Adjust Your Rear View Mirror Before Launching a Product

When engineering, product development and marketing & sales people get together and do a great job in successfully pushing a new product into the market to rave reviews, things can still fall apart. There can still be important blind spots in the system to watch out for. Big companies are not immune to this problem.

We discovered a hole in Fujitsu’s warranty programs after we went out and bought their latest Scansnap S510 office scanner a few weeks ago. We learned about the product from others, mainly online, who were successfully using these to help convert their offices to paperless environments. We bought one.

We’re located in Canada and when we first learned about the scanner, were unable to find it at our local retailers or at the big box office stores that we normally go to for this type of equipment. We got a good deal on a new unit from a U.S. retailer that has an active online sales business into Canada. We learned that unlike in the United States where the product is widely available, the Canadian distribution channels are shallow. We were delighted at how well the scanner worked until the camera module fried.

When someone called Fujitsu USA via the 1-800 number on the warranty card, after listening to muzak for almost an hour to get service, managed to walk through the technical service process to determine it was indeed a hardware problem.

That is when the ping pong started. Fujitsu USA referred us to Fujitsu Canada who referred us back to the American office. Fujitsu USA doesn’t service units outside of the USA and Fujitsu Canada does not service units that they didn’t sell in Canada. We suddenly felt like homeless outcasts from the Fujitsu family.

Ideally, the Canadian office should be the one providing the warranty service because they have regional drop-off centers plus a great and efficient technical service infrastructure designed specifically to service Canadian customers. In our follow up with Fujitsu Canada, the issue from their perspective was that they did not make a dime from the sale of the scanner we bought from the American supplier and that the warranty service would come out of their budget if they fixed our scanner. The American response was that there was no way within the existing system for the Canadian office to bill the U.S. office for warranty service on units that were bought in the United States and that ended up in Canada.

Globalization is putting these distributors in direct competition with each other because products can move quite freely across the Canada USA border in either direction whereas the warranty service does not. It turns out that many of these units are going back and forth across the border and the default is to send them back to the country they were originally purchased in through a clumsy and expensive system of double-shipping through local addresses.

Fujitsu USA unexpectedly hit upon a solution when it offered to do a workaround and fix our scanner if we would send it to them. The U.S. domestic FedEx pre-paid shipping label that the American manager asked us to apply to the unit did not work for this international shipment. When he talked to FedEx about the label, the FedEx response was a quick and simple "no problem." FedEx fixed the problem in a couple minutes because FedEx had all the systems in place to do it. The American manager handling the transaction liked the example and noted the stark contrast to his own system where he had zero ability to look into the Canadian system to work out a quick fix.

We were fairly patient with the process, mainly because the Fujitsu people on both sides of the border were polite and friendly. This seemed partly due to them knowing there is a gaping hole in their international warranty system.

The lesson for innovators is to beware of the blind spots that can occur anywhere in the marketing process. This is especially important with the accelerating trend toward consumers shopping globally for their products that easily migrate across national and regional boundaries. FedEx obviously has good reasons to be a global leader in addressing cross border service issues. As things become more competitive, a great product needs to be just as good on the back end as it does on the brochure.

Here are some things companies can do to ensure the back end doesn’t fall apart while developing the marketing strategy for new products:

• Perform a product life cycle analysis from the customer perspective,

• Discuss back end product aspects during product meetings,

• Create systems to reward employees who take ownership of customer service problems.

The whole product experience is becoming more relevant as people increasingly turn to online sources which have no boundaries. Watch out to make sure the experience doesn’t fall apart on the back end. We’re still waiting for our scanner to come back from the shop.

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