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Thursday, December 1, 2005

CRM Solutions Serve Maintenance Providers

The people who run aircraft maintenance businesses are increasingly aware that communication with customers is a critical part of delivering services. To meet this need, some maintenance companies have adopted a tool that's familiar in many other industries, customer relationship management (CRM) software, and they are finding that the costs are more than outweighed by the benefits.

CRM software ranges from something as simple as a contact-management program like ACT! to sales-oriented products such as Goldmine to sophisticated web-based systems like Salesforce.com. However, many companies still rely on in-house information technology staff to develop and maintain homegrown CRM systems.

The bottom line for any CRM system, whether merely a business process or sophisticated software, is that it helps improve customer communications and also the flow of information between management, sales, and customer-support teams.

The Midcoast experience

Midcoast Aviation and its parent company Sabreliner recently switched to a new CRM platform made by Pivotal, according to John Jelovic, director of sales and customer support for both Midcoast and Sabreliner. One of the big attractions for the move to Pivotal was that another maintenance service company--Bombardier's Business Aviation Services--was also using the system. "We were able to leverage a lot of the learning curve that they paid for," Jelovic said, "It made the decision to go with Pivotal a slam-dunk."

The Pivotal system was the third CRM system that Midcoast had employed during the past 12 years. CRM at Midcoast began with a DOS-based system running on FoxPro's database software. From there, Midcoast purchased a custom-made program that turned out to be, in Jelovic's words, "a colossal failure." Midcoast took a list of requirements to the software company. The software house designed a program, delivered it to Midcoast, "and that was it," Jelovic recalled. "There was no way to modify it and change things as we needed."

The frustration with this program led the company to search for a new CRM system. The Midcoast/Sabreliner team evaluated 10 systems, then narrowed it down to three, Pivotal, Salesforce.com, and Saleslogix. "The determining factor [for Pivotal]," Jelovic said, "was the company's aviation experience; they had knowledge of our business." An added factor was that Maverick Technologies, which helped implement the new Pivotal system, is located near Midcoast's Cahokia, Illinois headquarters. "I can't give Maverick Technologies enough credit for their professionalism and attention to detail in meeting our requirements," he said.

Instead of having the IT department manage the deployment of the new CRM system, "this time sales ran it," Jelovic said. "We learned from our mistakes and were able to get a program that was well-embraced by everybody." The system was installed in late 2004 and initial testing took place through March 2005 followed by the first go-live in July with a small group of users and full company-wide deployment in September. Naturally, there was plenty of training before the launch date. Now, there are 84 users of the Pivotal system, 12 of whom work for Sabreliner, the remainder at Midcoast.

Once the new Pivotal system was fully deployed, "the [positive] feedback was immediate," said Jelovic.

For Midcoast and Sabreliner, the primary purpose of the Pivotal system is, he explained, "as a sales tool to help us achieve our sales objectives and the financial objectives of the company." But the system also benefits Midcoast's customers, especially those who use Midcoast to support their flight departments. The data in the Pivotal system means that Midcoast sales and service personnel know the status of the customer's airplane.

With the old CRM system, there wasn't a good way to prevent duplication of important customer data and many customers ended up listed three different ways, or an airplane would be listed as belonging to five different companies. Also, unauthorized users kept adding data. To ensure that the new Pivotal system started out clean, only financial information for companies or owners who had done business with Midcoast and Sabreliner was transferred. The actual airplane and contact information was carefully added, making sure that it was accurate. The system allows the users to tag an airplane with owner information and also operator or manager information, so users know who to contact. The system also prevents users from entering a particular airplane more than once. Now, Jelovic said, "there is a connection diagram between the contacts and the owners. We have clean data. It's helped our business be more effective."

Historical data from past work is also in the Pivotal system. Technicians take photos as they work on the airplane and these are added to the system.

Now Midcoast/Sabreliner sales teams are using the Pivotal system to access information that helps them quote new jobs, schedule work, and communicate with customers. Using the aircraft database part of the system, users can input current times and cycles on customer airplanes and project a utilization number that is useful for knowing when an inspection or maintenance event might come due. As the database gets populated with information such as the avionics equipment list and photos of the cockpit and interior, salespeople can quickly assess whether there is room for a new piece of equipment.

