Rahul Goel, Senior Director, Market Engineering, Canon India outlines the challenges the Canon service team faced during the pandemic and how it emerged with flying colours
What all services come under the ambit of Canon’s Market Engineering Division?
After-sales service plays a pivotal role in customer satisfaction and retention. At Canon, we always strive to offer a robust service infrastructure. We are offering services to both sets of clients – B2B which includes multi-functional devices which are installed in the corporate organizations, and we provide services for B2C products such as home-segment printers, cameras, projectors. After the purchase, customers at some point would want after-sales services, consumables, or would want to upgrade their products. These are managed by the service group at Canon India known as the Market Engineering Division.
What is the proportion of representation in the after-sale services by B2B and B2C? What all is incorporated under Canon India’s B2B services?
Both our B2C and B2B businesses have been contributing equally towards the growth of Canon India and we endeavor to continue to build upon these synergies. When we talk about the services, both B2B and B2C services are quite different. For B2B services, it is the services provided to the corporates by Canon India engineers, as part of a fixed contract with them. Canon India B2B customers are spread throughout the country and we provide service through our direct service networks. Apart from corporate services, we also have jobbers. The customers who are into production printing also fall under the B2B space, and we directly manage their after-sales services as well.
During this pandemic situation, how did the situation impact the services primarily on the B2B front?
When the Government decided to go for a complete lockdown, it impacted us in a big way. Since offices were not opened, service centers remained closed, hence the challenge was to manage customer demands while our Engineers were working from home. Some of our customers were falling under the category of essential service providers, such as Hospitals and Pharmaceutical companies. It was critical for us to provide them uninterrupted services while ensuring the safety and well-being of our customers, employees, and engineers. In such a scenario, we had to adapt quickly to provide services to customers during these difficult times. To provide assistance to customers, we used predictive maintenance wherein we could diagnose the issue remotely with the help of customers over remote assistance. It was also a great learning for us. Our products are extremely capable of getting diagnosed and managing the issue remotely.
Once the Government provided certain relaxations in terms of operations of the business, we also resumed our operations, opened our offices, and service centers. It is still not business as usual and some of our customers are still not working at their full capacity. We learned that customers require contactless services. Keeping that in mind, we started with Pin generation. With introduction of verification code which is been sent to customers. Upon completion of the service call, they share this code with the field team thereby eliminating our need of customer signatures during closure.
We also provided warranty benefits to all customers during lockdown. Products whose Standard/Extended Warranty expired between government imposed lockdown period their warranties were extended till 30th June.
The supply chain was severely impacted during the lockdown. How did you manage the issues related to supply chain for the after-sales services?
The issues related to the supply chain were indeed one of the major challenges during the period of April – June. Having said that, we have a good way to manage customer demands. We are not dependent on supply chain stores. At Canon, for every location and branch, we have a child warehouse. Additionally, through predictive maintenance, the machine itself predicts when it might need necessary software or hardware upgrades, to perform the maintenance tasks well in advance. Looking at the past demands of the customers such as upgrades, toner supply, we provided side-kits to the customers. We accordingly aligned our supply-chain in such a manner to provide uninterrupted services to the customers.
Once the Government gave relaxations, our customers started their operations and we also opened our warehouses. However, there are still some challenges throughout the country due to containment zones. But despite all the challenges, we were able to provide excellent services to our customers and they appreciated how Canon managed the situation during these difficult times.
For the after-sales services, how did the pandemic situation impact the existing SLAs?
During the first 2-3 months, most of our customers’ operations were closed. We have been working with customers falling under the category of essential service providers such as hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. They also understood that these are tough times and an SLA of 45 minutes response time would not be possible due to multiple restrictions and the overall pandemic situation. Here, predictive maintenance played an important role. We were able to provide remote assistance to the customers and solve their queries.
What were some of the challenges in providing services on the B2C side?
Since most of the companies asked their employees to work from home, we saw many customers purchasing home printers which can be accommodated to create a small office at home. We have seen a huge demand for our inkjet printers. With these purchases, customers also had many queries such as installation of printers, installing drivers in their system, etc. It was critical to resolving these queries. For this as well, we were able to provide remote assistance to our customers since our engineers could visit the customers.
For cameras, our customers could not visit the service centers as the same was closed during the lockdown. Now, as per the directives of the Government, we have opened all our service centers and customers have also started visiting. We also extended the warranty on products for which the warranty was expring between the period April to July. We amplified this through multiple channels and our customers were also delighted because of this.
Since most of the assistance was being provided remotely to both B2B and B2C customers, did you face any security challenge around the same?
Our IT team was fully geared up from the beginning to tackle such issues. I am happy to convey that during the lockdown period we did not face any instance of a security breach or data breach either on the Canon India website or when our engineers were providing remote assistance.
For our B2B customers specifically, we have an e-maintenance contract with the customer. This includes a white paper on the security measures that we follow while accessing their network. The customer is aware of the data that is being shared for providing remote assistance. For the B2C customers, our engineers were interacting with customers primarily through video calling and provide the required assistance.
Did Canon face any cash flow challenges with the customer and how was it managed?
