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Reliability & maintainability – the art of delivering excellent marine electronics service for customer satisfaction

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Frances Baskerville, Secretary-General, CIRM

 CIRM Secretary General Frances Baskerville sent us this interesting article from one of CIRM’s member companies Multidigital who are leading the way in the Ship Service sector:  Reliability & maintainability – the art of delivering excellent marine electronics…

It came to me suddenly when we were offered the opportunity to contribute by writing an article for this edition of the CIRM in-house magazine. The name of this magazine is “Spotlight on Ship Service” and as Multidigital Nigeria Limited is a leading Pan-African marine electronics servicing and consultancy company, I thought it reasonable to project a spotlight on delivering excellent and reliable services that enhance customer satisfaction.

Elijah Agunbiade, MD & CEO Multidigital, Nigeria

As ships sail across the world, they are fitted with marine electronics equipment for navigation and communication including equipment for Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). One of the major concerns for ship owners and ship managers is the access to quality and reliable service support for the equipment fitted on their managed vessels.

Many ship owners and ship managers have raised a lot of concern about having prompt and reliable services when their ships sail across the world. Delivering reliable and excellent service is key to attracting committed customers and retaining them for a very long time. The Reliability and Maintainability of any product is a very important aspect of selecting a product to be deployed for a particular purpose. Every customer will always opt for a reliable product with a very good MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure). To have a very good MTBF, there is a need to proactively perform preventive maintenance and carry out a comprehensive health check on the equipment. This will significantly reduce the number of breakdowns on the equipment and keep the good order and reduce downtime and major repairs. When a piece of equipment breaks down, there is also a need for fast and reliable corrective maintenance. All these are very important to have a functional and reliable navigational and communication equipment onboard ships and therefore equipment in enhancing peace of mind for the vessel owners and managers.

A Multidigital engineer repairs a JRC radar on a vessel

More than two decades ago, when I was studying electronics engineering at the university, one of my core courses was Reliability and Maintainability.

While my intention here is not to provide a detailed theoretical overview of the subject of Reliability and Maintainability as I was taught in the university, I would like to present these as an art of delivering excellent customer service. Permit me to just define Reliability and Maintainability for clarity sake:

Reliability is defined as the probability that a product, system or service will perform its intended function adequately for a specified period or will operate in a defined environment without failure. While Maintainability is defined as the probability of performing a successful repair action within a given time. In other words, maintainability measures the ease and speed with which a system can be restored to operational status after a failure occurs.

The main objectives of reliability and maintainability are to apply engineering knowledge and specialist techniques to prevent or to reduce the likelihood or frequency of failures, and to identify and correct the causes of failures that occur despite the efforts to prevent them. This is very important in delivering excellent services. From experience as a dedicated marine electronics service provider in Africa, the following steps will enhance excellent and reliable service delivery that will definitely promote customer satisfaction:

decoding an EPIRB

Quick response to service enquiry – This is the first step to get the attention of a customer and probably getting the customer’s commitment to entrust the services of his equipment to a service company. There is a need to respond to the customer’s enquiry for service as soon as you receive his e-mail. The service coordinator must always be on top of his or her e-mails to respond to enquiries as quickly as possible. Every service enquiry for marine electronics equipment needs urgent attention because these equipment are used for ship navigation and SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea). Delaying in service response is prolonging the downtime of the equipment and therefore reducing its availability for use. Customers are always very happy with service providers that respond quickly to service enquiries and they prefer getting committed to that service provider for a very long time. When a customer sends an enquiry to a service provider and the service provider does not acknowledge the enquiry on time, the customer will urgently look for another service provider due to the urgency of the service and they may not contact again the service provider that fails to respond to the enquiry on time. There is a need for the service coordinator to quickly review the enquiry, discuss with the technical team and revert with the next possible action as quickly as possible. This first line of action is of great importance in providing reliable services for customer satisfaction.

Another key point is to deploy trained and competent personnel for services. Maritime electronics equipment are sophisticated and specialized equipment that require trained and competent engineers/technicians to maintain.

Training of service engineers is requisite to providing reliable services. A service company must ensure that its engineers are trained by the manufacturer of the equipment. This training must be continuous as the manufacturer releases new equipment from time to time. Definitely, engineers with good knowledge of the equipment will spend less time troubleshooting and repairing the faulty equipment and therefore restoring the system to full operation. This goes a very long way in building the trust of the customer and get them committed to the service provider.

Complement to deploying trained and competent personnel for services is the availability of relevant spare parts. There cannot be effective corrective maintenance of an equipment if relevant spares are not available. This is very imperative for 99.9% repair success rate of any equipment. For maritime electronics repair, a one-time fix is very important to the customer. Most of the bridge equipment on the ship are used for navigation and communication and most ships would not be able to sail if these equipment are not functional. First time/one-time fix is very crucial, and this is absolutely dependent on the availability of relevant spares and competence of the service engineer. This will reduce the cost of re-attendance and unnecessary delay of the vessel at the port. Every business is aimed at cutting down irrelevant cost and maximize profit. Therefore, ship owners and managers are always very happy when faults on bridge equipment are resolved at service engineer’s first attendance and this enhances customer’s satisfaction and their commitment to the service company
I must not forget to mention that carrying out services with integrity is also very crucial to customer satisfaction. Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. A service company that really wants to retain its customers and attract new customers must be determined to provide reliable services with a high level of integrity. There is a need to be open and transparent to the customer from the onset of the service enquiry to the final stage of resolving the issues and close out the service. I have seen it in the past where some vessels were issued with fake VDR certificates of compliance from unauthorized service technicians and companies. The customer thought Annual Performance Test has been carried out on their VDR until we had contact with them and discovered the COC that was issued to them was fake and was not issued by the manufacturer of the VDR. The service technician just went on board, pretended to have carried out the APT and issued a fake COC to the customer. When the customer discovered this, they resolved not to have anything to do with them again for life. There is a local proverb in my native language that says, “Truth shreds a lie of 20 years in one day”. When a customer discovers that a service provider has integrity and always keep to its word, they get more committed to the service provider.

Our company, Multidigital Nigeria Limited has been strongly positioned in Sub-Sarahan Africa to provide reliable maritime electronics services to the ships trading in this region. Africa is the second largest and the second most populous continent in the world. There is a very high traffic of vessels in and out of African ports as the continent relies heavily on ships and ports to service its intercontinental trade. The Oil and Gas operations in major countries in Africa have also increased inflow of different kinds of vessels ranging from commercial vessels to customized offshore support vessels.

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