Early Summer/2015

SIGMA Customer Support

The Aizu factory is not just a production base for us, but it is also where we breathe new life into our products to provide our customers a better and longer loving relationship with their equipment. We talked to the head of the quality assurance division in the Aizu factory, Denju Matsumoto about the thinking behind SIGMA’s brand of “customer service”.

Text: SEIN Editorial Division photo: Yu Yamanaka / Mizuho Tamaru

Our team of technicians covers all the bases.

Located in one part of the Aizu factory, our sole production base, is the point of call where our customer service division takes on requests for repairs. Divided among 10 technicians in charge, they receive products not only from within Japan but also our SIGMA subsidiaries from all over the world that require our service. “Basically many requests come through our domestic retailers, but we also get requests for service from our international outlets that cannot be done on site. Our team of technicians is split into two groups with half being highly trained seniors in charge of other half of junior technicians. The reason for the high proportion of junior technicians is the belief it is important to train the future generation by having even a few of them work together with experts to gain experience”.

“Citing a tendency of SIGMA, it is a point among the technicians who belong to SIGMA to not only have experience in the assembly division, but for many, to also have experience in the sales and marketing division. To assign people to the service division, who have been at the forefront with the customers, familiarized themselves with the operations of the cameras, and who have faced the demands and desires of the customer for real, we believe creates a positive influence towards the actual business side and overall assurance of quality.” This is the opinion of the man that bridges these divisions together, the head of the quality assurance division, Denju Matsumoto, a man experienced in the business through working for domestic retailers and international subsidiaries. As he explains, having the experience of being able to listen directly about the particulars of problems from the customers asking for service has greatly benefited his work in the service division.

The satisfaction of service that awaits.

Usually, the products to be serviced are sent via our retailers with the repair slip attached stating the problem or the parts that are defective. The first thing the technician in charge does is to verify the information written on the slip.

“First step is to diagnose the ‘condition’, second is to delve into the cause and third is to come up with the course of action, but the hardest step is the second, to find the roots of the cause. In particular is how a resolution problem in an ‘image repair’ arose, to analyze whether it is a problem with an individual part or a mechanical part that became misaligned. To find the root cause takes a lot of doing. Since the release of the new ‘SIGMA GLOBAL VISION (SGV)’ line of lenses, there has been a sharp decrease in image repairs themselves as before our products are shipped out, problems has been eliminated at the time of development due to our lenses undergoing thorough testing from our A1 (Our original MTF measurement machine based on the Foveon sensor) guaranteeing a more astounding assurance of quality than before.”

“To understand what the users sought from the performance and functions and how they used them is a useful way to work out the cause. To ascertain the cause by following a number of possible leads based from the problem requires suitable experience and skill so it is incredibly advantageous to have a wide range of experience.”

The famed Japanese anatomist Takeshi Yoro once said that “the ability to read between the lines of a problem” is a vital attribute for a doctor. He stated that intuitive ability depends only on the quality and amount of hands-on experience that had been cultivated. Although there are many differences between diagnosing people and machines, I feel in this work that there is something in common somewhere.

“In situations where no matter how hard we try, the cause couldn’t be identified; someone from the retailer, customer support, headquarters etc. would attend directly to the customer through a window to gather the correct information. There are times where, after no stone is left unturned, the cause could not be found. We consequently return the product without it being repaired. The most important thing at this time is having had the close communication with the customer that led to the decision and for the customer themselves to be satisfied with the course of action and result. It is of the belief that however much ‘service’ we do, no satisfaction is forthcoming if what is desired cannot be correctly grasped and understood”.

In any case, gain experience

For our customer service, it is not the case where a specific technician is in charge of a particular product, but rather a “job rotation” system is in place where as anyone is able to respond to any product that comes.

“People tend to avoid highly difficult repairs if they are not aware of what to do. That is human nature after all (laughs). A large aperture lens or the high-end high performance lenses are in any case hard to handle since a high degree of skill and technique is required to deal with the specifics and the cause. Particularly in these cases our junior staff, may be unable to positively take the lead in the investigation process but so there is an importance to provide the opportunity for them to undertake these repairs. We want everyone aiming to gain experience all around from many kinds of cases and at the very least to have the skills to respond to all our models from our own line of products”.

