In this special section, BUSRide consulted with service professionals, working at some of the industry’s top equipment manufacturers and service providers, about the levels of after-sale support they provide for customers.
Included in this discussion:
Michael S. Anstead – Director, Customer Care – ABC Companies
Kevin Dawson – Vice President, Parts Sales and Business Development – Prevost
Scott Robertson – Vice President, Customer Service – NFI Parts
Jeff Moore – Vice President, Sales – Trapeze Group
Buying new equipment is a significant investment for operators and agencies. How do you help your customers protect their investment, given today’s rapid rollouts of new equipment features and technology in the transportation industry?
Michael Anstead: While it is important that the customer make an informed decision, it’s equally — if not more — important to find a quality vehicle that is equipped with state-of-the-art technology and a robust after-sales support network. This includes proper training and routine visits from the support team that can train and troubleshoot in quick fashion. Support after the sale is the key coupled with communication on any and all issues. The operator with their maintenance program coupled with after-sale support can add value in the long term.
(This question was answered with the aid of Mike Laffan, senior vice president of east coast sales for ABC Companies.)
Kevin Dawson: Understanding the customer’s business first is our number one priority within Prevost, which means seeing their side of the equation. What affects down time, what affects uptime and how Prevost Services can offer solutions that complement vehicles in operation, while reducing time out of service. Our Prevost Liaison offers tracks for each motorcoach (equipped with Volvo Powertrain) regarding system components, telematics, coach conditions, etc. This information is fed within our industry-leading service network / customer service management team for real-time assistance and monitoring of coach health. As our powertrain is integrated within our vehicle platform, we see both coach and powertrain conditions in real-time. This is one example of how technology has helped evolve our customer service experience – instead of the operator reaching out to Prevost, Prevost can reach out prior to the operator / owner even being aware of a logged condition.
Scott Robertson: We believe that a significant investment by our customers warrants a significant amount of support. To that end, we offer internal technical training through MCI Academy. All MCI field technicians are attending the ASE Accredited MCI Academy programs with the ultimate goal of becoming master technicians. Technicians that work in our service centers are also attending classes at the training center in Louisville.
The next step is customer technical training. Customers are offered training through the MCI Academy and the Online Learning Management System (LMS). Customer users select from more than 400 courses in the MCI Academy LMS library on major coach components and systems. As students, they typically schedule their own time to study online in their shops. LMS maintains an account and transcript for each student and documents all training activity. MCI operators can then track each employee through customized reports.
MCI also provides maintenance and operator manuals to customers. Finally, with every new coach delivery, a trained MCI field technician provides an overview of coach features for operators and maintenance technicians.
Jeff Moore: At Trapeze, we deal with both software and hardware in a variety of our lines of business. We support the hardware we have (CAD/AVL, MDTs, fareboxes, TVMs, fare validators) for the entirety of its lifecycle. This means we will never force upgrades of hardware onto our transit partners. We work with agencies to ensure there is backward compatibility of our software with all generations of hardware. In fact, we still have some operators using our oldest generation of IVLUs in the field today.
More recently, we have been designing hardware platforms that are more flexible using modular design techniques. This means that our platforms will have a longer life span and hardware upgrades are more cost-effective. This gives our customers an entry point that can easily be expanded upon as their needs change over time.
Finally, when someone purchases software from us, they aren’t only getting the tools they’ve requested. No, they become our partners for as long as they choose to use Trapeze products, which we hope is forever.
How do you work with agencies and operators to “custom-tailor” your solutions to fit their needs? Does scalability play a role?
Moore: All of our implementations include a design phase for the project. The agency helps identify their custom needs during that design process. Then they are implemented, or we work with stakeholders to define business process adjustments to use the standard capabilities of the solution.
At Trapeze, we strongly believe in off-the-shelf solutions. We carry this through to our “customizations.” We strive to make sure that all new development work that customers ask us to do are made generic and rolled into the next available general release of the applicable solution. This means that all customers benefit from each other’s suggestions and requirements when they next upgrade.
For example, one of our customers in Hawaii was undergoing a significant change to their bus operations model due to the construction of a brand-new rail line from the airport to downtown. Their goal was to develop two feeder bus routes, that run at a very high frequency, to help make the new rail line more accessible for their passengers. The key to these two high-frequency routes was ensuring consistent travel time spacing among all the vehicles on the route (i.e., a bus comes to a stop every 10 minutes rather than creating a predetermined schedule). We took the time to understand their business requirements, partnered with them to flesh out operational challenges, and ended up building high-frequency route management capabilities into their next software release. Now, that capability is available to all our customers seeking a similar solution.
