Introduction:


At least in the initial stages of market opening, the technologies being sold are, by definition, new and there are few indigenous, market-based support services available meaning that when something breaks, the enterprise is usually the only entity capable of addressing the problem. Perhaps eventually, PV technology will become like mobile telephone technology and create its own independent service sector, but that day is a ways off in most locations.

One notable exception in Tanzania, where UNDP training efforts targeted existing electricians and sought to provide them with skills and knowledge specific to PV installation and maintenance. As a result, Zara Solar does not maintain a large staff of technicians but rather connects its customers with a network of UNDP-trained technicians servicing the area. This has the advantage of lowering costs for Zara Solar (and indeed other PV companies in the area), but does not always result in the greatest level of quality control.

One major shortcoming of previous development programs has been the lack of attention to ongoing maintenance issues. An enterprise-centered approach goes part-way towards addressing those issues; enterprises theoretically operate on longer time horizons and have some incentives to make sure that customers are satisfied.

Enterprises may, however, occasionally require assistance in structuring their customer service arrangements. Examples include:
  • Predicting customer needs, when and where these may occur
  • Drafting service/maintenance agreements, making sure they represent a good value proposition to the customer
  • Projecting future costs and revenues resulting from service agreements
  • Making operational allowances - phone center, complaint tracking system, scheduling technician time and transportation
  • Managing customer use and service data - electronic collection or paper records
  • Employing periodic focus groups to assess what customers particularly like or are frustrated with
  • Other?

Experience has shown that good customer service, particularly as it relates to creating reliable products and building a solid reputation, is important for achieving long term growth.