Global customer care

With markets in every industry becoming more competitive, reacting quickly to customers` needs is becoming increasingly important. PEI takes a look at GE`s new customer care centre in Atlanta.

The scenario is familiar: the president of a utility in the Midwestern United States has questions about an upcoming outage; a plant maintenance worker in Europe needs to get information quickly about buying a replacement part; an engineer in Singapore needs a solution to a problem… now. It is against this background that many companies are setting up customer care centres with advanced call centres to handle such requests, 24 hours a day.

One such example is GE Energy Services` new Global Customer Service Centre in Atlanta. The centre combines the latest information management technology with highly trained people to support GE Global Energy Services with three main objectives: to provide real-time accurate information for customers, to provide quotes accurately and quickly, and to provide on time and accurate delivery of products and services.

Through the new technology, GE Energy Services is aiming for a significant reduction in the cycle time of responding to customers` requests. The design and implementation of the centre`s technological infrastructure spans a three-year plan and represents a multi-million dollar commitment on the part of GE.

This service centre will serve both the traditional, external customers (owners of power plants and equipment) and internal customers from up and down GE`s organization. An engineer in the field may call for technical assistance, a sourcing leader or buyer may need information about a specific product or a sales person may need more information about a client`s history.

The basic philosophy driving the technological development of the centre is simple: to make it easier to do business with GE. The company`s quality initiative, called Six Sigma (see box) – a rigorous, highly disciplined process to reduce defects and drive quality improvements by examining collected information – is supporting the centre with precise and abundant data concerning customers wants and needs.

Architects of the centre`s IT infrastructure are in the process of using this information to complete their development of the centre by applying points that customers find critical for quality service, coupled with feedback from GE Energy Services sales and businesses leaders who are in direct contact with customers.

Brain of the centre

The GE Energy Services building where the Global Customer Service Centre is located features clean lines and angular architectural fittings. Entering the lobby, one faces a circular space with high ceilings and paneled walls. Straight ahead is a large glassed-in area with a curved wall that will become the “brain” of the Global Customer Service Centre, offering state-of-the-art technology for world class customer service.

The new Global Customer Service centre was born out of GE`s traditional “parts centre” where transactions were simple and short. Today, relationships with customers have become more comprehensive. Instead of just selling a part and following up with the customer a year later, customer interactions have evolved into more complete service offerings. This reflects a shift in relationships with customers to contractual rather than simply transactional.

One of the first steps taken by GE Energy Services was to streamline its data entry system. Sales people, customer service and field personnel will enter information into a “central customer warehouse”. With new technology, a sales person putting out a quote or a field engineer offering technical support to a customer will log in his or her transaction in that “warehouse” thus providing a single point of access for information.

With this tool, one hand will know what the other is doing – often not the case in large organizations with many different components.

New state-of-the-art computer telephony integration is supporting this central warehouse philosophy. GE Power Systems` world of customers has been divided into geographical regions, with a service representative for each region. Currently domestic callers to the centre are automatically identified by phone number and routed to the regional representative. In the next phase of this design, a caller ID system will instantly send a complete customer history to the representative`s computer screen as they answer the call.

The computer screen facing the representative will contain comprehensive information about the caller. A “hot list” will appear that lists issues or problems the representative needs to be aware of. Outstanding quotes will be displayed with the date of the transaction and a reminder to the representative about responding to the quote in a timely manner.

Most importantly, the customer`s complete installed base will be listed. With a click on the screen, the representative can access detailed information about the type of equipment the customer has; when it was installed; and a service history.

This historical picture of a customer eliminates the costly and time consuming rehashing of problems or service histories. Capturing this data ahead of time and having it accessible to the representative immediately will make calls more productive and effective from the start.

Customers will also benefit from a process GE is calling “request to delivery ownership”. Enquiry to order and remittance will be handled by one individual who will “own” that transaction. The customer need not be in touch with more than one or two individuals throughout the lifetime of that particular transaction, removing the confusion of multiple contacts.

Monitoring and diagnostic capabilities will also tie into this infrastructure. Customer service representatives will be able to use M&D information to proactively prevent outages and address other equipment-related issues the customer may have. For example, if a particular part needs servicing at a certain time, the customer service representative will be notified and will be advised about what other parts may be affected by the repair.

From a broader perspective, GE is also reviewing its order entry. The accuracy of the information entered and timeliness of the reports generated throughout the entire supply chain are being examined: sales, manufacturing, sourcing and customer service. Previously, reports were coming out weekly when in some cases they were needed daily. By analyzing this history, GE is tailoring and improving old or existing systems that are outdated.

On-line capabilities are a future initiative. Soon, customers will be able to use self-service capabilities to check on a quote, order or status of a delivery on-line. The site will be secure with customers providing a user ID and password for security purposes.

As important as the information technology is, people are the real key to the success of the new centre. The team at the customer service centre is a group of diverse, multi-lingual, multi-skilled and multi-cultural employees. This diversity is essential, because GE Energy Services has committed to providing a global centre that makes doing business anywhere in the world easy. Recognizing that cultural and regional differences span the business sector as well, GE has made global awareness an essential prerequisite for hiring of staff.

Language capabilities at the centre will be far reaching. GE Energy Services` goal is to provide service in 15 languages. The team is well on its way to reaching that goal, boasting proficiency in 11 at the moment.

In addition, the technical skill level of global customer service representatives has been elevated. Often, customer service operators are not highly trained in technical areas. At the Global Service centre, operators capturing data in a phone call will also be able to assist with technical questions or route the call to a technical engineering representative if they decide it is appropriate.

There are 200 dedicated employees in customer service at the moment. This number may expand depending on process and technology developments and opportunities to broaden the service offerings of the centre.

Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week the centre is in keeping with the commitment to doing real-time business around the globe.

GE Power Systems continues to look at current and historical processes, fine-tuning the operation of the customer service centre. By providing an expansive range of features including live-answer, automated and on-line customer service, GE`s goal is to reduce cycle times and increase productivity, and making the Atlanta facility a benchmark in the customer service industry.