Free services pay business dividends

The strategic marketing programs for most machine-vision and image-processing companies include a variety of customer services, such as hardware and software training, diagnostics, troubleshooting, and Web-related information.

The strategic marketing programs for most machine-vision and image-processing companies include a variety of customer services, such as hardware and software training, diagnostics, troubleshooting, and Web-related information. Indeed, many companies extol the virtues of their customer-service plans. But, whereas many proclaim, few provide. Customer-services costs are too expensive, they say, and don't spur increased revenues.

However, a US company appears to represent the ultimate in customer services with its totally free customer-support model. A machine-vision camera and software supplier, DVT Corp. (Duluth, GA, USA; www.dvtsensors.com) bases its marketing efforts on the concept of placing the needs of its customers before those of the company's. DVT chief executive officer and chairman Bob Steinke says, "We measure our success by how well we execute this concept."

To emphasize this approach, buyers of DVT smart cameras receive the accompanying FrameWork operating software, as well as all of its software upgrades, free of charge. In addition, classroom training, on-line and CD-based training, and Web-based technical support for diagnostics and troubleshooting are all free.

Weekly on-line training, in as many as seven languages, is provided free in the company's global training center, which is linked to an adjacent on-line conference center that can be used as an overflow classroom over a video link. Yearly classroom training totals more than 10,000 man-hours, say company officials.

DVT exploits training as a differentiating competitive advantage. Moreover, free training has been expanded with a virtual-tour interactive CD. This CD contains more than 30 hours of vision-system interactive training, a working version of FrameWork software, and a working emulator that allows a customer or prospect to take a digital image of the product they need to inspect and set up a complete application in their office without having to buy any hardware or stop their manufacturing process. More than 300,000 CDs have been distributed, according to company officials

Moreover, via DVT's on-line conferencing, every company employee can video-conference from his/her desk with customers, vendors, and coworkers. All of these free services are now available in 20 offices in 10 countries with a global distribution network of 130 automation solution providers.

But how do all of these free customer services contribute to revenues and profits? DVT, a privately held company, reports that sales and booking levels in April 2003 were the highest in the company's history. Moreover, the company set all-time sales and bookings records for Q1-03, which surpassed last year's record first quarter by 43%. Based on these year-to-date results, the company is projecting a 50% sales growth for calendar 2003. In addition, the company has posted 12 consecutive years of revenue growth and has no short-term or long-term debt.

Companies that whole-heartedly endorse, implement, and support customer services, whether for free or for fee, have set a course for business success.

George Kotelly
Editor in Chief
georgek@pennwell.com

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