Volume 03, Issue 4
|Shared Services Group|
We never sleep
Newly consolidated Enterprise Help Desk gives all employees 24-hour support
BY BOB BURNETT
Boeing’s Enterprise Help Desk never sleeps, but at 3 a.m. Sunday, the day before Memorial Day, it’s about as quiet as it gets for the computing support unit.
Illuminated reader boards dominate the room. Their scrolling marquees cast ethereal shadows as they report call status.
“It’s pretty much our life,” Scott Deering, analyst at the Bellevue, Wash., call center, said of the dancing lights. A cryptic message marches intoxicatingly across the marquee: “B=2 … I=1 … Q=0 … .” Two analysts are busy on calls, one is momentarily idle, and there are no callers waiting in the all-important queue.
Also on duty at this early hour are analysts Joel Hughbanks in Wichita, Kan., and Bill Armstrong, working virtually from his home near Seattle. Lead Mike Hargraves is with Deering in Bellevue.
Just as his phone chirps, the reader board changes: A call in the queue. Deering answers far too cheerily for the hour and taps his keyboard to start a service request on BARS, the Boeing Action Request System. The reader board changes again: Three analysts busy, nobody in the queue.
The respite is temporary. By Tuesday morning all three call centers—Bellevue, Wichita and Kent, Wash.—will be bustling with activity as staffing swells to meet the expected onslaught of post-holiday calls.
Shared Services Group last year requested proposals to consolidate under a single provider at least seven help desk operations. It was a mishmash that included two expiring outside contracts, and desks left over from McDonnell Douglas and Hughes Electronic Corp.’s satellite arm before they merged with Boeing. The Central Service Response Center in Bellevue and Kent—Boeing’s largest help desk, with the majority of calls—competed against information technology industry giants for the contract.
“Success was our only option,” said Senior Manager Glen Howard, who led the CSRC to unexpected victory. “Our proposal was chosen because it was considered the best value.”
The idea of a single companywide help desk with geographically separated call centers using common processes, tools and training had been kicking around awhile when an earthquake hitting 6.8 on the Richter scale struck Puget Sound Feb. 28, 2001. The Bellevue and Kent centers were evacuated, and until it was safe to reenter the buildings, no one answered the calls that flooded in. There was no redundancy.
“The earthquake accelerated the solution,” said Joye Jepson, director of Production Services.
Since winning the competition, the Enterprise Help Desk has become one of the largest privately owned noncommercial computing help desk operations in the world. It offers common processes across the company, comprehensive training for its people, and worldwide support for just about any platform, application and piece of computing or communications equipment a Boeing employee might use.
The Help Desk expects to field 1 million calls its first year—about two calls per minute on average. If one call center becomes overwhelmed, the overflow switches to another. If a call center is knocked off line, the others take over.
“I just hope an earthquake in Seattle and a tornado in Wichita never hit on the same day,” Jepson joked.
The transformation saw significant expansion at all three call centers, but Wichita grew the most, hiring and training 80 percent of its current workforce within a few months. “It was a pretty exciting time,” said Wichita Manager Randy Thompson. The cutover was completed last January when Philadelphia and Huntsville, Ala., joined the system as Wichita satellites.
“There’s a saying,” Howard said. “If somebody makes it, Boeing has one. And if Boeing has one, we support it.” Analysts have to be familiar with everything: CATIA, Unix, mainframes, desktops, telephones, printers, pagers, scanners, video conferencing …
“We support something like 5,000 different applications,” Thompson explained. “Nobody knows all this stuff, but we have to be familiar with it.”
Guided by product scripts in BOSS, the Boeing Online Support System, analysts consistently resolve more than 70 percent of their calls on first contact. If they can’t solve a problem, they dispatch the customer to someone who can. On average, each analyst handles 25 to 40 calls a day and each call lasts six to 10 minutes. The goal is to answer every call in one minute or less.
“We all have a stake in our customers’ success,” said Bellevue Lead Alan Soh, “so we do whatever it takes, as quickly and efficiently as possible, to make them productive again.”
Customer satisfaction surveys rate the Enterprise Help Desk at 4.63 out of a perfect score of 5.0—a very strong rating by industry standards.
Voice prompts at the beginning of each call enable skill-based routing to direct customers to the most qualified analysts, who could be anywhere in the system.
“In terms of actual operations,” said Asma Sage, Wichita first-shift tactical lead, “there is no difference if you were to step into Bellevue or Kent or Wichita. Having common processes across the enterprise was a key component of coming together.”
More than half of the analysts were site technicians before they joined the Help Desk. Others have previous help desk experience or a technology background. In an occupation typically dominated by men, 40 percent of Boeing analysts are women.
Continuing education is mandatory. Analysts receive four to six weeks of intensive training before they handle calls alone, said Bellevue’s Todd Green, second-level mainframe analyst and trainer. They get periodic refreshers, have directed research periods every day and undergo competency tests for new products.
“In this business, you never stop learning, because technology is constantly changing,” said Deering.
Everyone starts as a universal analyst and can grow into more challenging roles, such as expeditor or escalation analyst. “People can get as much out of this job as they are willing to put into it,” Jepson said.
“The job has given me tremendous opportunities,” said second-shift remote analyst Mark Bachmeier-Evans, who is pursuing a master’s degree in computer science. Bachmeier-Evans works virtually from his Seattle-area home as part of a popular pilot project.
The Help Desk controls cost by staggering shifts and adjusting staffing levels to meet the workload, which can be predicted with considerable accuracy, thanks to meticulous metrics. A third of the Help Desk work force is contingent (contract) labor, which makes it easier to meet seasonal fluctuations.
Among initiatives to increase efficiency are process improvements with internal and external partners, better training opportunities, integrating the BOSS and BARS tools, and shifting away from lower-level work by implementing more self-service features, such as the new automated password reset tool, Jepson said.
Minimum job requirements are an outgoing personality and excellent phone skills. Analysts must be understanding, intuitive, empathetic and somewhat thick-skinned. They quickly learn not to take customer frustrations personally.
“I stop talking, open my ears and just listen to what the customer has to say,” said Nicole Bianchi, Bellevue lead.
“You just can’t have any bad days,” said Lynnard Maas, first-shift analyst in Kent. “Every caller expects you to be on your game.”
Analysts talk to people in every part of the world, from tiny islands in the Pacific to Iraq. A bank of clocks displaying local times in selected cities around the world serves as a constant reminder that there are always Boeing people at work somewhere who might need help at any time.
“There is a level of energy here that you don’t often find,” said Pat Roberts, Bellevue third-shift manager. “It’s a happening place.”
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