TÜV Rheinland Blog - Insights from Asia and Africa

Are NRTLs Really a Necessary Evil?

Posted by TUV Rheinland on Apr 29, 2016 12:15:00 PM
TUV Rheinland
I ask that question a little tongue in cheek, but how many times have we heard someone say, “third-party product certification companies are a necessary evil?”  Just so we’re clear, this article is not being addressed to any specific company, because all third-party TIC (Testing, Inspection, & Certification) companies have demonstrated inadequate service over the years, some worse than others.  Our goal is to help identify ways to improve, so TIC providers can concentrate on staying in business by delighting their customers.

Having worked in and around the conformity assessment industry for many years, I have seen and heard the tales of OEM manufacturers, importers, and distributors of unlisted products experiencing very slow and unresponsive service from their certification partners.  Granted, there may be extenuating circumstances, which might include a new and unusual product that requires additional amounts of testing and engineering judgement against a relevant standard. But, I too agree that in many cases, project turn-around times can be unnecessarily delayed due to apathy on the part of the TIC company.

A Question of Value:  Perceived or Actual 
The value of the TIC industry is under constant scrutiny by manufacturers, and for good reason.  In many instances, TIC providers rely too much on the perceived value they deliver through strong marketing promotions, professional relationships, whitepapers produced, and technical committees chaired – all of which help support the perceivedvalue of a brand.  However, what customers require is the actual value a TIC company should provide.  During a strategy meeting of business unit leaders, the group I was working with was debating the importance of the company’s position within the industry when one of the business leaders made the erroneous statement, “the clienthas to come to us, we are the best brand in the market place.”  I attempted to hold my tongue, but found it impossible and blurted-out a question in response, “What good is a brand if there is no customer?”  

The question I posed was innocent enough, but a bit philosophical, and carried with it an answer that to this day is applicable for anybody providing goods or services to a buyer.  The brand of a good or service is known by the actualvalue it delivers.  If the value experienced is valuable enough that it is continued to be demanded, loyalty develops from repeat business.  The loyalty created shapes and forms the brand due to the actual value produced from the features and benefits delivered.    

Do You Feel Trapped? 
Bottom line, if the actual value of the product or offering does not live up to the perceived value, brand erosion occurs, which ultimately proliferates negative feelings.  If the brand is perceived as the only game in town, customers will feel trapped. Without a doubt, that is the very worst situation a brand can find itself.  Just like an animal that has been caught in a trap, a customer who feels trapped will aggressively look for the same proverbial open door or alternate solution for their freedom – and that freedom can be found in another service provider who offers an actual experience that meets or exceeds a customer’s needs. Once a positive alternate experience is received, who do you think receives the subsequent repeat business?  In the TIC industry, it is never about what you’ve done for me, but what you’ve done for me lately.  You’re only as good as the last completed project.  Hence, actual value must always be greater than perceived value.

A Simple Equation for Value
In my experience, actual value from a TIC provider should consist of four (4) basic fundamental service offerings:
  • Fast Response Time
  • Technical Expertise
  • Quality Evaluations, and
  • Accurate Project Turn-Around Times.

First, Fast Response Time is crucial.  How many times do you make a request that seems to fall on deaf ears?  Or answers to relatively simple questions seem to take ridiculous amounts of time to come back to you?  In many instances, the initial response between two competing companies quoting a project can make all the difference in who wins the job.  Customers take you seriously when you respond within a time frame that meets their needs.  Many times this means within a specific time frame, such as 24 – 72 hours.  Regardless of the timing – if a promise is made – you need to be prepared to deliver on it.

Second, Technical Expertise plays an important part in not only the quality of the service, but also has a direct correlation on how fast and efficient a project is turned around.  Nothing is worse than working with a TIC professional that has a difficult time  developing a valid certification plan. The knowledge of specific standards and applications are paramount to the quality and speed of a certification project.  I’ve seen many relatively straight forward projects take unnecessarily long times because an engineering project handler was inadequately versed on a given standard.  In many cases, this is because a relatively new Engineer to conformity assessment was given the project to review because of inadequate coverage or cross-training levels.

Third, Quality Evaluations can be a source of frustration when two different engineers evaluate the same project differently, causing confusion and delays.  In some cases, the issue can be of little consequence.  Often time, however, the issue can create the need for additional samples for review, additional testing to be performed, and an additional cost to the customer. 

Fourth, Accurate Project Turn-Around Times are crucial for customers.  If a product had a preliminary review, a project test plan has been developed, competent Engineers have been assigned, and a promise or due date has been established, customers put their faith in the TIC company and now it’s time to deliver as promised.  The importance of this fact is when a promise date is agreed upon, the customer starts to plan and strategize their own operations – including their purchasing, manufacturing, product launch, promotion, and distribution.  When a project falls behind and a promise date is missed, there occurs a negative chain reaction that is felt throughout the customer, which does not fare well long-term for the TIC provider.  If a promise date is going to slip, the customer must absolutely know of it as early as possible along with the real delivery date to adjust their plans accordingly.

How many times have we cringed at hearing stories that include test times for projects that have exceeded 12 to 18 months?  It brings tears to my eyes to think of the missed sales opportunities that can be traced back to slow project turn-around times.  Granted, there are extenuating circumstances that can create project delays, such as unforeseen test failures.  A product that fails will need to be corrected and resubmitted for additional testing until determined that it passes successfully.  However, for this conversation’s purposes, I’m referring to projects that are delayed due to slow moving TIC operations.

I recently had the pleasure of helping a client navigate the waters of conformity assessment who not only had a newly developed product to be certified, but also required additional testing of an unknown component, and field evaluations/labeling of unlisted units while satisfying the requirements of the regulatory AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction).  The customer’s experience was not without challenges, but with the help of consistent communication and a competent Engineering staff who was focused on delivering a powerful experience to the customer, the project went smoothly and exceeded their expectations.  The difference?  The actual value delivered. 

So Why Does the TIC Industry Exist?
So after all is stated, created, debated, and negotiated, the fact remains that the very best service providers or brands within the TIC industry will continue to be successful for one reason and one reason only… exceeding the expectations of the customer by accurately verifying that their products meet the applicable standards for which they are being tested.  There shouldn’t be any confusion on the subject.  Granted, as long as safety and performance requirements need to be verified against a product, a TIC company will always exist.  However, the very best brands will eventually consolidate the industry and exclude the “bottom-feeders” of the industry – a natural selection process based on repeat business from customer loyalty.  Customers who are less than satisfied with a product or service will look elsewhere to satisfy their needs.  And without the customer and their products to test, a TIC provider – regardless of their popularity – will cease to exist along with its “premier” brand.  Pretty simple and straight forward, right?  What are you going to do about it?
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Article by Peter Grundberg 
For more than 15 years, Peter has been active in creating and implementing progressive global business development strategies and tactics across technical industries. From his early roots in product management, to his maturation into business operations and global sales & marketing leadership, Peter’s business development prowess has empowered him to build strategic account relationships with OEM leaders in the Construction & Mining, Oil & Gas, Marine/Workboat, Power Generation, Renewable Energy, and Heavy Industrial Manufacturing industries.

Topics: NRTL, TIC