Aftersales support doesn’t just include service and spare parts back up. It can define the culture of the crane supplier and its commitment to supporting the customer, day and night.
The crane industry is only as good as the support it receives from suppliers and manufacturers. Supplying a new crane is generally the first step in a strong alliance with the customer. Steve Hogg, National Service Manager for the Liebherr Mobile Crane Division, explains how his company approaches service and support, major inspections and the importing of used cranes. He puts particular emphasis on the importance of getting customer support right.
Hogg started as the National Service Manager in the January 2015 and had been the Eastern Region Service Manager since April 2013 for the Mobile Crane Division. The Mobile Crane Division covers all cranes produced from the Liebherr-Werk Ehingen factory and includes all-terrain cranes to 1200t, rough terrain cranes to 100t, compact cranes to 50t, truck-mounted cranes to 60t, lattice boom mobile cranes to 750t, telescopic crawler cranes to 220t and lattice boom crawler cranes from 350t-3000t.
“I’m responsible for the Aftersales side of our business in Australia and New Zealand which includes facilities, in Perth, Melbourne, Auckland, Sydney and Brisbane. We also operate remotely in the Pilbara, from Christchurch in NZ and out of Adelaide where we look after South Australia and the Northern Territory,” he said.
“We have 28 qualified, factory-trained technicians, two factory qualified and certified welding technicians and five apprentices. We have found that our Apprenticeship program allows us to introduce young people into our business to train them the ‘factory way’ and enable them to deliver the high level of customer service, knowledge and experience that we expect of our team members.
“Our technicians are all very portable and move around within and between the countries and areas we look after. We don’t give it a second thought when it comes to organising a technician to visit a crane, we get our guys anywhere they need to be,” he added.
The service team also includes highly experienced and skilled staff working in the technical services area. Their experience with the products from Liebherr-Werk Ehingen is second to none.
“Those guys are the ‘go to’ for the deeper engineering issues, common fault finding and operational issues, not only for our team but also for our customers. Along with myself, they have direct contact with the factory. This keeps the communication channels clear and swift so we can get back to our customers really quickly. Given that we are talking to Germany on the other side of the world, we can normally get an answer back to a customer within 24 hours and sometimes over night,” Hogg said.
“Our field service and technical services team are focused on our ‘Customer Experience.’ This starts with the first phone from a customer. If there’s a technical problem, we have staff with well over 20 years’ experience on the Liebherr product and a lot of factory training behind them.
“If we come up against a problem we can’t fix locally, we direct communication to the factory to obtain more technical details and support. Sometimes we are faced with more difficult issues that require a specialist factory technician to fly directly out to the crane. He or she may come into Australia or New Zealand from Germany, Singapore or the Middle East; it depends where the specialist is at the time. Our factory are very supportive of our product, our customers and of the Mobile Crane Division in Australia and New Zealand, so it’s not problem to organise this level of response.”
The Liebherr aftersales team understands customer support is paramount, day or night.
“Every member of our team will answer their phone, at any time of the day or night and, as a business, we support that. We know the level of support our customers need and our staff know what our service strategy is,” Hogg said.
“It might be late on a Sunday night when the phone rings, but our guys will answer it and sort out the issue regardless of how long it takes. We’re flexible around work times and other issues to allow for this kind of support of our people to support our customers,” he said.
“Liebherr is a company that wants to support its product and therefore our customers have unlimited access to all of our team for as much phone support as they need. There are companies that charge for phone support and don’t deliver it free, however we’re not like that, we’re a company that really supports its customers.”
A large area of the Aftersales strategy is to ensure that each facility has spare parts stock and support. The company backs this up with a national and international delivery regime that allows Liebherr to get parts to its customers, whether they are in a remote area or in a main capital city.
“We also service New Zealand, PNG, Fiji and some of the smaller islands around Australia, so we’ve got a great distribution network which allows us to get goods out of the factory, either in an express delivery within five to six days (if they are available at the time from Germany and everything goes to plan) or on our weekly console. We bring in two airfreight consoles in every week to Perth and Sydney. These leave the factory on Monday and Thursday nights and are delivered directly into our Perth and Sydney facilities for distribution from there,” he said.
There are 11 people in the spare parts department headed up by the National Spare Parts Manager, Manson Tong. The team includes parts interpreters and warehouse staff who control the procurement and distribution networks respectively.
“Our spare parts team operate an after-hours parts service for emergency breakdowns too, this is all part of the customer service we offer,” Hogg said.
Liebherr also has a strong focus on training.
“We have a technical trainer who delivers factory accredited training here in Australia for both our technicians and customers alike, he attends the factory regularly to obtain accreditation to deliver the courses which are to the exact same standard as the factory,” he explained.
“Our customer training is conducted in each of our locations and covers topics from service and maintenance to diagnostics, inspections, LICCON 1 and 11 the influence of wind. An annual calendar is produced and circulated to customers.
“On the technical side, every year we send three-quarters of our technicians, on a rotational basis, to the factory for training which is normally a two week visit. They get practical experience with access to a variety of cranes as well as theory, so it’s not all sitting in the classroom, it’s hands on training, getting your hands dirty and engaging at a practical level.”
In the third year of its apprenticeship program, each apprentice is sent to the factory for a nine week ‘Basic Engineers’ course.
“We specify this timing because we find that by then an apprentice has been in the business for a couple of years, they’ve learnt the terminology, they understand the importance of customer service and the standards we expect. So in their third year, we send them to the factory where they learn a lot in a relatively short period of time. This is backed up with paperwork, documentation, a computer and hard drive full of technical know how and information. This really gives them a licence to start learning,” Hogg said.
