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How important is the helpline in the digital world?

Peter Staniforth, Technical Manager, Timeguard.

Guaranteed quality is a term we hear a lot and, where a known to-brand manufacturer is prepared to give such a guarantee, especially if it’s extended to three or sometimes even five years, then you can be pretty sure that it isn’t going to fail. The problems you are most likely to encounter will be in choosing the right product and rating for the job and setting it up – deep technical issues are rare. 

As manufacturers we can try and pre-empt problems for you by making sure we provide as much information as possible up front. When to comes to choosing products, we put as much specification on the outside of the box as we can to help you make the right decision or, at worst, to let know you’ve made a mistake before you irretrievably rip the packaging open.  For setting up, it’s now practical and affordable for us to post instruction videos online as well While we don’t expect to be shortlisted for the Baftas any time soon, we know they do the trick from the feedback we’re getting. “It’s like having a Timeguard engineer by your side” commented one viewer.

So ae helplines redundant?  We hope not because when product designers talk direct to installers, as is the case with Timeguard, then it’s a two-way street.  We solve your problem, we understand better what you want, and we feed it into the next new product range.

When product designers talk direct to installers, it’s a two-way street.

We can also help by  having our best people staffing our helpdesk: these are the people who design the products. These guys will have been troubleshooting on the test bench and trying to find ways of breaking them and messing up the programming long before products ever see the light of day on the wholesale counter. So, you are unlikely ever to have a query they cannot answer (there’s a challenge for you!). On the other hand, you might help us to spot places where we can improve our instruction leaflets – for which many thanks. Another advantage for you is that you’re getting through to people who love nothing more than problem solving. They welcome your calls.

Surprisingly, the volume of calls we receive has remained steady over the years at around 40 a day. This, remember, is against a background of growing sales and introducing many more technically-advance products and concepts.  We don’t take all the credit, there’s no doubt tha electricians are investing time and energy in keeping abreast of smarter products and new opportunities. Most of our calls are queries, rather than complaints, as installers explore new ideas.

Most of our calls are queries, rather than complaints, as installers explore new ideas.

The things we get asked vary with the time of year – what you are currently installing – and what’s new on the market. For instance, the trade was having quite a lot of issues with PIR switching for LEDs until quite recently, mainly because of a lack of understanding of the need for specific LED ratings. Manufacturers were getting away with not bothering and mid-educating the mark ton what to expect from PIR switching, we were I think, about the first manufacturers to highlight the importance of testing and rating PIRs specifically for use with LEDs – a device rated for example for 2000W of halogen lighting is fit for just 400W of LED. The message has got through, and we don’t get calls on tha anymore.

An issue that did fox us for a while was LED lighting flickering when used with our, and other manufacturers’, smart wall switches. No-one seemed to have an answer, but we talked it through with installers and then brainstormed it here. We traced the problem to the small current that the switches have to draw to be smart and provide timing or PIR control. So we designed – and patented -  an automatic switch load controller to eliminate the problem. We did brace ourselves for a lot of tech desk calls on such a new concept but, no, you just wired it in, tucked it through the ceiling aperture out of sight, and were happy!

Complaints are usually from end users who weren’t given the right advice or instructions by installers.

So what does Mr or Ms Angry call us about? It’s not quite all sunshine and light on the helpdesk. Please don’t shoot the messenger, but I have to tell you that most of calls that are complaints rather than queries are from end users who weren’t given the right information and advice by their electrician.  Or maybe, of course, they just forgot what they were told. If nothing else, do tell them they can always Google Timeguard if they need a copy of the instructions in future. 

Will artificial intelligence and machine learning take over the role of humans on helpdesks?  It may work for big faceless companies, but not here, not in our industry and not while I have a say. We’re an industry that still likes the wholesale counter and that likes to talk to each other.

This article first appeared in Professional Electrician.

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