Dassault aims to ramp up customer support

 - May 17, 2008, 11:54 PM

To support the 1,015 worldwide Falcon operators who fly an average 1.7 aircraft, logging 360 hours each year, Dassault has launched a renewed customer-support effort. The improved support network includes three technical centers that ensure 24/7 expert hotline service. Globally, 420 people– including 80 field service representatives– work in Falcon customer support facilities.

Falcon’s customer support staff also has been helping “concept buyers”–those who have never previously owned a business jet–to start their operations. “The starting phase of [owning and operating a business jet] is of major importance,” said Jacques Chauvet, senior vice president for worldwide Falcon customer service.

According to Dassault, these first-time customers–who are appearing in increasing numbers–tend to view their new aircraft just as they do their cars. Sometimes the manufacturer has to convince them they need a complete technical environment to support operations and not just a flight crew. Currently these new customers account for 25 percent of sales in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The manufacturer also hopes the new support initiative will improve its rankings in surveys like those conducted each year by EBACE Convention News’ sister publication Aviation International News.

This year, Chauvet explained, the times between overhaul for the Falcon 900 and 2000 series were increased by 30 to 50 percent under a modified maintenance program influenced by the program for the new 7X. The 7X maintenance program was developed to the latest standard of ICAO’s maintenance steering group–MSG3. “We determined that a number of systems were similar, so MSG3 results were transferable,” Chauvet said.

Under the program, removal rates are measured so those 20 percent of parts that are most often removed are subject to reliability improvement monitoring.
The new initiative also uses customer feedback in multiple ways. For example, company representatives have thoroughly interviewed the cabin crews of the fleet-leading 7X. Their comments will be incorporated into future 7X completion work at Dassault’s Little Rock, Arkansas facility. In addition, flight-test department members were dispatched to visit customers to see how they operate in real life.

Two years ago, Dassault launched a major effort to improve its spare parts performance. For example, it has increased the number of spare parts warehouses around the world. This year, it will have added six, notably in Asia and the Americas. “We now have a 97.3-percent success rate in spare parts delivery,” Chauvet claimed.

Developing Customer Relationships

To root customer support deeper in the corporate culture, all company departments participate in weekly meetings that review the aircraft-on-the-ground (AOG) issues of the previous week. Thanks to a database called customer relationship management, team members can evaluate customer “moods.” Since 2001, this database has collected all events for each aircraft and each customer. It depicts the mood as green, amber or red, depending on the customer’s current level of satisfaction. Those customers also can see information online about other operators’ AOG problems. The information is updated every week.

Last year, the new Falcon technical center at Dassault’s Saint-Cloud facility near Paris fielded 21,100 questions. “The technical level was low for half of them, and they were answered in a few minutes,” explained Pierre Thiélin, Chauvet’s deputy.
The rest of the questions were more difficult, requiring several hours of investigation.
System experts in the technical center usually solved the problems, but in some instances, design offices had to be asked for help. “So far, every aircraft on the ground has been sent back into service,” Chauvet said.

In addition to the technical center in Saint-Cloud, Dassault maintains centers
in Teterboro, New Jersey; and Boise, Idaho–the latter opened in November last year. The locations of the centers across time zones allows the company to maintain a 24/7 hotline. “As soon as the phone rings, the system recognizes the customer and displays its up-to-date data,” Chauvet said, including the most recent events and the customer’s “mood.”

Flight test engineers are part of the front line for the 7X’s entry into service. To assist them, the company has designed a remote maintenance control feature, to be available next summer, which will allow a technician working in the cockpit to connect a laptop to the centralized maintenance computer (CMC). The laptop, which is fitted with a Web cam, will connect to an expert in the technical center, allowing this colleague to see the technician and the cockpit environment while talking through the issue.

The expert can actually take control of the CMC remotely. He can read data and use “soft keys” (that is, software controls, not “hard” knobs) to make adjustments. For example, the expert could remotely launch tests of the fly-by-wire system or the hydraulic system.

While Dassault is making efforts to communicate with customers, Chauvet explained that customer feedback is not always easy to get. “Some of them do not dare speak,” he said. And this is part of the value for all concerned of informal face-to-face meetings at maintenance and operations seminars held at events such as EBACE, especially for European customers.