These are indeed quite tough times not just for Canon India, but for our customers and partners as well. Many of our customers were not working during the lockdown. Once their operations were resumed, some of them were prudent about the purchase of new equipment. As a service team, it was critical for us to get in touch with the customers and understand their requirements.
The cash flow operation is being handled by our FAD. But from a service standpoint, we were in constant touch with the customers for all their requirements and needs. As we have a longstanding relationship with our customers, their requirements have been addressed by us during these difficult times.
What was the role of the service team in retaining the existing customers by way of providing new initiatives?
At Canon India, the service team does not only focus on rectification of the products, which is essentially just one part of the after-sales services. The focus of the service team is on account management. Our engineers and service managers across the country are very well trained to handle the accounts quite effectively. During the lockdown period, although our engineers were not able to reach the customers due to various restrictions, we were in touch with the customers to provide the required assistance. Most of our customers are repeat customers i.e. when their contract ends, they like to continue their association with Canon. Although the customers are not thinking about purchasing new products, with the kind of services we have been providing to them, we’re sure that they will consider purchasing new products from Canon.
Some of the services are provided through service partners, who were also facing multiple challenges due to the pandemic. How did you support your service partners during these tough times?
For Canon India, our service partners are an important link between the customers and the brand, when it comes to the service that we do not provide directly or when the customers purchase the products in remote locations. During the lockdown period, it is important to keep our partners motivated. Initially, it was extremely tough for them as they could not open their offices. So, with the help of our policies, we were able to help or partners to continue with their business at a minimum level while working from home. Both in B2B and B2C, we conducted multiple virtual training programs for our partners around various topics which would help them to serve the customers more effectively.
Even our CEO, Mr. Kazutada Kobayashi, himself interacted with many partners through video call to motivate them during this unprecedented time and understand their requirements. We are providing our partners with all the necessary support, and the same would be continued. I am also delighted to inform you that our partners have appreciated the support provided to them by Canon India.
Currently, how much is the Canon India service staff are working? How are you managing the impact of containment in providing services to the customers?
When the lockdown was imposed in the country, all the Canon service depots and customer service depots were temporarily closed. While most of our customers’ business establishments were closed. During this period, the health of our employees, partners, and customers was of utmost importance. Necessary precautions are being taken for this. Additionally, seminars were conducted for our engineers by doctors to spread awareness about the pandemic situation and the necessary precautions that needed to be taken while they are on the field. A handbook was also created, listing down measures to be taken while restarting the machines post the lockdown and methods for sanitization. I’m happy to convey that we did not receive concern from our customers when they started their machines after months of shut down. This was possible due to our planning which started in May, and once the customers resumed their operations a couple of months later, they were equipped with necessary guidelines.
With regard to our service operations, all our camera service centers and authorized service centers are operational. Considering the government guidelines and taking into account the health & well-being of our employees, we are not operating with our entire workforce at the service centers. Some of our Engineers are also working from home and provide assistance to customers virtually or personal visit if possible.
As months pass by, our customers are slowly resuming their operations. Additionally, the footfall at our service centers is also increasing. At Canon India, with the necessary precautions taken and the rigorous planning to manage customer service queries, we are able to connect with the customers in a fast and reliable manner.
How many service centers are operational now?
For our B2C services, we have two types of services – for the camera as well as for printers. For our Camera services, all our six master service centers as well as 10 authorized franchisees are operational. For printers all our Authorized Service Centers are now operational.
Once the situation starts getting better, would the remote service assistance continue to be provided to the customers to the same extent as it is being provided currently? Would you be also looking at some form of automation in the services that you provide?
Automation is an integral part of Canon worldwide and the same is with the Canon services also. Before the pandemic, we have been working on the automation of certain processes. For instance, the remote diagnostic is a process that has been with Canon products for a very long time. In the current times, this has become even more critical. Customers also prefer vendors who provide such services. So, we would not stop the remote diagnostics and remote delivery of services even when the situation normalizes. Additionally, with these services, the overall cost can be brought down, and customers can benefit from it.
Regarding the automation, we took many decisions for the same. Since customers are demanding contactless services, we came with solutions such as WhatsApp Chatbot. Through this, customers get their queries resolved, purchase consumables, check warranty status, and get other services related to their products. We will continue to work vigorously with our IT Team, vendors, and partners to provide more automated services to our customers.
In the future, how will the services arm be in sync with Canon’s go-to-market strategy?
Nowadays, when a customer is intending to buy a product, they also check the entire value proposition being provided by the brand. It is therefore extremely critical to understand the consumer requirement and design the value proposition accordingly.
We are integrating our services with the product and providing a complete solution to the customers. Hence our proposal to the customers is to provide such solutions and continue their association with Canon India for years to come.
Lastly, what would be your message to the customers and partners?
During these difficult times, a few things we need to keep in mind; the health and safety of our employees, partners, and customer are of paramount importance. We are conducting multiple seminars in this regard. Going forward our remote services, auto diagnostics, remote diagnostics, automation of services, remote delivery of supplies would be an integral part of services at Canon India. We will continue to provide seamless services to our customers by understanding their requirements.