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Interview with Zeiss Head of Servicing and Repairs (1 Viewer)


Staff member
By prior arrangement, I met up with Christian Cramer, Head of Zeiss Consumer Products Global Service & Customer Care, at this year’s British Bird Fair, to record an interview about what steps Zeiss is taking to improve customer service, and just to be clear, ‘Customer Service’ in this context refers to the handling of repairs and servicing.

Herr Cramer, thank you for taking the time to join me for this interview. Please tell us about the improvements in Customer Service that you have been working on, and also about how there came to be a new Customer Service Centre for Sports Optics in Kentucky, USA.

Herr Cramer:
Well, since I have recently flown back from the USA, and you have asked about Kentucky, I will start there. It probably does not look like a smart idea so soon after the closure of the Virginia office, and the move to New York, to then close Customer Service New York, and open a new centre in Kentucky.

To understand this you have to look at the complete Zeiss business in the New York region, and the special situation of such a big market as the United States. Besides Consumer Products, the Zeiss location in NY was also host to the Microscopy business and other business groups. This suited the requirements of those businesses, but unlike those, the Consumer Products customers are spread all over the US, so we decided to split up and move the customer service facilities to KY. This location is a prime spot in terms of logistics within the United States. By this I mean transit times of the customer’s product from his address to us for a repair, and then back again. The fact is that transit across the USA takes at least two days. Siting our CS Centre on the East Coast or West Coast would mean customers on the opposite coast faciing increased waiting time without their instrument.

So we next looked around at other Zeiss establishments, and found that Zeiss Vision (that’s the business group dealing with eyeglass lenses) already had a site in Kentucky which they had established some years ago for exactly the same reasons: to improve logistics and cut down waiting times. This central location has led to the establishment of a big airport hub and other businesses are locating there too.

Troubador: This must have resulted in a loss of personnel and the need to train up new people, which, with the best plans and intentions in the world, must have had an impact on customer service.

Herr Cramer: Correct and, yes, just as we lost some people with the move of some jobs from Wetzlar to Oberkochen, we lost people here too, and it is not hard to understand. Even if we’d have chosen a location close the old office, most likely many of our employees would not have moved, for many understandable reasons. So we decided that Kentucky offered the best logistical solution for the long term. We had to recruit new employees and for nearly 2 months we sent them every Monday to New York to learn from colleagues there, and afterwards we have been fortunate that one our most experienced staffers from New York stayed on to help with the training and has been travelling every Monday to Kentucky. In addition we have also had help from two members of the Wetzlar team including one of the most experienced people in the entire Sports Optics business. At Zeiss we made every possible effort to minimize the timescale during which this has been carried out, but some of the necessary developments are complex and hard to speed up.

Troubador: Give me an example.

Herr Cramer: I can mention two. The logistics and stock-control systems of Zeiss Vision that monitor and record all the movements of products in and out of the Kentucky centre, are completely automated and computerised, and it took some time to integrate our products and spare parts into this system. In addition we had machines to move from New York to Kentucky, which meant there was down-time in NY, then transit time, then set-up time in KY, which required us to fly a technician out from Germany. This lost us round about 2 weeks during which we could not do any repairs in Kentucky and we relied on Germany to help out. However we are now catching up so we have turned a corner, but need to keep improving and while we still need to send some items back to Germany, it is fewer than in the past.

When planning the training and which models should be returned to Germany, we made an analysis of our entire portfolio of products, old and new, and looked at the sales volumes of each. To quote the extremes, if a repair or adjustment was simple and on a very popular model then we trained for it in Kentucky, if a repair was difficult and time-consuming and was needed only on a rather rare model, then we return that to Germany. Of course we will continuously revisit this analysis when our Kentucky personnel are more experienced, and it is our intention that Kentucky will be able to handle more models and more repairs than Virginia or New York could. To achieve this we are investing in more tools, equipment and training than Virginia or New York ever had, and establishing a bigger stock of spare parts. Why will this never be 100%? Because there are models requiring expensive equipment and extensive training to facilitate some repairs, and when the demand is only 10-20 units per year, the technician will never get really experienced and it does not make sense to equip for this in the USA from a financial point of view, when all the necessary equipment and expertise is available in Wetzlar.
We estimate that at the latest within one year, with the investment in equipment and continuous training we have planned, that we will achieve the same level of service that Virginia/New York provided, and very soon after this we will reach a higher level.

