Making the Most of a First Impression

Very often customer service begins and ends with the service technician.

After all, they are usually the only contact that customers will have with your company. And sometimes a customer’s impression has already been formed before the technician even arrives on site. It’s daunting to think that something as important as customer retention or company reputation may have already been affected before a service tech walks through a customer’s door. That’s a lot resting on your technician’s shoulders!

I found myself in a relevant situation when I moved house in September and had to wait at my new residence for a technician to install my internet. I was originally told when I ordered the service that they would be there between 9am and 5pm – a long window to wait!

However, the company called me at 9am to inform me the technician would arrive sometime after lunch. The technician himself then called me at 11am to inform me that he would be with me between 1pm and 3pm. A couple of quick phone calls freed up my morning to run errands and more importantly made a really good first impression on me.

No matter if the service call is at a home or business, there is always one question all customers have in regards to the technician: When are they going to get here?

How a company addresses this question can contribute more to customer satisfaction than the price or efficiency of the fix itself. In fact, this particular internet provider has already received two new customers from me because I’ve recommended them to family members. In this day and age, most internet services are similar enough in quality and price (at least in my neck of the woods). What had impressed me enough to recommend them was the customer service.

We can all relate to hearing, “We’ll send a technician out between 9am and 5pm”. And we can all relate to being stuck at home waiting for a technician to arrive, whether it’s for an installation or repair, because their estimated time of arrival basically spans the entire day. And more often than not, if you’re told they’ll be there between 9am and 5pm, without fail they will arrive at 4:59pm!

This can be just as frustrating when waiting for a technician to arrive at an office or place of business because office staff face restrictions such as ensuring the technician arrives within office hours and has sufficient time to make the repair.

Perhaps they’ve had to cordon off a high-traffic, frequently-used area or rearrange meetings, not to mention being able to anticipate how long the broken equipment will be out of commission for so workers can plan accordingly.

When it comes to customer satisfaction, first impressions really can mean everything.

It can be nearly impossible to pinpoint the exact time the technician will arrive at a service call, especially when they have other calls beforehand. Having communication with the customer either by calling or texting can go a long way in addressing a common complaint and ensuring they don’t feel like they’ve been forgotten about.

The technician makes a good first impression of themselves and the company before they’ve even arrived. And as we all know, customer satisfaction is one of the vital building blocks for any business in achieving Best-In-Class. As the saying goes, “Your first impression is your last impression.” And sometimes a customer’s impression has already been formed before the technician even arrives on site.


Then and Now – A look at the changes to parts and folios

Technology is constantly moving forward. Every year we have the next cutting edge smartphone or game-changing IoT-enabled device. Of course, the technology behind information management and data processing is no different.

For several years, Infomill has processed data for a multinational energy and home services company. Using the data that we process, their engineers can visit a domestic property secure in the knowledge that all the parts and servicing information is available at their fingertips to help them service, fault find and repair an appliance. We strive to make the data and associated illustrations 100% accurate so that the engineer only has to visit a property once to service the appliance or effect a repair.

We all know the importance of the First-time Fix Rate! After all, faster fixes result in happier customers and reduced service costs. The company prides itself on efficient service and the work we do for them plays an important factor in achieving this goal. A small, but significant cog in the field service wheel.

I joined the project in 2000. As you can imagine, things were different back then. Parts lists were processed using a system called FADASPI, which could be fiddly to say the least, as parts lists had to be entered individually, line by line. Technology moved forward, as it tends to do, and Data Retrieval Using Interactive Devices (or DRUID for short), was developed. The DRUID database held all the parts lists, exploded views, service information and other associated documents.

To get the technical information into DRUID, the data was received from the manufacturers in varying formats, ranging from hard copy, .pdf, MS Word and plain text documents. A benefit of DRUID was that we also moved from manually entering the parts lists to an electronic import of the whole list, which made the whole process significantly faster. Framemaker was used for processing servicing documents, where the structured approach made for easier processing and a consistent output.

At the end of each quarter a snapshot was taken of the data and the updated information was  burned onto 5 Master CDs.  The data on the CDs was then checked AGAIN to ensure everything was correct before being replicated and sent to the field engineers for use on their laptops. This part of the process took approximately 10 weeks, which meant that a field engineer might not receive the data update until nearly 6 months after it was first received by us for processing .

Needless to say, a more efficient process needed to be developed and in 2004 a web based system for the data was developed to replace DRUID. The new system gave office-based users access to technical information in real time. The data for servicing documents moved from Framemaker to use of .xml with Adobe being used to zone the documents. CDs were still produced, although as the amount of data increased, the data moved to extra CDs and then eventually to DVDs..

