Responding to the unprecedented effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Paul Paterson (PP), European Technical Director, Beckman Coulter Life Sciences (BCLS), chats to Dr Kevin Robinson (KSR) about how the company has embraced virtual reality (VR) technology and other remote diagnostic tools to ensure high levels of customer service both during and after the lockdowns
KSR: Please describe your current responsibilities at BCLS.
PP: I’m responsible for the well-being and success of our team of associates within the Life Science Field Service department. This extends to other areas outside traditional field service, such as EU service marketing, business analytics, sales inside service, EU LS service projects and operations.
KSR: Can you briefly describe the Beckman Coulter Life Sciences division?
PP: We’re a successful, fast-paced division that collaborates with other departments to provide our customers with the most dependable, reliable and efficient service possible in the industries that we serve. We strive to improve our services to internal and external customers by carefully applying best practices to support continuous improvement activities.
KSR: How important is service to the business and what are your key offerings?
PP: Like a lot of businesses, service is seen as a differentiator with our customers. Our world-class voice of customer (VOC) feedback, Net Easy Score (NES), is testament that we continue to provide best-in-class customer service.
Our key offerings include a range of service coverage contracts — from preventive to fully comprehensive — to minimise downtime or potential financial burdens for our customers.
Plus, our innovative solutions are geared to making life easier for the customer; for example, BeckmanConnect is our ISO 27001-certified remote support software solution that allows our highly trained service engineers and application specialists to securely login remotely to the customer’s instrument for real-time visibility of the system — allowing us to address any service and support needs as soon as possible.
KSR: How did COVID, combined with lockdowns and travel restrictions, impact the service function?
PP: We made every effort internally to ensure that COVID didn’t impact our customers whenever possible. Although unable to travel extensively through Europe, we armed our teams with the appropriate PPE and supported our customers locally whilst using augmented reality (AR) for any complex issues and installations.
Our VOC feedback through the pandemic was simply astonishing as we saw many countries report 100% month-on-month NES feedback.
Our ability to onboard new associates was delayed because of the inability to travel to our training centre; however, the use of VR mitigated some impact and continues to be a source of investment to minimise the future impact on training and enable our teams to remain safe and well whilst being trained remotely.
KSR: How did you ensure business continuity in terms of service and support?
PP: We remained in contact with each of our field associates to ensure they stayed safe and well. We communicated to our customers through our highly skilled co-ordination teams to provide frequent updates on scheduled and proactive field service visits.
We ensured each and every field service associate was supported with protective equipment so we could mitigate risks when leaving their homes. Our management team worked together to ensure that teams were safe and our customers supported. In fact, this is still in place as we want to maintain the well-being of our associates as well as their friends and family members too.
KSR: What was your remote service offering before COVID?
PP: As mentioned, we utilised BeckmanConnect. This remote diagnostic offering is available across a number of products in the LS portfolio. It allows remote desktop and file control/sharing, so one of our highly trained operators is able to connect directly to the workstation for enhanced visibility to quickly identify the issue and expedite resolution.
When onsite support is required, the remote connectivity allows our remote support specialists to more efficiently collect data to ensure our field support engineers (FSEs) have the right plan of action, tools and any related parts for quick onsite resolution.
KSR: How did COVID accelerate your remote service strategy?
PP: The team continued to drive installations of BeckmanConnect to enable further remote troubleshooting and diagnosis. We accelerated the AR tool using the HoloLens Technology from Microsoft, which was first successfully used in Europe to remotely support a key account installation.
AR allows us to put the power in customers’ hands to imagine and visualise the instrument in their lab … and shows them how to run through using the instrument at their own pace and in their own space!
KSR: What does your current remote service strategy cover (BeckmanConnect and VR)? Does every customer have access to these?
PP: BeckmanConnect remote diagnostics currently covers flow cytometry and automation; its continuous evolution will see this rolled out to additional products. Our VR platform started with particle counting and characterisation and is on an accelerated pathway for more product lines to be available on virtual reality soon.
KSR: What were your key requirements for a VR solution?
PP: We needed speed of implementation and flexibility. Although the technology was already advanced, it was also important to ensure our platform could evolve.
As such, we chose the Real World One (RW1) solution after looking at products from multiple vendors. RW1 was the only one that offered virtual instructor-led training as well as allowing virtual meetings. The software package behind the solution allows for more future development.
KSR: How did you amplify the advantages of VR to employees? How did you overcome any reluctance to adopting the technology?
PP: During the pandemic, employees were eager to learn that BCLS was evolving and investing in its employees with cutting-edge technology. Many different individuals from varying roles and backgrounds have used the new VR. Of course, some people are more comfortable using it than others, but everyone can see the benefits of the technology.
KSR: How has BeckmanConnect and VR enhanced the customer experience? Has it improved first time fix rates, for example?
PP: The primary benefit of VR is its remote operation! It removes the need for Field Service Engineers to travel, meaning that they have more availability. Plus, it can dramatically reduce any potential downtime.
KSR: What are the short- and long-term benefits of VR for BCLS?
PP: Short-term benefits enable us to support customers and FSEs when travel is not an option or when we look to limit risk for our associates and customers. VR enables us to train individuals without having to wait for courses to become available.
VR also enables trained associates to revisit courses, topics and subjects to refresh their knowledge when and where they need it. Long-term, VR has the ability to speed up our commitment to customers by accelerating changes to our installation and training needs.
KSR: Are there other ways that remote assistance has been of benefit, such as training junior employees/apprentices, sharing and transfer of knowledge across the business?
PP: VR allows us to extend training to associates when the training itself needs to change. It enables us to bring our product knowledge to everyone in our business and strengthen customer communication.
Our co-ordination and hotline teams can have access to our products even when we’re unable to make in-person visits. Remote diagnostics supports our efforts to be as environmentally sustainable as possible.
KSR: Post-COVID, how will remote assistance fit into your service strategy? Will remote-first be mandatory?
PP: We anticipate that AR and BeckmanConnect will be used as a triage stage for customers. This will improve the most important metric: instrument uptime. It will also accelerate diagnosis and enable further first-time fix improvements if a field-based associate needs to visit a customer.
KSR: Is BCLS planning any new service initiatives to meet post-COVID requirements?
PP: Further AR/VR/BeckmanConnect advancements are in progress, as well as enhancements to our call centres; we’re updating our troubleshooting hotline to further improve telephone-based fixes and increase customer uptime.
KSR: How will it affect customer relationships?
PP:Our customers will have the ability to increase their product knowledge by collaborating closely with our service support teams both by telephone and in person. By using AR/VR and BeckmanConnect, they’ll see further improvements in our support techniques, which will make their hardware/software the go-to platform for their diagnostic, research or cleanroom laboratory needs.
KSR: What role do you think remote service/assistance will play in the post-COVID world in general?
PP: Remote diagnostics will always play a fundamental role in the service support arena. At Beckman Coulter Life Sciences, we strive to support our customers and products in the most cutting-edge, efficient and sustainable way. Remote diagnostics supports our efforts to be environmentally sustainable as possible whilst ensuring uptime.