To close the feedback loop between customers and Midcoast/Sabreliner salespeople and management, regional managers conduct surveys of 12 customers every month. "It's part of our AS9100 quality system," Jelovic said. "Part of that is measuring your customer satisfaction and if you have problems, addressing them." The Pivotal CRM system is used to identify the 12 customers who will be surveyed each month, and alerts are placed in the system to let users know when surveys have been done.

The Midcoast/Sabreliner Pivotal CRM system runs on the company's IBM AS400 computer system. A subsequent implementation phase will hook the CRM system to the company's back-office financial data so users can view reports on customer spending patterns and other useful financial information.


The larger the company, the more sophisticated the CRM program they tend to use. For example, Gulfstream Aerospace uses Sage Software's Saleslogix CRM system, according to spokesman Robert Baugniet. "We use the same system for new aircraft and customer support," he said. "All of the salesforce and management can access it, and it goes all the way to the field-service reps, it's a living, breathing document. It's a better way of keeping track. Once people get used to Saleslogix, it's a super system."

The Learjet experts at Spectra Jet in Springfield, Ohio use Microsoft Excel to manage their customer database. "We're still small," said John Yegerlehner, one of the Spectra Jet founders and owners, "and it's not hard to keep track of [customers]. When it comes to Learjets [being] such a small community, people know each other, and [a lot of business] comes from word of mouth."

At Duncan Aviation, a different sort of problem led to the company's current CRM system. In the early 1990s, according to Tom Burt, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Duncan's Battle Creek, Michigan facility, "it became clear that we needed a tool to help us stay in touch with our customers and help our sales efforts."

Duncan was using a Lotus Notes system for company e-mail, and in looking at available CRM software, "none of them really matched the service business for aviation," he said. So Duncan's IT department wrote an in-house program using Lotus Notes in the mid-1990s, which is the foundation for the system that the company uses today. "The biggest challenge," Burt said, "is that a lot of CRM and contact-management systems deal with companies and people. But we track another entity, the aircraft. So we decided to build our own system."

Duncan's CRM system is built on a foundation, the customer database. This is where all the contact information is kept, for both customers, the companies they work for, and aircraft. "We have relationships with all three of those categories," said Burt. Keeping the data accurate is critical, and the program allows for "moving" a customer from one company to another, which is quite normal as people move from job to job in business aviation. The same can be done for aircraft, as they change owners. This part of the customer database is invaluable when a new customer calls to get their airplane worked on, and the salesperson can instantly see that Duncan painted the airplane five years earlier, two owners ago. "When it goes to a new owner," Burt said, "we can pick up where they left off."

All communications with either the customer, the company, or the aircraft (such as quotes and previous work) are recorded in the system, primarily by sales and marketing people, who are responsible for the accuracy of the database. Hundreds of Duncan employees can view the information but not modify it.

With a strong foundation in place, the second key function is the quote-management system. The database provides all the information needed to generate a quote, and communications with the customer or potential customer are also recorded. "Our challenge," said Burt, "is to capture that communication and put it in the database so the rest of the team is aware of it."

Once work is done on the aircraft, information from the quote system flows into the service-plan system. "That's where we track information about what we're going to do," said Burt, "the customer's expectations, and the team who will work on it. At the end of the project, the product manager will do a critique on how we serviced this customer. This goes into the database and to everyone who serviced that customer." Finally, the salesperson who initiated the project contacts the customer for a brief survey and enters those into the database. "It's a closed loop," he said.

Having a good CRM system, Burt concluded, "is foundational to what we do and we think it gives us that extra edge. It has worked very well for us." Duncan relies on its CRM system so much that it has developed an emergency plan in case the main system suffers from a catastrophe. "Within 24 hours," Burt said, "we can have it up again at a remote site. It's mission-critical."


Note: this is a small sample of the available customer relationship management (CRM) software solutions. Many aviation-specific software companies include CRM as a key component of their products. And there are many more CRM packages available too numerous to list here.

FrontRange Solutions (Goldmine)
Phone: 925.404.1800
Web: www.frontrange.com

Phone: 877-748-6825
Web: www.pivotal.com

Sage Software (Saleslogix)
Phone: 480-368-3700
Web: www.saleslogix.com

Sage Software (ACT!)
Phone: 770-724-4000
Web: www.act.com

Phone: 415-901-7000

SBN Solutions
Web: www.sbnsolutions.com

Siebel Systems
Phone: 650-295-5000

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