Further developments by Infomill now means that the data no longer goes out to the engineers on DVDs. Changes made during the previous 24 hours are sent out over the air in small deltas that are applied to the database held on the engineer’s device. This system has been developed to run alongside the web based system that is still being used for processing the data.  The result is that data can now be processed, checked and sent over the air to the engineer who will receive it within as little as 4 days from initial receipt of the data.

Some might argue that this isn’t as exciting as smartphones and IoT devices. However, technology innovation is all about making our lives easier and more efficient, and certainly the innovations that Infomill has developed in the last few years is no different! Take, for instance, the fact that service engineers for this multinational energy company now receive up-to-date technical information within a week – a far cry from the 6 months it used to take back in 2000!


Trusting the data – what could possibly go wrong?

As I clung to the mast 90 feet above the heaving deck in the middle of the night, being subjected to the force 9 gale raging around me, I wondered what on earth possessed me to volunteer for this.

What has that statement got to do with technical data accuracy you may ask?

For some years I have been part of the volunteer crew for a 200-foot sailing brig run by the Tall Ships Youth Trust, an organisation that gives youngsters the opportunity to receive sail training. Sailing a tall ship develops leadership skills, teamwork and above all, trust in fellow ship trainees and crew to keep them safe.

A key aspect to keeping a large vessel safe is having access to accurate Admiralty charts, which contain necessary data like water depths, harbour locations and tidal information. Essentially, these charts enable a ship’s officers to navigate safe passage and ensure that the ship will never run aground.

Mariners trust the data because it is the result of surveys that accurately measure water depths at different times over several years and is continually updated to cater for changes due to erosion or silting.

The data is checked and can be relied on. The navigation officer trusts the data.


The same is true for service engineers. Having accurate, up to date information is vital to ensure that equipment is serviced or repaired correctly. Being able to identify the correct part and obtain it quickly means safe and cost effective repairs. No engineer wants to have multiple return visits to a customer because the wrong part has been ordered. Not only is it embarrassing and makes the engineer appear incompetent, but every return visit costs the company, both in monetary terms and reputation.

If a process is changed by a manufacturer or a piece of equipment is subject to a safety notice, then the engineer needs to know. If a part on an appliance has changed, then the engineer needs to know. It’s no good if the data is outdated. Or worse, if the available data is wrong. Having access to the full accurate data at the time of need is paramount.

When the data can be trusted, then the right decisions can be made. Whether that is servicing a piece of vital medical equipment, mending a boiler in a residential property or sailing a 200-foot ship into a small harbor, the same principle applies.

That element of trust is crucial in data, whether it be on the charts that keep ships safe or in the technical and parts manuals that assist service engineers on site.

More information on the Tall Ships Youth Trust and how you can get involved can be found on their website at


Keep Things Simple, Stupid!

Massive oil tankers and other ocean-going merchant vessels were a sector that Infomill had never experienced before.  As a small company specialising in enhancing technical information used in maintaining equipment, I had never thought our products and services could apply to the marine industry.  I was wrong.  Not only was the idea of working with ships fascinating, but the client was based in Hong Kong. A trip to the pearl of the orient was just icing on the cake.  Or Dim Sum.

The project was a unique challenge.  It seemed to be an issue regarding technical data communication between ships at sea and shore-based managers. These managers were responsible for keeping the vessels on schedule, which meant avoiding any mechanical problems that would interfere with the intensive schedule.  It seemed that the volume of technical data traffic was simply too much for the fleet network, both on and off-shore.  So a couple of Infomill consultants were called in to see what we could find out…

What started as a technical investigation soon transformed into a process review.  We examined who was sending what to where and why. We realised that the organisational structure meant that the same piece of information was duplicated and copied multiple times by different departments and line managers with hardcopies being made and filed.  As space is at such a premium in Hong Kong, these files were then taken offsite and stored at a considerable cost.

So, rather than recommend a technological solution to the problem that the client thought they had, we simply suggested ways in which this cross-departmental confusion could be streamlined.  The result was a reduction in workload for the staff, easing congestion on their network and a reduction in cost.

Our client was very happy.  Two people from a small company had solved their problem easily and, I have to admit, at a low price.  I realised that perhaps this had been too low when our client then produced a massive tome of reports and recommendations from a large global consultancy company and placed it on the desk.  They had apparently suggested a solution the included all sorts of technology and clever systems at a very high price.

