Shortening the chain

Most companies involved in the boating business talk a good game when it comes to the importance of customer service. Lewmar, a leading supplier of everything from hatches to windlasses, backs up the hype with an innovative approach to customer service.

In the past, when a consumer encountered a problem with a Lewmar product, the chain of events that followed was typically lengthy. That customer dealt first with his dealer, who in turn called the customer service reps at the OEM that built the boat. Numerous questions and forms later, that OEM would then call Lewmar to discuss how the repair should be handled, and whether the part would be repaired or replaced under warranty. Once decided, the chain reversed, with Lewmar responding back to the OEM, the OEM getting back to the dealer, and the dealer finally contacting the customer with a solution.

“As you can imagine, that’s not a five-minute process,” explains Lewmar Executive Vice President Jay Stockman. “That could be anywhere from 24 hours to a week’s process to have that circle close.”

To hasten the resolution, Lewmar acknowledged one simple fact: ultimately, they would be contacted about the problem. So why not shortcut the process?

“We said, ‘let’s take the burden off the OEM and let’s open up a communication line direct to the dealer,’” says Stockman.

Now, a dealer servicing a boat with a Lewmar product can call a designated support rep at Lewmar, or fill out an online questionnaire that ends up as a PDF file with that same support rep. The rep can then deal directly with the dealer on the product issue, get a repair or warranty replacement part out within 24 hours, and aid in getting that customer back out on the water.

“We basically cut out the communication between the dealer and the OEM,” says Stockman. “Pretty simple really, but it wasn’t something that was done in the past.

“If the customer called on a Tuesday during the boating season, with the old process he might have been waiting until the next Monday or Tuesday to get his windlass or product fixed. Whereas if the dealer is dealing directly with Lewmar, he can take care of that issue within a one-day period. Decide what’s wrong with it, and get the dealer his warranty replacement immediately.”

Obviously, the program has been a boon for customers, but as Stockman relates, the OEMs appreciate it as well: “The OEMs love it because their paperwork is much less, they don’t have to buy product and keep it there, or ship product to the dealer. Ultimately it has to come from us, so we just basically took one step out of that process and increased response time dramatically.”

According to Stockman, the program has been in place since the start of ’07. Apparently, more ideas are set to follow. The company is currently in the process of developing an online troubleshooting guide, similar to that offered by many computer manufacturers, to further assist customers.

“The idea is to get that guy back out on the water for the weekend,” concludes Stockman. “He wants to go boating, he wants his equipment to work. We’re trying to provide a service to the customer ultimately to get him back on the water.”

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