When customers contact Cole-Parmer to seek help in finding the right product, figuring out how to use their instrument, or even troubleshooting a problem, they have a team of technical experts working for them. Known as application specialists, this team leverages more than 85 years of collective experience to respond with an informed answer.
“The majority of our application specialists hold a degree in the physical sciences biology, chemistry, physics, microbiology, even entomology,” said Jaime Robles, Manager, Product Applications. ”Some have an industrial or military background, with expertise in engineering or electronics. With a diverse group like this, the range of expertise is quite broad. Yet, we also have specialists experienced in niches such as forensics, histology, and thermometry.”
This knowledge base is amplified by rigorous training. For the first few months of their tenure, application specialists study core areas such as general pumps, pH, pressure and vacuum, humidity, conductivity, water purification, balances, tubing and fittings, and more. By the time they are ready to respond to customers, the specialists have completed sixteen courses.
Yet, their technical education continues. “We supplement our formal training with product showcases to give our specialists exposure to products and how to use them,” explained Robles. “In addition, we periodically offer advanced expert-level training on product setup, programming, and troubleshooting.”
To stretch even further, an application specialist can request training to evolve his or her skill set. In all, Robles estimated, each application specialist logs more than 50 hours per year in ongoing technical training.
With their ever-increasing expertise, team members share insights to better serve customers. By consulting with one another, they pool their individualized experience. “We may confer with our in-house experts while we’re on the line with a customer. Or, we follow up with customers later if we learn more information that may help them,” said Robles. “For example, another team member may offer more details in troubleshooting a Masterflex® pump or in cleaning an electrode. We’ll then contact the customer to deliver the additional data.”
Application specialists also share product-specific data such as specifications on an internal database. The database is ideal for explaining common processes, such as maintenance requirements, that customers typically ask about.
What’s more, the specialists have an armory of other resources they draw from, including product manuals, supplier Web sites, and training materials. For particularly perplexing questions, they may contact the supplier or manufacturer’s staff directly.
“We explore all avenues in order to respond to our customers,” said Robles.
To offer greater convenience, customers may contact a Cole-Parmer application specialist either by phone or online.
“For many, our AnswerBox feature for online support is exactly what they want,” said Robles. “Customers type in their question and get answers from both staff experts as well as other customers. These are posted under the product descriptions on ColeParmer.com. So, users may find the answer to their question before they even contact us. Or, if they have another question, they can click on the ‘Ask a question’ button and post their inquiry.”
Another avenue for online support is e-mail. Buttons throughout ColeParmer.com supply a direct connection with an application specialist, who then replies with a timely answer.
Of course, the traditional channel of calling in to speak with a live person is also popular, especially for more in-depth consultations. “If a customer doesn’t know where to start in selecting a product for an application, we can walk her or him through this,” said Robles. “Perhaps we’ll refer to several different items in the catalog or on ColeParmer.com and help narrow down the priorities in terms of functionality, usage, and budget.”
To serve these multiple channels, the team is divided into three groups. “The majority operate the phones, while another group handles questions sent via the Web (AnswerBox and e-mail), and a third group works with our international dealers to provide technical expertise to customers globally,” said Robles.
In describing a typical Cole-Parmer application specialist, Robles reaches beyond the label of scientific wizard or technology maven.
“Technical aptitude is important, but we also choose team members based on their ability to communicate well with customers,” she said. “Our application specialists can simplify complex instructions and relate well to those needing their problem solved. Whether customers ask if the instrument they want is compliant or seek guidance on choosing an ultrasonic flowmeter or want to know how to fix their laboratory pump, communicating the right answer is important. It will save customers time and help them get their job done.”
And, after the many hours of training, consulting, and sharing their knowledge, that’s what the application specialists really do: support customers by helping them achieve their goals.