DLA customer service going virtual

The Defense Logistics Agency's geographically dispersed customer contact centers soon will be connected via the Web to an enterprise database in an effort to increase the efficiency of the agency's customer service agents.

DLA is consolidating its different versions of Network Associates Inc.'s Magic Service Desk solution and the databases housed at its four customer contact centers—Richmond, Va.; Columbus, Ohio; Battle Creek, Mich.; and New Cumberland, Pa.—said Duane Henderson, a DLA system support specialist.

"The goal is to make this an enterprise tool," Henderson said, adding that the new database, which is housed in Battle Creek, is only accessible to DLA personnel and is expected to be operational by April 1.

DLA is a combat support agency charged with providing food, fuel, clothing, medicine and spare parts to the armed forces and other agencies, whenever and wherever they are needed.

Accessing a single database via the Web enables DLA customer contact center agents to create a ticket and quickly pass reports among any of the physical locations in a virtual environment. "That will increase customer service and support, and is also an opportunity to standardize contact center customer service processes," he said.

DLA has been using Magic Service Desk since the mid-1990s when it first purchased about 50 seats, said Jeff Honeycomb, president of Network Associates' Magic Solutions division. In August 2000, DLA purchased 500 more seats, and the latest contract, awarded last August, included an additional 800 seats.

Magic Service Desk's thin-client architecture enables the seamless integration of the tool into DLA's existing infrastructure, Honeycomb said, adding that the product is also compliant with Section 508, a law that requires federal Web sites to accommodate users with disabilities.

The main challenge in moving toward the virtual customer service environment has been "getting everybody together and developing standard business processes," he said, adding that training, which can be completed in about six hours and includes a computer-based module, is not a complicating issue.

Honeycomb said the transition from 50 users to more than 500 was more challenging than the latest addition of 800 seats, and he added that the company already has trained about 1,000 DLA users on the new system.

DLA's customer contact center agents answer about 80 percent of questions within the virtual customer service environment, but when a subject matter expert is needed, the new system will make that process easier and faster to execute, Henderson said.

Tim Hoyle, a spokesman for the Battle Creek center, said the new system also keeps track of all requests and questions coming in and how they are completed, regardless of the physical location. Even if an expert is needed the first time a question is asked in Richmond, for example, subsequent requests for the same information nationwide can be directly handled by the contact center agents.

If someone has called before, a window will pop up on the agent's screen with the requestor's vital information, which means the contact center needs only to confirm that person's identity to proceed rather than having to take time to repeat a past information collection process.

"That better supports the warfighter," Henderson said. "Now, there are four databases and that knowledge is not available enterprisewide."

Looking ahead, the DLA would like to connect this application with its other legacy databases and Web applications, he said. Increased communication and collaboration with other business applications with help further increase the contact center agents' efficiency, he said.

Testing on the enterprise database began in mid-December 2002 and is currently focused on ensuring the applications run at peak performance, as well as establishing a Secure Sockets Layer capability so that all the information moving throughout the system is encrypted, Henderson said. He added that all testing should be finished "well before we go live," in April.

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