However, they had failed to address the underlying problems that had been there all along.  Our client suspected that there had to be a simpler solution and had contacted Infomill as we had a reputation for delivering realistic and pragmatic systems and advice.

We were later treated to a wonderful evening at one of Hong Kong finest restaurants as our reward.

Not only did this experience provide us with a unique opportunity to work in a different industry, but it also proved a vital point: the best solution doesn’t necessarily have to involve elaborate proposals, fancy technology and expensive systems. Oftentimes the road to success is all about simplicity and efficiency.


Heating Controls: An IoT Case Study

A lot of things are being connected to the internet that probably shouldn’t be (with hilarious consequences)

Firstly, I have to admit to being a bit of an IoT sceptic. Anyone who follows the internetofs**t [i] (redacted for politeness) Twitter account will know that there are an awful lot of things being connected to the internet that probably shouldn’t be (with hilarious consequences). The recent story of someone’s 11 hour attempt to boil an internet connected kettle [ii] should be a warning to us all.

Also, the recent DDOS attack on the Dyn DNS provider [iii] seems to have been made by a botnet that consisted mainly of internet connected devices (mostly cameras and DVRs). A lot of these devices have unpatched vulnerabilities and seemingly no mechanism for patching them in the field. As one joker put it “The internet was designed to survive a nuclear explosion, now it is being brought down by toasters”.

I am also generally not an early adopter of technology. I tend to wait until a technology has matured (and the price has dropped). I didn’t rush to get a mobile phone and when I did it was a generation behind the cutting edge. I guess that I am just a cautious person (or maybe just a skinflint).

So when I heard that new heating controls were available that enabled you to control your home heating system remotely my first thought was “Why on earth would you want to do that?”. I have managed for several years with a digital programmable room thermostat that has (mostly) been fine.

Venturing forth into Smart Thermostat territory

This year it broke down. I have boiler repair cover with  one of the large energy suppliers and the controls are included. I could have had a like for like replacement but was offered their smart thermostat as an upgrade. I got a discount equivalent to the value of the old controls plus a summer sale offer so I decided to go for it. I had heard there were problems with the first generation system but they have now moved to the second generation which hopefully has addressed those issues!  The installation was very straight forward, with the only tricky bit being a telephone payment to a call centre that was clearly in India.

So far I am pleased with my purchase. Even without the internet connectivity, the new control is a vast improvement on my old one. The unit itself is quite smart and stylish with a mirror finish over a colour display (the first generation was a very plain white box). You can even purchase different coloured surrounds to fit with your decor!

In manual mode it is very easy to use. The unit also easily detaches from the wall mount so that you can control the temperature of the room you are in rather than one you aren’t. Although, as you would expect, you can program a schedule of on/off times and temperatures, I have mostly used it in this mode.

An IoT Success Story?

Anyway, on to internet connectivity which is surely the main selling point of this device? There is a small box that connects to your internet router. This also requires external power. There is of course also an associated app which is fairly easy to use, but a little bit basic in that it doesn’t seem to quite live up to the sleek hardware in terms of sleek design.

It doesn’t even flip when you turn the screen around. That being said the functionally is fine. You can do all of the things with the app that you can do with the control, but presumably from anywhere in the world. I guess this comes down to the critical point: how is this useful?

Well, I think rather than using scheduled heating which clearly involves heating a house that is sometimes unoccupied, this enables you to have heat on demand only when you need it. I currently have no regrets on my decision but we shall see. I have already changed from having the heating come on at a set time in the morning to just using the app to switch it on when I wake up.

Maybe I will also use it to switch it on just before I come home from work.  In theory this should save some money but only time will tell. The good news is that I can switch on the heating even when the internet is down. It seems to me that one essential component of any IoT device should be a manual override!





The Importance of Authorised Parts Information

A quick internet search provides a vast array of spare parts information for all sorts of industries. But the big question is: How can you trust it to be accurate?

The internet revolution has made access to information easier than ever and created a society that expects that access to be free. Being able to get something for nothing seems more important than checking the validity of the information or the legality of getting it.

In regulated sectors such as gas, aerospace or rail, this has implications that can impact hugely on safety.
Many manufacturers emphasize that only genuine parts supplied through their own distribution channels or those of authorised partners should be used. This ensures that the safety standards designed into appliances are maintained through responsible servicing and repair.

The same should be true of spare parts information.

Whilst some manufacturers allow free access to parts lists through their own websites, not all do. This increases the likelihood of service engineers obtaining parts information from other sources, which may not be authorised or legitimate.

