resources that help ensure a positive customer experience. Service, whether it be in the form of the quality, capability, and durability of the product, or the competence and delivery of the support making a customer experience successful, is key to a great customer relationship when selling complex products.
In a commoditized world where products may be easily substituted, the main driver in the purchase matrix is price. Companies making these sorts of products seek ways in which to build them at the lowest cost, within the same creative boundaries as competitors, and develop distribution and support systems that are focused more on efficiency than a great service experience. Low cost leadership is typically not a good bedfellow for amazingly differentiated products and high performance service. Ask yourself this — when you call a company for help that has sold you a thing, who answers the phone? Is it a human or a machine? Why would a company that cares about serving its customers in a meaningful way put them through an automated telephone exercise when they are in most need of help. There is a place for commodities and low cost leadership, but not in a space where application boundaries are constantly being pushed and understanding of the art remains an essential component in successful systems.
It stands to reason that a company (at least in our industry) which holds the value of service above low cost leadership would be far better positioned to control its design, production, training, and support (not to mention providing a human to answer the phone). It is this approach that leads to better products, great customer experience, and just a whole lot more fun.
I’m proud to say that Biamp lives this philosophy each and every day, and has for the last 35 years we’ve been in business. Biamp people design our products, whether they’re sitting in Beaverton or Brisbane. Every DSP product, or families of products, we sell are made by the good people of Oregon in our ISO9001:2008-certified factory under one roof. I’m very proud of our training program, in which Biamp has made an enormous investment and has educated thousands of people face-to-face around the world. And finally, we have a customer support organization in sales and applications engineering that I would hold up to any other company in our industry. In short, that thing I raised with you as a point in history, turns out not to be in the past at all. It exists, and is alive and well at Biamp!