After-Sales Service Service is More Than Just a Job

From Anke Geipel-Kern

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How good, agile service enhances a company’s reputation and becomes a gateway to the customer?Germany is not a service desert: For pharmaceutical machinery manufacturer Glatt, the after-sales service team is a source of pride. Martin Zemke’s technicians are available around the clock for customers worldwide. In an interview, Zemke reveals what makes the difference.

Even in times of Covid: Service technicians in action.
Even in times of Covid: Service technicians in action.
(Bild: Glatt)

What customers expect from a machine manufacturer’s service department today sounds simple in principle: fast response to inquiries, high availability of spare parts, professional, knowledgeable technical experts, and a plant that is buzzing. But what makes the difference between good and very good service?

Martin Zemke, who has been the Head of After Sales Service at the Glatt Sales & Service Center in Binzen, Germany since 2016, does not have to think long for the answer: “People make all the difference. Service is provided by people for people, and only a highly motivated team can perform well.” He is very proud of the first-level support’s initial resolution rate and the performance of his eleven-member backup team: “As soon as contact is made via telephone, email, the service portal or the homepage, our colleagues offer suitable solutions and approaches to our customers’ questions, and can provide further assistance quickly and without complications.”

Whether the job involves installation and commissioning, regular maintenance, calibration, repairs and off-site support services, application and process engineering training, training following retrofits of old systems, deployment planning, spare parts supply or support in dismantling old systems — the service staff at the Binzen-based pharma specialist know every angle when it comes to pharma services. Among other resources, they can also draw on the expertise of the process experts at all 13 Glatt sites. Three Sales & Service Centers in the US, India and Binzen, as well as additional Glatt service organizations in Germany, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK and Ireland, are the interfaces between Glatt and its customers.

“In the other countries we work with long-standing partners — usually independent commercial agencies, most of which maintain their own service organizations,” Zemke explains. The advantages for customers are obvious: Local contacts know the local conditions and order spare parts from local partners, which is an enormous competitive advantage, especially in China and India. According to Zemke, the local service organizations in Central and South America and the Asia-Pacific region have a strong workforce. “Together with our representatives, this gives us a network of more than 200 service technicians. The employees are technically proficient, trained for commissioning and maintenance, and can work completely self-sufficiently. This has also helped us during the pandemic.”

It’s commonplace for companies to refer to customers as partners, but Zemke’s team lives by this principle, and clients appreciate seeing one face to the customer. “This spares everyone lengthy briefings,” Zemke says, “because the maintenance manager knows our employees are familiar with the site.” Requirements have become more complex and demanding, and the time for implementation has also become tighter — after all, every minute of downtime costs money.

Even though pharmaceutical companies still perform weekly or monthly inspection/verification or control work on their own, there is an unmistakable trend, Zemke says: Long-term contracts and connections with the service provider are becoming increasingly important, and many pharmaceutical companies are reducing their own service personnel and concentrating on development and production. Above all, a consistent supply of spare parts, safety inspections and maintenance are in demand, particularly for older plants. “We also advise customers on how they can upgrade the safety of their plants, which are often older,” Zemke explains.

The proportion of process engineering tasks has increased in recent years, according to the service manager. New technologies in OSD manufacturing continue to drive the share of related services. “If a customer is having trouble getting a pharmaceutical process up and running with a specific product, or needs operator training for their new plant, it’s a case for our process experts,” Zemke tells us. Glatt itself is constantly working on the further development of its equipment and processes at its Innovation Centers, such as the Twinpro, the Multilab, Modcos, and a new generation of coaters. The need for training is therefore likely to increase even further. However, customer expectations, which are determined in regular dialogs, are also rising.

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“This helps us develop new service offerings,” Zemke explains. Digitalization is the keyword: In the pharmaceutically regulated environment, we have not yet arrived at a plant that can order a spare part from Glatt, although this is possible from a purely technical point of view. Digital billing models and procurement and warehousing processes are also possible. Additional potential lies in electronic communication: In the future, components labeled with RFID sensors and sensors coupled to bus systems should make it possible to inform operators about the correct configuration of their plant before production starts, to read out the parameterization of the sensors including the article, and to make this information available online, Zemke explains. In this way, the service technicians can recognize which components are in use in the plant and can provide first-level support and carry out re-parameterizations. Spare parts also reach the customer faster. A digitalization pilot project presented at Achema 2018 is currently being implemented and tested at Glatt.

The developers are also considering ideas for predictive and preventive maintenance: If the plant control system or a higher-level production control system receives information about the status of wear and spare parts, this enables intervention before the plant comes to a standstill, thus increasing plant availability. With such innovative methods, service technicians become a source of pride for the company and pave the way for future investment.

* A. Geipel-Kern is Senior Editor at PROCESS