If Customers Want the ‘Right to Repair’, Make Sure They Get it Right
Electronics and capital equipment manufacturers have been nervously watching as the “right to repair” movement gains traction in the United States and European Union. Proponents of right to repair want to compel manufacturers to provide parts, software code and documentation to let customers repair complex equipment on their own. Opponents argue that it hurts business, violates intellectual property rights and could even put lives at risk (e.g., if an improperly repaired tractor injured the operator or a self-repaired medical device killed a patient).
Arguments aside, support for right to repair has grown steadily, with 20 U.S. states considering right to repair legislation, three presidential candidates publicly endorsing the movement and recent EU legislation requiring manufacturers to make appliances easier to repair.
Looking at these trends, manufacturers would be well advised to draw up contingency plans to protect equipment, customer safety and their brand reputation if new right to repair laws were passed. Practical steps include:
Objectively review your existing training materials and documentation: Could someone outside of your company — with limited repair experience — reliably follow your documentation to repair their own equipment? Are your tutorial videos short, to the point and just detailed enough to guide customers through repairs without overwhelming them?
- Create a searchable knowledge database: Save customers the pain of sifting through piles of irrelevant information by uploading your training and support material to a well-organized, searchable database. At minimum, implement processes to ensure the PDFs and videos on your website are the latest versions while weeding out R.O.T. (redundant, obsolete and/or trivial content). Depending on the volume and complexity of content, you might want to implement a professional document management / knowledge base solution (e.g., MadCap Flare, Xyleme, ZenDesk, Reamaze, etc.).
- Facilitate two-way communication between customers and in-house teams: Even if your training materials are comprehensive and easy to follow, issues will arise in the field that no one can anticipate. Make sure that your customer support and internal communications / knowledge sharing platforms are integrated in a way that support staff, design teams and your larger user community can quickly answer customers’ questions (and capture useful explanations for future reference). Make sure everyone on your staff is trained in soft skills like checking customers’ comprehension of complex concepts and handling difficult conversations.
- Empower your customers to become ambassadors: If a customer has a YouTube channel with repair tutorials for your products, don’t immediately rush to shut them down. If their guidance is sound, consider supporting them as a brand ambassador. And if they’re misinformed, educate the customer and see if they’re willing to voluntarily delete inaccurate videos or — better — post a correction.
Although it might take some time before right to repair directly impacts your business, it is still a good idea to keep your documentation and training materials up to date and improve communication with customers. Even if the right to repair movement loses steam, your customer relationships and quality of service will be stronger for it.