Welcome to the second instalment of Meet Your Maker Q&A! Meet Your Maker is a series of behind-the-scenes videos and blogs that illustrates the wide range of in-house skillsets used to design and manufacture our market-leading broadcast technology whilst exploring the amazing people behind Calrec.
This week we had the pleasure of speaking with Calrec’s Lead Customer Support Engineer, Darren Silcock, about the importance of our close customer relationships, bespoke 24/7 support contracts & training and Calrec’s no-nonsense approach to customer support.
1. What is your role with Calrec and what does it entail?
As the Lead Customer Support Engineer, I head up the Customer Support team to ensure that all customers receive an exceptional level of service, support and technical advice.
2. How big is the Customer Support Team?
We have seven UK-based engineers including myself, plus a highly technical Customer Support Manager. We support all Calrec customers and distributors around the world and have dedicated Calrec-trained US-based engineers on the East and West Coasts of America.
3. In what ways does Customer Support provide support to Calrec customers?
Customer Support provides a huge array of support facilities. One of the most important aspects of the Customer Support role is that we establish close relationships with all our customers. This allows us to gain a sound understanding of customer requirements, their systems, operational and technical requirements and provide a better, more empathetic level of support.
We also support site visits to customer facilities and OB trucks for commissioning, upgrades, system health-checks and onsite training. Part of this is handling upgrades for customers who operate 24/7 production schedules to ensure as little impact and risk as possible. This not only requires a high level of knowledge of the customer’s system but also an exceptional background knowledge into the system/platform; how it’s evolved over time, and any changes that have been made to hardware or software configurations.
We undertake system diagnostic work using system logging to allow events to be analysed. There is a large amount of telemetry within Calrec systems to allow us to cover events with extreme detail and accuracy.
And let’s not forget training. The support team provides many training courses, often customised to suit customer requirements for specific configurations or site facilities.
And then there’s operational and technical consultancy – we’re not just here for problems! We are always happy to spend time discussing any new or changing workflow requirements that a customer has to help them identify and implement solutions
4. What is the global coverage? How do you work with other people in other countries?
Some customers we are able to deal with directly, but around the world, we work with an excellent and ever-expanding fleet of distributors.
Working with distributors allows us to provide a much better level of support as it provides customers with dedicated personnel that have been trained by Calrec engineers. It also allows local knowledge and practices to be maintained keeping a personal touch to the level of support.
5. How do you ensure local representatives are fully trained?
All distributors will visit the factory in the UK for an extended period to undertake an extensive range of training on all or specific Calrec products. It allows us to go through all the operational and technical training requirements, a huge amount of practical learning, configuring systems for their specific customer base, Q&A sessions, and a factory tour to see the build and progress of consoles.
Distributors have the complete freedom to immerse themselves into Calrec’s world and products; it gives them a chance to not only use the products fully but also meet and get to know everyone in the factory. It’s important that local representatives get to know people they will be working with in the factory on a day-to-day basis.
6. What about spares holding? How is that managed?
We hold a large amount of stock within the UK factory at Hebden Bridge and at strategic sites across the globe to ensure an extremely quick turnaround time. It is important that our customers get the parts they need asap to return to normal operation.
This not only covers our current range of products but also our legacy products – there’s a large amount of the older Calrec products still in daily use around the world!
Every console, asset and module that has ever left the factory is recorded, and this database is maintained daily. A good example of this is a commissioning visit for a new console. Prior to the console leaving the factory, every bit of information is recorded at the point it has completed factory testing. During the commissioning visit by the engineer if there is a new release of software this will be installed during that visit. The Customer Support engineer then makes sure that all records for that console are updated accordingly.
This ensures that any future replacement or additional hardware is configured correctly. Much of our hardware/software utilises a self-managed software process where a verification process is completed by the card itself on fitment. This further ensures spares are always configured correctly.
Calrec operates an AEU (advance exchange unit) for managing and distributing spares. This is a program whereby we ship a replacement part to the customer fully configured, and once fitted the original unit is returned to the Calrec factory for repair where it remains. This speeds up the process and allows facilities to get back up and running quicker.
7. What are the different levels of support contract?
We have three off-the-shelf levels of Support Contract that provide round-the-clock access to support services.
Additionally, as each customer’s requirements are unique we operate bespoke contracts that provide tweaks to the standard contract to ensure customers receive exactly what they need. This can be a global agreement spanning all customer sites, a rolling software upgrade package, onsite support for key events, training courses, or critical cold spares. In short, we can support you however you need us to.
8. How is the Support team able to work remotely? How has this helped provide better support?
Live television can often be an extremely challenging and pressurised environment. Being able to assist customers speedily and efficiently is vital.
Remote diagnostics and remote working have certainly evolved over the years; in fact, all of the Calrec Hydra2 platform of consoles have had the ability to be remotely controlled since the launch of that platform.
We are now in an ever-more challenging environment with remote support/working and diagnostics being more important. All of Calrec’s current products allow remote connections to perform support services and have assumed increased importance over the last few months.
9. How is customer training structured?
We cater for pretty much all types of training, and we tend to structure these to specific customer needs, but they are generally a mixture of formal presentations and hands-on training. Emphasis is given to the hands-on console use, actual setup and making sure everyone within the group gets involved!
It’s equally important when delivering training to customers that are new to Calrec that we understand how the workflow of the console they previously had may be different to Calrec, so we do our best cover Calrec methodology and benefits.
10. Does Customer Support feed back into product development? How does that work and why is it important?
Very much so – this is tremendously important. As products mature or begin life, we provide an extremely important role in updating product managers and R&D, whether it relates to improvements or are feature requests directly from customers.
We encourage all customers to discuss any feature that they think would be of value to them. This allows us to improve our products, provide software updates and introduce new features. The importance of this role within the Customer Support department cannot be underestimated; it’s important for us as a company but also for the customer.