Robertson: We are proud to say that every MCI vehicle sold comes with the same level of field, parts, and warranty support — whether a customer purchases one coach or many coaches. Our team makes sure that our solutions are scalable, no matter the size of the customer operation.
Dawson: We work with customers for their specific needs. This will change from customer to customer, but for example: we have a customer who has a larger fleet of buses densely located within a region. We will start with a mobile service van assigned to that region and support from a mobile perspective. If their fleet continues to grow, as well as supporting customers, we would then move to a smaller brick-and-mortar operation that would not be full scale, but fully functioning from a Prevost experience perspective, as well as support from the factory-trained technicians. Every customer is different, the support is not rolled out pre-packaged, albeit scale does play a role dependent on mobile support to full-blown permanent facilities. Our primary discussions will revolve around customer need first, we then try to bridge that need with solutions.
Anstead: We work with our customers to help tailor training to their exact needs. We do this by performing on-site training at their location. During the scheduling of this type of training, we work with owners and/or shop managers to see what their technicians or drivers may need when it comes to the Van Hool coaches. From there we build a training program to assist and discover what they would like to focus on. We wrap up our training with an after-action review on what was covered and give recommendations on what could assist them in the future.
What kinds of product education and training do you conduct with your customers after completing a sale?
Dawson: Once a sale is complete, we are committed to offering continuous support in the area of product education and training through our industry-leading Prevost Technical Institute. We offer three types of training avenues to suit the individual needs of each customer. A full schedule of hands-on training on topics including but not limited to, component replacement and maintenance for systems such as HVAC, electrical, etc. is available on each model that Prevost offers, as well as the Volvo D13 engine. Training sessions are held at Prevost Parts & Service Centers throughout the U.S. and Canada, the schedule is available on the website at www.prevostcar.com/training.
We also offer on-demand training at customer facilities. This training can be completely customized to that customer’s needs and can be booked via the Prevost online eMedia center. Last but not least, customers have 24/7 access to Prevost’s extensive library of educational online webinars. These sessions provide up-to-date information on vehicle technology and a wide range of topics, from mobile apps to critical circuits and more.
(This question was answered with the aid of Robert Hitt, director of aftermarket training for Prevost in North America.)
Moore: Our customers receive a variety of training after completing a sale. We have superuser training for those that need to know everything about the software. There is system administrator training, which gives someone a high-level understanding of the product, but they might not need to get into the small details of the everyday minutia. And there is role-specific training, which teaches specific tasks roles can perform within our software (for example, dispatchers, supervisors, operators, etc.).
Anstead: We pride ourselves on our level of customer service and offer training not only when a coach is purchased, but any time a need arises. We offer the following courses across the country.
Drivers Familiarization: In this course, we assist in helping the drivers understand the functions of their new Van Hool coach and all accessories that were installed. This ensures that all drivers are comfortable and confident when operating their new Van Hool.
Technician Training: We offer technicians a range of training, from Van Hool basics to advanced electrical and HVAC courses. These courses provide technicians with the knowledge to properly maintain their coaches.
Onsite training: Due to the demanding schedules under which most coaches operate, it sometimes becomes necessary to perform on-site training at the customer’s location. ABC Companies has carefully placed field representatives throughout the country ready to meet those demands. Our field reps can provide a one-on-one session with technicians and drivers at their facility. We believe that this extra step ensures we are doing everything we can to meet our customers’ needs.
Our goal is to make sure the customers never feel alone with training and 24/7 customer care. We are here to help keep your coach on the road.
Robertson: First, we ensure that the customer on-boarding process is followed for every customer. Second, we employ the LMS, the foundation for the MCI Academy, to combine all training platforms into a progressive curriculum leading to certificates and diplomas. Finally, further MCI Academy training is also available. The MCI Academy includes systems qualifications programs, certificate programs, diploma programs, continuing education programs, and on-site training.
Where within your organization can agencies and operators go to learn more about maintaining or even upgrading
Robertson: All maintenance, operator, and parts manuals are available through www.mcicoach.com 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year. NFI Parts also maintains an email distribution list for new products and specials. Customers can visit www.nfi.parts for more information and to sign up for the monthly mailer. Lastly, customers can contact their MCI technical support manager or regional parts managers for more details or custom quotes.
