Aviation and aerospace companies finding value in CRM

Despite gloomy conditions in the aerospace industry, large companies are rolling out CRM applications to help them boost sales and improve service levels in a bid to cope with tough times and improve customer satisfaction rates.

Among them is ailing commercial airplane maker Raytheon Aircraft, a subsidiary of Raytheon Co. in Lexington, Mass., which has already recovered US$1.4 million of its investment in call center and sales and service applications from Siebel Systems Inc. According to Ed Dolanski, vice president of customer support at Raytheon, the system, which has been only partially rolled out, went live in November with 170 seats. Using customer information gleaned from the software, Raytheon was able to start closing deals with just one person doing follow-up calls.

Before the rollout, there was no formal CRM system in place. Raytheon went with Siebel because it appeared to have the most comprehensive tool set to fit the aerospace business.

"We identified that we didn't have any type of customer memory, and we cleaned up our act," he said. While Dolanski wouldn't discuss price, he said the payback has meant that "I am no longer burdened by the monthly depreciation costs of Siebel."

He said the application was installed at 13 per cent under budget and four weeks ahead of schedule, which allowed him to purchase Siebel analytics as well.

The plan now is to extend access to the applications to the service centers, so service reps can identify a given customer by their plane number and access relevant information, such as what sort of food they want stocked in the plane. "It's a value-added service beyond what the competition does," he said.

The aerospace industry tends to be finicky, and CRM is just beginning to gain momentum in that market, said Sheldon Tkatch, senior project manager at Garrett Aviation Service Centers, a Tempe, Ariz.-based provider of plane maintenance and modification services. His company performed a two-year search before it went with hosted sales and service applications from San Francisco-based SaleForce.com Inc. in January 2002.

Despite the aviation industry's condition, the applications have helped Garrett to be more proactive in tracking sales opportunities and contacting customers, as well as helping the company maintain standard processes for things like creating quotes for customers.

Other aerospace companies are also pushing ahead with CRM. The Boeing Co.'s commercial aviation services unit is about to retire a mix of homegrown Unix and mainframe-based legacy CRM applications in favor of Siebel call center software, said Gabe Hanzeli, information systems director for technical services and modification at Boeing. The new system, which will cost several million dollars, will mean support staff can access customer information from a single screen, instead of having to flip through multiple ones, cutting response times to support questions.

"We are very focused on speed to market for our answers," he said. "And an airplane on the ground is a very expensive asset." Boeing also expects the rollout, due to go into pilot testing in the first half of 2004, to boost customer satisfaction, improve the flow of product information to the field service personnel and reduce the costs of maintaining and upgrading the company's own applications.

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