Support Your Wireless Mobile Computing Customers
For every VAR that gains a customer because it offers support services, there's a VAR who lost one because it didn't.
When it comes to wireless mobile computing, offering an end user the hardware and software that make up a solution is only half the sale. Mobile workers in the field need a single point of contact they can turn to when they have a problem. VARs who offer help desk and hardware support services can create a recurring revenue stream for the life of their customer relationships. This has been the sales philosophy of Tech.logix Group, a Bell Industries company (Indianapolis).
"Today, clients want to choose the best hardware and software for each aspect of their solutions, but that approach might require multiple vendors to support maintenance or help desk calls," said Lynn Wolf, senior account executive at Tech.logix. "If there is little accountability among the various vendors, customers may face a support nightmare. Tech.logix is happy to provide all or part of a solution, from equipment sales to support for the customer." This tactic helps Tech.logix earn customers such as a large chemical company that purchases wireless mobile solutions from Tech.logix and uses the VAR's help desk and depot services to support its pest control solution.
First Comes The Hardware Sale
When it came time to convince the chemical company to work with Tech.logix three years ago, it was the reseller's support services that closed the deal. Years before, the chemical company had developed a termite control solution that is monitored using wireless mobile computing devices.
The pest solution acts as a security system against termite activity. Pest control companies throughout the country operate the system by implanting pest "stations" in the soil around a building. Each station contains a circuit system that is regularly scanned by an operator to determine if termite activity is present. The chemical company purchases Dolphin RF 7200 handheld computers from HHP (Skaneateles Falls, NY) to give to each pest control company for monitoring pest stations. The handhelds are equipped with a long-range scanning device from Donnelly Electronics (Holly, MI) that can scan the pest station through the ground. If the handheld indicates termites are present, the station is replaced with another device containing termite bait. The termites take the bait, which prevents them from reproducing, back to their nests, thus eliminating the termite problem. Once an operator scans a day's worth of pest stations, the handheld is placed in its cradle, which is connected to a laptop. The collected data is downloaded to the chemical company's central system, allowing the company to track termite activity.
Next Comes Support For 12,000 Mobile Devices
By 2001, the success of the termite control product spread across the United States as 750,000 residential, commercial, and historical sites installed the pest stations to eliminate current problems or prevent problems in the future. With so many pest stations to monitor, the chemical company would have had to track and support 12,000 handheld scanners in the field. This was where Tech.logix stepped in and offered the chemical company the field support its operators needed.
"We have the ability to provide help desk services on highly custom solutions. Our help desk answers normal questions on Microsoft Word or Excel, but more often we are supporting a solution that integrates multiple hardware and software products," Wolf said. "In the pest solution, there are six different hardware components from four different manufacturers. As a single provider, we can help the customer bridge the support gaps. Our help desk can provide consistent responses to problems without the chemical company getting involved."
On the hardware front, Tech.logix not only resells the handhelds to the customer but also serves as a depot for hardware maintenance. If a problem cannot be eliminated over the phone, Tech.logix will send the pest control company a new scanner from its depot facility. "We process about 1,200 shipments in and out of the depot each month," Wolf said. "We can overnight a scanner as late as 1 a.m. and have it on the customer's desk by 10:30 a.m. The customer then sends us the damaged product, and we repair it or send it back to HHP." Through all of this, Tech.logix also serves as the chemical company's asset tracking system. Tech.logix ties into its client's systems to report on replacements or maintenance of each field device. The service turns into a proactive monitoring solution for Tech.logix' customer. "We can provide the chemical company with a report every month on the number of calls, when they came in, and what the problem was," Wolf explained. "Then we can give them proactive recommendations on ways to reduce the number of calls. This might include suggestions for ongoing improvements to the system ranging from hardware to training." For example, Tech.logix' help desk was receiving a lot of maintenance calls regarding scratched screens on the HHP handhelds. Pest control management is a harsh environment, and although the handhelds are ruggedized, Tech.logix was still receiving complaints that scratches were preventing the users from reading the screens in the sun. Rather than replacing the screens, Tech.logix developed a clear film to protect the screens from scratches. This eliminated a major reason for units being returned to the depot center and saved the customer maintenance costs.
As Mobile Computing Grows, So Will Support Needs
Wolf sees VARs playing a major role in support and services. The knowledge and expertise VARs use to sell wireless solutions to their customers can be used long after the original sale. "Other customers use our depot services for laptop support calls and maintenance. A company doesn't want to bother offering 24-hour internal hardware support for its employees when laptops aren't its core competency," Wolf said. And as the need for mobile data collection increases, Wolf sees her company expanding into various vertical markets, from retail to transportation.