“We continually remind the junior staff to ‘gain experience, from any case’. As one expects, with advances in technology that were unimaginable a few decades ago now condensed within modern optical equipment, we say there is no substitute for the value of experience gained behind the process of confirming a problem then finding its specific cause directly. Even with no large gap in knowledge between the younger staff and veteran staff, the difference in intuition towards unknown problems and technology and the accuracy of its diagnosis are, as expected, at opposite ends of the spectrum. Observing and grasping the point of the veteran’s performance every time, the buildup in experience in judgment and dealings is the shortest route I think to nurture their skill.”

To be in the customer’s shoes. To search for their spirit.

“What we truly aim for in our work is not restoring equipment back to its original glory, but providing customer satisfaction to the user on the other side. Though we are not able to meet them face-to-face, for those users who chose SIGMA above the many manufacturers available, we play individual scenes out in our minds. We imagine what problem was felt that compelled them to send their equipment out for service in the first place, to imagine what worries and thinking they have in the meantime until the product returned and under what condition will they be happy when it is returned. When we think about what we could offer from there, the way we approach our work in front of our eyes changes.”

“To ensure a product is repaired and the problem eliminated forever. To return it in a day if possible. The experience of being touched by the joy on people’s faces, or words like ‘thank you’ and ‘you saved me’ underlie these fundamental elements. These experiences motivate us to master solid knowledge and skills and to respond with better service. That is why, I believe those with experience on the ground have a strong understanding of the customer. It might be the case that even the junior workers are brought up with that atmosphere that flows through the workplace, they are naturally being influenced by the attitude towards the products”.

The lens is an irreplaceable “asset”

Amid the accelerating advances of ultra-high resolution cameras is a growing number of interchangeable lenses and with it the need for greater performance where we ought to seek a lens performance that has “a long lifespan” and does not become stale with the camera body. As for the life-cycle of a lens and the proposition towards a long-lasting high performance lens, the importance of quality assurance and service is moreover increasing.

“The SIGMA GLOBAL VISION (SGV) products did not only readdress the level of quality asked for by SIGMA, but also what a interchangeable lens should mean to photographers, something of great significance for them. Up to then, the lens was dependent on the camera body for its existence. In other words, to be in the possession of a high-end, high value lens system that had taken a great deal of time and energy to choose, the moment the camera is changed, you are back to zero. However, an owner does not regard the lens as a mere component of the camera. It is an attachment that only the possessor understands. It ought to be a precious asset that can express photographs how you want them to be expressed. That is why as a manufacturer, we at SIGMA want important lenses to be used for a long time.

The mount conversion service is SIGMA’s philosophy.

The application of a ‘mount conversion service’ to go alongside the fundamental changes brought by the development and production of our SGV line is the embodiment of SIGMA’s approach towards lenses.

With the “alteration” of the lens mount to fit the camera body, the characteristics and features of the lens can continue to be used just like before and without being constrained by the system of the camera in one’s possession. At this moment in time, the only manufacturer able to make a mount conversion possible for an AF lens is SIGMA. As Denju Matsumoto states, if it was not for the many camera mounts made almost all by SIGMA, this would not have come to fruition.

“With mount conversion, mainly the parts around the mount are changed or adjusted, but since, in the optics of an interchangeable lens, the construction and the electrical parts from the diaphragm to the mount are different, only those technicians well-acquainted with the structure and style of that company’s lens can respond to them. This is another example of how that experience that has been built up helps us in our work.”

Better products for a longer, better feeling.

“Owing to the high performance of our SGV products, a great deal of parts and construction is involved in converting the mount, which is then of course incredibly hard to reassemble and make the necessary adjustments for the performance to pass our stringent A1 test. This is where a considerable level of skill and knowledge of the models is demanded. For example, in the case of the 35mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art, it is required to master the knowledge and skills to be able to convert to any mount. However in the case of the main lenses in SGV, due to the experience and know-how gained from servicing a variety of lenses, both the junior and senior staff are able to convert the mounts. The mount system conversion has multiple onerous steps, so strict performance testing will take place at each step, thus allowing you to use your camera without worry for many years to come. However much progress is made in products, the spirit of SIGMA’s customer, that is ‘to do one’s utmost to provide better products, that can be used for longer with greater feeling’ will not change”.

Denju Matsumoto

Head of Aizu factory quality assurance division

Born and raised in Aizu. Presides over quality control between production and customers. Previously worked in sales for domestic retailers and SIGMA America, Aizu international section etc. before moving up to current position.

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