Troubador: OK, now let us turn to the old world in Europe. I know you have been working on a new system to improve customer service there. Is this system now up and running?

Herr Cramer: Yes, the good news is that we have made a strong start with the new system, even though it’s not yet at the final stage. One of the things we have focused on most strongly concerns communication with the customer.

Troubador: I can tell you from what Birdforum members have posted over the last few years that communication is absolutely crucial. Customers are concerned when their binoculars leave them and want to know they arrived safely, and it is the same when the binoculars are returned: they want to know when they left the service centre. Not to mention the questions of cost and warranties.

Herr Cramer: This is exactly our experience too and this is what our new systems have been designed to address. Within Zeiss Group we have a system called SAP which enables automatic recording and handling of issues with Zeiss products, but this system is set-up to focus on a Business-to-Business relationship because this is the largest part of Zeiss Group business: when we sell, for example, an industrial metrology product to a car maker, we know who the customer is and where the product will be used, and its history. With Sports Optics products, they are sold to a sister company or agent, then to a dealer and only then to an end-customer, who may not register the product and who may sell it to someone else later. We are implementing a highly complex interface between SAP and another CRM (customer-relation management) system in order to deal with our end-customers, so that we can take advantage of its automated recording of the progress of repairs, and automatic generation of appropriate emails, such as ‘we have received your binos’ all the way through to ‘your binos left us today on their way back to you’.

This means after the email confirming receipt of the binos, when the technician removes the bino from stock to work on it, the customer will get an automatic email to say this has happened and to say when to expect an inspection report. In fact each email will report not only what is happening now, but also what will happen next. In this way we will keep the customer informed and fully up to date.

The next step will need a lot of work on our systems onto which we will need to load the over 100,000 items which are the products and spare parts we make and have made in the past, so that the system can handle the details of each repair. In particular, we want to simplify the inspection report which in the past has listed every single component part involved in the inspection and proposed repair, and for 95% of our customers it has been more confusing than helpful, as they usually just want to know about the problem which cause them to send in the bino. So although there will be a full inspection report listing all of these things for internal use within Zeiss, the customer will simply see a report which will address the reason why the bino was sent in (for example, ‘the focus wheel torque is not satisfactory’) and what the cost to fix this will be, or whether this is covered by warranty. In addition, we might have noticed some other issues which we will list and leave it to the customer to decide whether to proceed with these or not. It is our ambition that this inspection report is no longer than one page and very easy to understand.

We have our most experienced customer service technicians working on this, and our plan is that this part of the process will be fully operational by the first months of next year.

After each repair we will ask the customer to complete a brief survey and comment on the turnaround time, the cost in relation to the repair and so on. This has just been implemented in the Kentucky, USA and will soon be implemented in Wetzlar. In fact this system has already been working well for the Photographic business, and the feedback about turnaround time has clearly shown that customers see no difference between time in our workshop and shipping time. For them it is all time without their instrument, and this was a major factor in our siting the service centre in Kentucky to minimise transit times.

Troubador: This is clearly a big challenge but achieving this in Europe and the USA is one thing, achieving this on a global basis will be quite another.

Herr Cramer: Yes, it is, and so we have made a start in those two zones because this will bring the benefits to as many customers as possible, as soon as possible. In other parts of the world we will need to modify the approach a little. For example South Africa is a lot of transit days away from Wetzlar so we may need a different level of training and capability there and the same may apply elsewhere. I can foresee a need for 3-4 levels of capability on global basis. And I shouldn’t forget to mention that while I have focused my answers on the systems we are implementing, there are human beings behind the systems, and we are using the skills and experience of our senior Wetzlar personnel to help build training programmes usable across the different markets. All of these changes and developments will take time to achieve, but for now, we have made a good start, but it is only a start and there is still much to do.

Troubador: Thank you for spending so much time to explain these developments to Birdforum, we look forward to updates in the future and wish you every success.



New member
United States
Where and to who may problems with Zeiss Optics repair in Kentucky be reported? I cannot complete a survey after repairs because, after my dealings with the technician in Kentucky, I am requesting my binoculars be returned without repair despite having to spend greater than $50 on sending them in and having them returned. I would have rather sent them to Germany.

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