American Eurocopter predicts improved product support

 - January 28, 2010, 8:49 AM

Customers will begin to see demonstrably better product support, including hard AOG (aircraft on ground) support, from American Eurocopter by the end of the second quarter of this year, according to a senior executive for the company. Larry Roberts, vice president of sales, marketing and customer support, told AIN last month that the company’s new Customer Service Fleet Operations Center is already improving customer service and support and that any remaining “kinks” are being worked out.

The center, located on the company’s Grand Prairie, Texas campus, opened September 1. It includes a specialized “AOG Center.” Roberts said that the new structure is already paying dividends by facilitating an overall on-time parts delivery rate for AOG orders of 91 percent. “The majority of those, about 61 percent, are worked out on a four-hour basis, about 36 percent on a 24-hour basis, and the rest typically no more than 48 hours,” Roberts said.

He said the center incorporates significant personnel and technological improvements in three important ways over how the company had been running its U.S.-based product support. It brings technical representatives and customer-service representatives together in one building; improves internal and external communications by integrating customer management, enterprise and internal communications software company-wide, not just in the U.S.; and establishes a dedicated AOG Center. “This allows us to allocate resources from a technical side, a global supply chain side, and from a spares side to address AOG situations on a case-by-case basis. We also can integrate them through our fleet operations center here, as well as exposing any potential AOGs to Eurocopter’s two other fleet operations centers, in France and Hong Kong.”

The technology tools should also yield better customer visibility and predictive data, enabling American Eurocopter and its customers to better tune and maintain their respective parts inventories. “Before we had all this visibility into the ordering process we were working primarily on a replenishment basis, purely an historical approach to what had been ordered. Now we are actually making fleet analysis, looking into components that are high usage, and looking over the horizon
into potential technical issues that are developing in the field. That allows us
to be much more reactive” and individual customer service representatives to be more proactive with customers, so they maintain proper inventories, Roberts said.
“We think this is going to start demonstrating a significant improvement to our customers, but we also want to do more to plan with them, to order [parts] on a more planned basis, and to us that means greater than 30 days.”

However, Roberts acknowledged that having better predictive data was not a substitute for having an adequate inventory of fast-moving parts. “We still have to be careful that we keep the right inventory of these 12,000 parts” that turn over an average of thrice yearly, Roberts said. But better data will enable American Eurocopter to “work with our customers on a risk basis on some of the slower-moving inventory.”

Striking the proper balance can be difficult. Roberts pointed out that American Eurocopter currently supports 1,800 aircraft comprising 15 different models, many of them legacy aircraft dating back to the 1960s. “A lot of effort goes into it and it is a pretty daunting task,” he said.

Eurocopter’s product support in the past has historically been ranked below that
of its peers, prompting some customer creativity. “A great number of AOGs we have worked on since the [Center] opened have not really been AOGs, but AOG orders,” Roberts said. “We want to sanctify the AOG and have the AOG [Center] work only on hard AOG situations. We will work with our customers [through the fleet operations center] to handle other orders that, while not quite AOG, still require a fast response time on a rush basis or a planned order basis.”

Roberts said the best way for customers to order on a planned basis remains Eurocopter’s Keycopter automated online parts ordering system, but adds that the system is not appropriate for AOGs. “We want our customers to actually talk to a human being so that they can be directed to the right technical filtering and the right customer-service representative who can get them the right part as fast as we can. Customers who are hard AOG feel a lot better talking to a person who is taking care of their problem, rather than just hitting the order send button on Keycopter.”

Having customer and technical representatives working together also is increasing the precision of parts orders, Roberts said. “Customer service reps traditionally do not come from a technical background. A tech rep can call the customer” and sometimes better assess the situation. “We have already seen several instances when a customer needed more parts than he thought he did or, conversely, ordered more parts than he really needed, say ordered an assembly instead of individual parts. Through technical filtering we can amend those orders to make sure the customer gets just the parts he needs and get him back in the air as soon as possible,” Roberts said.