Enhance Customer Value with Augmented Reality

A global supplier of vending equipment and services turned to CIRAS last year for advice on maintaining quality customer support during the pandemic. CIRAS suggested implementing an augmented reality (AR) tool provided by TeamViewer. The solution proved so effective the company plans to use it after pandemic concerns subside.

“One of our biggest concerns early in the pandemic was how to service machines for customers who didn’t want or couldn’t have visitors,” said Paul Ihn, vice president of engineering and new product development at The Wittern Group. CIRAS project manager, Shankar Srinivasan “told us about TeamViewer, and we could see its potential for getting us through the lockdown. But a year later it’s still a regular tool in our toolbox. We continue using it—even expanding its original uses—because it works. It reduces costly service calls, helps us respond more quickly to customers, and saves us and our customers money.”

The Wittern Group, located in Clive, is a third-generation, family-owned company that manufactures, sells, and services automated vending equipment. Their machines are used to dispense products as diverse as fresh seafood, bottled beverages, medical supplies, phone chargers, and more.

“We get 250 to 300 calls daily for parts and service, which isn’t unusual given the number of machines we have in the field,” said Ihn. “We used to send someone out to handle each call, but now we use TeamViewer to provide real-time technical support for many issues.”

CIRAS has previously used TeamViewer successfully for various remote-access applications. With TeamViewer’s recent acquisition of another company, they began offering a new assisted reality tool—TeamViewer Assist AR.

“We knew there would be solid uses for it in the COVID environment, and we latched onto it as a potential client solution pretty quickly,” said CIRAS project manager Jake Behrens.

Here’s how the technology works: A customer known as a remote user downloads free software on a mobile device they already own, like a smartphone or tablet. The remote user provides a unique code to a member of the Wittern team known as an expert user. The expert user, who has the full TeamViewer software on their laptop or desktop computer, uses the code to create a two-way video and audio call. Once the connection is established, the two parties can navigate through various tasks using advanced features of the software like live-tracked on-screen 3D annotations and in-app file sharing.

“Service technicians still go out when there’s a high-level problem like changing a power box,” Ihn said. “But there are many other issues that can be resolved just by enabling us to see what the customer is seeing and then walking them through the solution.”

Using TeamViewer has cut time and travel costs for the company. And by Ihn’s estimation, it has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential repair costs on machines under warranty.

“Let’s say a particular machine has a control board issue and it continually goes to sleep,” Ihn said. “We might have 1,200 machines in the field with that particular problem. Now, out of those 1,200 cases, one-third of our customers might be comfortable without live instructions. But the remaining 800 to 1,000 will say they’re uncomfortable making the repair on their own.”

“If the machine is under warranty, we absorb the cost to fix it, which is between $250 and $350 per call. But if we can successfully show them what to do using TeamViewer, we can greatly reduce that expense.”

Sessions between users are recorded, and Wittern has built a library of those recordings to help their team members understand some of the problems customers encounter. They also use the technology as a training tool to familiarize their workers with new or new-to-them equipment.

The Wittern Group has a long history of working with CIRAS. And while those interactions have been positive, Ihn is especially enthusiastic about their latest collaboration.

“We wouldn’t have known about TeamViewer or its uses for our company without CIRAS,” Ihn said. “They’ve given us a tool that we use every day to enhance the comfort level of our customers and reduce what we spend on labor. It’s truly been a win-win for us.”

For more information, contact Jake Behrens at jbehrens@iastate.edu or 515-815-5003.