Putting aside any copyright issues that may arise from reproducing information without authorisation, the validity and currency of data is of real concern. When data is obtained from sources other than the manufacturer, what guarantee is there that it is correct? Whilst there may be a degree of acceptance that free information may have inaccuracies, there is an expectation that any product containing parts and servicing information will be authorised by those manufacturers whose data is included.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Having accurate and up-to-date data feeds is vital for correct parts identification. Using a solution like Infomill’s PartsArena or AnswersAnywhere guarantees that all parts and servicing data is supplied directly from or with the authorisation of the manufacturers. Building relationships with manufacturers means that updated data is supplied on a regular basis.

Knowing that data is supplied directly from manufacturers gives service companies the assurance that their engineers will be ordering correct parts. This in turn reduces return visits and other costs associated with incorrectly ordered parts.

In today’s litigious culture, there is no room for incorrect or invalid data and manufacturers take unauthorised use of their data very seriously. Using a product for parts identification that has the backing of the manufacturers is therefore vital when it comes to providing a first class service.


Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

It was meant to be just a quiet evening drink after a very hectic day with an Infomill client.  The club had a typical American sports bar theme.  Nothing too unusual about that but this particular bar was the only token of western ‘culture’ in this remote factory town in South Korea.  Considering I’d been immersed in an intense Korean work assignment for the last few days, the bar provided a much needed degree of familiarity.

The large television screen above the bar was showing a program about the technology used in Formula 1 motor racing.  I sipped my drink and watched with interest. Infomill had completed a system the previous year for one of the Formula 1 teams that managed car parts which were being constantly changed during practice sessions and provided a real-time link from the pit-lane garage to their factory.  It was, if I say so myself, a cool system and a tremendous accolade being part of such a high-profile industry.

It became obvious that the satellite channel I was watching was sponsored by a large technology company who were showing what they did in Formula 1.  They had a lot of clever technologies to show off that I found impressive.  Then the screen zoomed into an extremely familiar-looking parts system in a  pit-lane garage.

I nearly fell off my bar stool when I recognized the system on the screen was in fact from Infomill!  There I was, in the middle of (almost) nowhere, watching our system being shown to the world as coming from someone else.  I was, to put it mildly, somewhat incensed that this global technology company had the audacity to do that.  I vowed that I would take action as soon as the job in Korea wrapped up and I returned home to the UK.

A few days later I was back in the office and made the call to the Formula 1 team to recount my story.  It turned out that the technology company in question was paying a lot of money to provide its technology to that team and perhaps it would be unhelpful to take the matter any further.  I was, as I was reminded gently, working in a small company and the large global technology organisation in question was, um, much much bigger!

I contemplated the difficult position I was in.  Could I risk possible litigation against a massive company for passing off our product as theirs?  How would the Formula 1 team in question feel about that?

So, in the end I decided not to take the matter any further.  With the passage of time I have been able to tell this tale countless times and remind myself that there is an element of flattery here. After all, while Infomill is not the biggest company in the world, we’ve obviously got something special enough for others to want to claim our technology as theirs.


Modernize Your Past to Accelerate Your Future

Field Service Management Systems

Topics like IoT and augmented reality are becoming synonymous with the future of field service. There is no doubt that new technology will play a key role in field service efficiency as we move away from the traditional break/fix model and towards a predictive, service-based one. However, investing in and making the transition to new technology can be difficult and time consuming, particularly when resources are still required to maintain current and legacy equipment.

Equipment manufacturers worldwide realize the value of streamlining field service operations. Not only can it save money and increase field service efficiency, but it will improve their competitive position by increasing customer satisfaction and therefore improving the chances of future sales. These are two of the main reasons that equipment manufacturers are adopting Field Service Management (FSM) systems.

The time and money saved through more efficient field service operations can be invested in accelerating time to market for new products and services, providing the opportunity for manufacturers to increase their marketshare with future technologies.

All FSMs promise to deliver efficiencies in field service processes and management. But few, if any, assist the Field Service Engineer (FSE) in actually fixing the problem. And this, after all, is why the FSE was dispatched in the first place.

Knowledge Management Software

Infomill has found one way to address this issue through their solution AnswersAnywhere. AnswersAnywhere works by transforming current and legacy technical documents and information into modern Intelligent Service Assistants and creates an Active Knowledgebase that aids the FSE in quickly diagnosing problems. It also automates the process and accuracy of ordering parts.

AnswersAnywhere acts as a companion to existing FSM solutions delivering on-site time savings and fewer return visits due to errors in parts ordering. The resulting savings in time and costs increases customer satisfaction and allows the equipment manufacturer to concentrate on getting new and improved products to market faster.