Downtime is costly. In the auto industry, it’s estimated that losses of up to $50,000 per minute can be attributed to machines breaking down. One study suggests that 80 percent of industrial facilities can’t accurately predict their downtime, but the estimate is that between 5 and 20 percent of productivity is lost due to downtime.
Steve Ulmer, vice president of sales at Omax Corp., fully understands the pain points associated with breakdowns, and notes the company has made customer service and tech support part of the foundation of the organization.
“Any machine you buy can be the best piece of equipment or machinery you’ve ever bought,” he says, “but without good technical support, without good training and customer service, that machine can be rendered useless.”
According to a 2017 survey by Service Max, a field service management company, 70 percent of companies lack awareness of when their equipment is due for maintenance or an upgrade, which explains why manufacturers experience around 800 hours of downtime per year.
But as Ulmer says, even the best equipment needs a little TLC every now and then. Omax, a Washington state-based company that has produced waterjet technology since 1993, focuses on customer training and robust training programs and ongoing education for its field technicians and office-based customer service reps in charge of assisting customers when they need help with their Omax machines.
Omax offered a sneak peek into their customer service and training approach recently during a live webinar where customers chimed in to talk about their experiences with Omax. Erik Vossman, owner of Machine Repair & Design Inc., said he once outsourced the parts he needed cut on a waterjet, but made the decision to “vertically integrate” a waterjet of his own to cut lead times and costs. He ended up using it for much more than he thought he would and eventually bought a second waterjet machine from Omax.
“Customer service at Omax is fabulous,” he said. “We call them at all hours and they always walk us through the various parts of the repair process. They can usually pinpoint exactly what the problem is so they don’t have to send anyone out – we can do it in house. Even I can repair them.”
Without a knowledgeable service staff manning the phones, the experiences Vossman and others have had with Omax wouldn’t be possible, but there is a lot that goes into getting these individuals prepared to handle the most complex issues customer have.
There is also a lot that goes into preparing the staff that trains Omax customers.
Training the techs
Julene Bailie, a training manager at Omax, says they have a technician certification program that includes a performance-based component and a testing component to ensure the technical trainers are ready to pass on their knowledge to customers. She says it began in 2006 when they developed a formal program, “which is what we now consider a world-class training department and program for our customers.”
Bailie says they take a multi-faceted approach that includes three separate weeks of training, intensifying to more complex equipment features as the course advances. The technicians can also go through optional training to learn about more specific aspects of the machines, including Omax’s Maxiem, GlobalMax and ProtoMax lines of waterjets. This ensures that the certified technical trainers at Omax can better prepare customers to hit the ground running once their machine is installed.
“We know that a trained customer is more successful out of the gate,” Bailie says. “We even offer post-installation training for life. We offer a variety of training options so the customer can choose what works best for them.”
With distinct training and service departments, Omax is able to direct customers to the right place when they need assistance. Technical trainers are focused almost solely on customer training. Service technicians are the go-to Omax professional for customers to call when they have an issue with their equipment.
Service technicians are also a big component of Omax’s support network, and they, too, receive certification training, which includes software operation and maintenance training. Service technicians work in the same building where the waterjets are manufactured and frequently visit the shop floor to get a close look at the waterjet components.
“The phone techs can see all of the different components of the machine as they’re being put together,” Bailie says. “They gain an understanding of how that machine works and the different components that it contains all the way from the ground up.”
Prior to the pandemic, one of the more popular training options for Omax customers was on-site instruction by a certified Omax technical trainer. Omax also hosted weekly in-house training at their facility in Kent, Wash. But as the Covid-19 situation transitioned from a “do we wear masks now or not?” to a nearly complete shutdown across the globe in a matter of days in mid-March, Bailie and her team quickly realized they needed to do something to keep the training going.
While Bailie says they’re always looking at new ways to improve, the onset of the pandemic
“stopped us dead in our tracks.”
Omax was still selling equipment and customers still needed training, so the team had to convert all eight of their in-person training courses into a virtual format. Transitioning from a hands-on focus to a virtual experience had its share of challenges.
Could they make the training as entertaining and educational online as they did with the in-person instruction? What methods would work best to give students the visual experience they need? Fortunately, Bailie and some of her team had experience creating webinars, so they possessed the skillset required to provide a valuable online educational experience.
“That gave us an advantage to help kickstart the program,” she says, adding that by May, they were up and running with their new online training program. “The feedback we’re getting from those courses is stellar.”