Definition of business success has evolved from being highest sales volumes realised to being the successful creation of satisfactory customer experience that earns a repeat sale and numerous referrals. Such an experience goes beyond sale of a quality product to include after sales services and frequent customer training to ensure proper equipment use.
In Kenya, the new business ‘normal’ includes getting feedback on how a customer is benefiting from the equipment, round the clock support and provision of spare parts.
But liberalisation, now deeply entrenched in Kenya’s business space, means any shop can stock any product that is sold to customers by beautiful sales ladies and handsome salesmen with no attention to a product’s technical details on maintenance, proper use and follow up support.
Many businesses are unwilling to invest in systems, staff training and resources which can add value to customer service in favour of a shop floor cash sale. Actually, Kenya, like other markets is experiencing an implosion of general merchants who sell everything on the shop floor.
While competition is deemed healthy, it has opened avenues for sale of substandard equipment, introduction of new equipment of very good quality but lacking local technical after sales support and no spare parts provided.
Incase of a breakdown, buyers suffer heavy losses since they have to buy new equipment, again, at a discount over the counter and risk suffering the same fate several months later. Upon breaking down of a machine, most companies hire technicians ‘off’ contract a cheaper way of keeping costs low.
Then another team of technicians is later hired to repair the same machine and in the end, it permanently breaks down due to lack of a detailed maintenance record that is reviewed and filled every time someone touches a machine.
Never buy a costly capital equipment without asking where you will source spare parts and who will service your equipment. To put it mildly, how product sellers prepare customers on handling expensive machines could define the future of a company as a profitable enterprise or a perpetual loss-making outfit.
Globally, it is an established norm to have a traceability system set up on an end-to-end platform where manufacturers have active networks with product suppliers who make follow-ups on how products are used on the factory floor.
This gives product suppliers a chance to review as well as attract suggestions from product users on how best to improve future products. This could be about filters, fan belts, machine oils, fuel efficiency or energy efficiency based on experience by different users.
Unfortunately, many sellers are only after making a sale, that they quickly grant a discount without even reviewing the needs of the customer beforehand. The aftermath of this recklessness is reflected in the customers’ woes after they buy the wrong equipment due to lack of professional advice during the purchase.
It is a global practice for heavy machinery dealers to prepare a pre-sale report that includes recommendations on the best product that would suit a customer’s needs. This also includes suggestions on how to protect the environment against carbon and noise pollution as well as mitigative measures against water pollution that results from the effluents of the machines.
Sellers must invest in provision of technical training for a customer’s employees on light maintenance and servicing skills of a purchased equipment. This should be conducted on site during machine installation and later when the first maintenance exercise is carried out thereby helping the client reduce costs that would have been incurred when outsourcing maintenance services.
A bad practice perfected by OTC tradition has ensured no customer details and follow ups are done thereby denying manufacturers information on operational data about the product purchased. This is crucial if manufacturers are to build better machinery based on feedback received from users.
As part of the larger communities they operate in, a company’s presence is also expected to be felt via their active participation in community-oriented social activities such as provision of water tanks to schools, building of school kitchens, tree planting, cleaning exercises as well as scholarships, to name but a few.
This is the future of business where companies offer the customer all round solutions about products on their shelves.
The author, Mohammed Elghareeb, is the Country Manager, Blackwood Hodge.