Anstead: ABC offers multiple training classes across the country to reach our customers in different regions. We also have the ABC Companies website that offers online training and information:
Grab-n-Go: Informational videos that offer 10- to 15-minute instruction sessions regarding different components on the Van Hool coach, i.e., Coach Overview, Engine, Door & Body, Air Systems, Electrical, Wheel Chair, Wheels, Service Miscellaneous, and HVAC. These videos assist technicians and drivers by explaining how the many coach systems work and are available online. They also offer troubleshooting, guidance on the electrical components, and assistance in performing preventative maintenance.
Tech Tips: Our one-page documents that give drivers, owners, and technicians insight on different components and systems throughout the coach and address common questions and updates.
Driver’s Guides: Provides drivers with a dash layout to fully understand the driver’s compartment switches and locations on the Van Hool coach.
Regeneration Process Guides, by engine/EPA Year.
Dawson: All supporting tools and information for Prevost coaches can be found within our website. From warranty, parts ordering, service manuals to after-hours service contacts and more, all of our specific support information can be found under this one link. Our Prevost Technical Institute section also contains all of our training modules, training schedules and request for customer-specific training tailored or off the shelf.
Moore: We offer a number of things that agencies and operators can leverage to learn more about their products: Trapeze Collaborate, their customer success manager/client engineer, or our customer care team.
Trapeze Collaborate is our online customer community. It contains content related to their solutions like release notes, system manuals, and how-to videos. They can use Collaborate to troubleshoot or ask questions to Trapeze staff or the larger transit community. Sometimes, one of our other customers already has an answer to a question. Giving our community a chance to interact with one another is a great way to facilitate peer-to-peer learning and let people build their transit family.
Our customer success managers and client engineers are there to help agencies with their day-to-day use of the system, track and resolve issues, and assist with the beginning phases of an upgrade. Once an agency has decided to upgrade its product, customer care and a project manager help with the planning and work with them every step of the way to make sure the upgrade is successful.
Finally, our customer care team is available 24/7 to answer questions and help customers make better use of their solutions. We have reps dedicated to specific agencies to provide a consistent point of contact and to provide an overall better level of service. This allows us to anticipate customer needs, provide a more tailored series of solutions, and provide stronger learning opportunities for our customers.
Do you plan to expand your after-sale support features and capabilities in the future? If so, how?
Anstead: ABC’s industry-leading level of after-sales support is something we take seriously. To expand the capabilities in this essential area, ABC has been developing a platform to allow retrieval of information from Van Hool vehicles in real time via integrated telematics. This approach and service includes additional systems that off-the-shelf systems can’t integrate. The value of an OEM telematics provider is the ability for the vehicle manufacturer to partner with vendors to bring customers the most powerful and comprehensive system possible. ABC Connect offers location tracking, powertrain information, after-treatment information, fault alerts, reporting, maintenance integration, fleet monitoring and more. The following services are also included: monitoring external charging systems, DC power monitoring/diagnostics via intelligent battery equalizers, and soon 110V system monitoring/diagnostics. In an age where data is the most powerful tool available, customers require a solution that can provide as much real and actionable information as possible.
Robertson: Our service footprint is always being considered for expansion. We are considering a number of initiatives. First, the concept of mobile maintenance technicians that perform work at the customer’s location. This will allow for less downtime and more efficiency for our customers. We are also exploring new service locations; MCI is constantly looking to expand its service network with new locations and facilities. Finally, NFI Parts is constantly adding product photographs and enhancing the online parts store. We want to make ordering parts online as close to an Amazon-style shopping experience as possible.
Dawson: We continue our journey with our expansion platform and listening to our customers. Over the past two years we have opened five service centers (permanent facilities) with three more unique locations scheduled to open this year. Our goal is to have 20 service centers by 2020. However, this is not driven by a number, but rather the right mix and service locations dependent on customer needs. Our customers first guide the initial vision; however, we remain flexible to ensure we are matching market expectation and our promise to deliver the ultimate experience.
Moore: We are beginning to offer customers “optimizations” as part of their annual maintenance program. Optimizations are where we make recommendations for how to better use the system, adopt new functionality, or otherwise improve the operations of our transit partners.
Also, as more of our solutions are moving to the cloud, we are also looking to expand our proactive monitoring and tooling to provide early warnings of issues as well as functionality usage that will allow us to provide a higher level of service and more tailored solutions over time. We constantly strive to make sure that you feel like we are partners from the moment you discover a software/hardware need, to implementation, to upgrades, to optimizations, and everything in between.