“I always say it takes between six and eight years to get a technician to a level where they are self sufficient to fix a crane, of course there’s a lot more that goes on in the background of how and why we deliver the service that we do and prepare our guys for this.”
The apprenticeship program commenced four years ago and in early January 2019 the first apprentice qualified, and now every year an apprentice will become a qualified technician.
“We are now in a position to feed in new apprentices very year, we hand select them, so it takes a while to find the right people, Hogg commented.
“The retention rates across our business are fantastic. More than half the work force has more than five years and a quarter have more than 10 years. That’s pretty good considering the Liebherr family only bought back the business from the local dealer at the end of 2006.”
Do we always need a technician on site?
Liebherr recently released its latest remote diagnostics application with the new cranes. Where fitted, these cranes feature remote diagnosis that works off the 3G mobile phone network so wherever there is a public mobile phone connection they are able to access the crane.
“The system shows a member of our Aftersales support team exactly what the operator is seeing. We log into the crane and immediately see the LICCON computer system. We can see what the crane is doing, see all the parameters of the crane, how its been configured for that particular job and a range of other information,” Hogg said.
“From that information we can talk to the operator and help to correct an issue or change a setting or a parameter to make it work the way that he or she would like it to work. The system can save a lot of time in terms of getting a technician to site.”
The Liebherr service team is also responsible for major inspections.
“Major inspections are governed by Australian standards and Australia is the only country that calls for major inspections so they are unique to us and to our customers,” he said.
Initially, the company will work with the customer to understand what the cranes have been used for and how they’ve been serviced and maintained during the course of their life.
“We also work with our systems which provide details of what parts have been sold for that crane, what services we’ve done, how regularly certain items have been maintained. Some of these areas are specified in the standards that we need to document and relate to in the scope of work,” Hogg said.
“Once we understand some history about where the crane, we will inspect it (which may be) on a job site so it doesn’t interrupt the customer, we talk to the operator and have a look at the crane, we conduct a few tests and carry out an initial inspection to get a deeper understanding of the cranes condition,” he said.
“From there we provide a quote with a scope of work that meets all of the standards and the manufacturers requirements. Most manufacturers will have some recommendations of work that needs to be done at certain times or ages on the crane and we are no different. We have a lot of internal information and guidance material provided by the factory for doing this work.”
Once the quote has been provided there’s more communication with the customer, details of the quote are explained, what work is needed and why. The crane is then booked in for the major inspection at a convenient time for the customer and an independent engineer is engaged to examine the crane as the work progresses.
“The engineer might visit us multiple times during the course of the work,” Hogg said.
Throughout the process other third parties examine the crane, including crack testers, who conduct specific crack testing to the manufacturers recommendations. “Customers are welcome to visit our facilities, at any stage, to assess their crane,” he added.
“When we get to the completion stages the crane has another full functional test, inspection and sometimes a CraneSafe as well. Generally the crane will be due for that anyway. We then produce a report including photos from the scope of work, service reports and reports from the 3rd parties that we’ve engaged and the engineers report. The engineers report is probably the most important because that document says the crane is in safe working order and has a new life up until a certain date providing its maintained to the manufacturers recommendation.
“We also produce a stainless steel plate that’s fixed to the front of the crane and this confirms that we’ve conducted a major inspection, it specifies the job and serial number and when the next major inspection is due. That’s important for cranes to get on site with the unions and other controlling and safety bodies.
The team has conducted major inspections in QLD, NSW and WA and is about to undertake its first one in VIC.
“Recently, we had a 300t crane, the LTM1300-6 from Everwilling Cranes in for a major inspection in our Sydney facility, which went perfectly. The customer opted to have the whole crane painted so it came out of workshop and paint shop looking and performing like a new crane. We had a very happy customer and Wayne is a very happy operator, he loves that crane,” Hogg said.
So what happens when a used crane is brought into the country?
The rules surrounding the importing of used cranes essentially say that if the records for the crane aren’t available it needs to have a full inspection. That full inspection, according the Australian Standards, is very similar to a major inspection.
“The authorities need to know the history of the crane, that it hasn’t been over loaded, that it doesn’t have cracks through it and, obviously that the crane is safe,” Hogg said.
“With the importing of our cranes we have a ‘factory backed’ system where our factory does the full inspection of all the specific main criteria and provides us with all the inspection documentation. And test reports. Because the documentation is coming from the German manufacturer it is accepted by the Australian authorities,” he said.
“So when we bring a used crane in it is ready to operate apart from some local content that we might need to put on it, like larger wheels and tyres, guard widening or narrowing, the normal Australian design rules around lights, for example.
“Used cranes can be operating anywhere in the world, but generally a lot will come from Europe. Liebherr-Werk Ehingen has three workshops and the cranes will go into one of these. They are subjected to the inspection and testing regime signed off by the factory. So we don’t get a crane direct from a customer or from the field, it will always go through one of our factory work shops,” Hogg said.
European customers are generally very different and much larger than Australian customers operating much larger fleets.
“In Europe, customers will change a large portion of their fleet every three to five years. A customer may approach the factory wanting to ‘change out’ 40 cranes in a year and of these, some will go to dealers, a percentage will come to us and others will go onto the global market,” Hogg said.
“We have a used crane manager in Australia and he communicates with the factory to confirm what type of cranes customers are looking for in Australia. It’s a global network that we are operating and like a lot of things, it’s born around communication and the needs we all have. At Liebherr, we live and die by the sword, our performance speaks volumes and that’s what we live and die by.”