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issue: March 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

Service Logistics
The Sabre System of the Appliance Service Industry

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Before the Internet took hold within the travel industry, the process of securing an airline ticket without expert assistance was often time consuming and expensive.

Today, the business of travel has been literally transformed by the Sabre software system, which enables the buying and selling of airline seats, hotel rooms, car rentals, cruises, and other travel-related products and services. The utilization of Sabre across the Internet has set forth a compelling model for any industry looking to reach masses of people in multitudes of disparate locations.

Such technology success has not been lost on appliance makers. In keeping with the current trend of increasing manufacturing innovation, high-end appliance brand launches, and business expansion, manufacturers are simultaneously augmenting these improvements by upgrading their service processes and support systems as well. By utilizing the efficiencies gained through Internet and extranet technologies, manufacturers are able to move from low-tech paper and telephony-based customer support processes to rapid-fire response and immediate answers to consumer and trade partner inquiries.


Whirlpool Corporation in Benton Harbor, MI, U.S., a global leader in major home appliances, recognized the opportunity to improve its service administrative and operational processes for the benefit of the company, its servicers, and its customers. Whirlpool also recognized that having the ability to monitor how its products perform in customer's homes would enhance the quality of its manufacturing processes as well.

"A critical driver of Whirlpool brand strategies is providing the customer with an excellent service experience," says Tom Welke, vice president and general manager of Customer and Appliance Care for Whirlpool North America. "Whirlpool has millions of opportunities a year to positively influence customer satisfaction through customer phone calls, web visits, in-warranty, and out-of-warranty repairs. Utilizing the information gained in those consumer touches, we can both improve service and provide feedback to improve quality."

To best meet the objective of delivering excellent customer service, Whirlpool has set the pace by leveraging the best technologies available. Not very long ago, the experience for a service company to interact with a manufacturer involved paper, carbon copy processing, and more paper. That is, before technological innovation hit the appliance service industry. For example, a call would come to the manufacturer; the customer would be referred to a servicer; the servicer would visit the customer and then send the claim to the manufacturer. In the case of an error in the claim - such as wrong model or serial number - the claim was returned to the servicer who corrected the claim. The servicer then resubmitted the claim to the manufacturer and waited up to 2 months for the claim to be processed. The result was inefficiency and frustration.

"Whirlpool knows that an overall positive customer satisfaction experience with our brand is heavily affected by our ability to be responsive when our consumers need their appliance serviced," says Stephanie Patterson, warranty administrative manager for Whirlpool Corporation. "We know that a major piece of the consumer experience is influenced by the servicer's opinion of our company, and their attitude begins with how easy we make it for them to interact with us."

Whirlpool Corporation's opportunity to improve customer satisfaction levels through improved claims processing involved the use of an Internet-based application to improve the consumer experience, reduce cycle time, and make interactions between Whirlpool, servicers, and consumers both easy and convenient. "Our goal was to create the easiest claim processing system in the business - one that set the standard for the industry," says Ms. Patterson.

After conducting an extensive search for a partner in this effort, Whirlpool selected ServiceBench (Fairfax, VA, U.S.), a company focused on providing technology solutions to service organizations of manufacturers and authorized service centers. "There aren't many companies doing this kind of work who are as flexible and responsive as ServiceBench," says Ms. Patterson. "Our business is constantly changing, so if you can't find a company that can change with you, you're no better off than if you would have stayed with your existing legacy systems."

Whirlpool's previous claims processing system did offer limited electronic processing, but it wasn't effective because it was not capable of validating the information. The system would repeatedly reject claims with mistakes and provide no explanations. Whirlpool replaced the former system with a new warranty claims processing application provided by ServiceBench.

The application, called ClaimCenter™, immediately improved the claims processing efficiency at Whirlpool and led to fewer manual, paper transactions. ClaimCenter reportedly improves efficiency by giving servicers the ability to access the web-based system to submit claims at a time that is convenient to the servicer. The application verifies and adjudicates claims, which prevents the servicer from submitting claims with errors.

When the ServiceBench application was first implemented at Whirlpool, electronic claims jumped from 49 percent to 90 percent in the first 3 months. Today, the percentage of electronically submitted claims has climbed to 97 percent. Other operational efficiency and supply chain improvements realized include a reduction in initial rejected claims from 25 percent to 2 percent, and a reduction of claims related to call center inquiries by 52 percent. These improvements have allowed Whirlpool to reallocate valuable claims and technical staff to more complex problems.

With the success of ClaimCenter, the stage was set to apply even more Internet-based system advantages. Whirlpool and ServiceBench realized that the natural follow-on to the claims system was a service referral system. In the past, when a consumer called looking for a service referral, it was impossible for Whirlpool to directly schedule that service with an Independent Service Company.

All that has changed since Whirlpool implemented an online application to provide seamless service scheduling for its customers. Through the implementation of the ServiceBench service scheduling application, called DispatchCenter™, Whirlpool is re-engineering the service call referral processes to ensure that all scheduling details for each service call are confirmed during the customer's initial call for service to the Whirlpool call center. The new referral process gives the Whirlpool customer service representative the ability to electronically view calendar availability of a select servicer and immediately schedule the service call while the customer is on the telephone.

"In the past when you made the referral, you had no visibility to cycle time or call closure and you wouldn't know what happened to the customer," says Carl Rickels, Whirlpool business process manager. "Now, we can ensure our consumers are handled properly and have a good experience with us, ultimately building consumer loyalty." DispatchCenter was installed early in 2002 and has been facilitating more than 8,000 dispatches per month in many areas of the U.S. Additional expansion of the program continues.

Whirlpool has recently pushed the real time service scheduling process even further: as previously announced, consumers visiting www.whirlpool.com can locate a service company as always, but can also schedule their own service call based on their desired time and date preference - all via the website, without picking up the telephone. Just as consumers have eagerly taken to scheduling their own travel arrangements on interactive websites, it is expected that a significant volume of service call referral requests will arrive via the new Whirlpool web-based scheduling interface.

Since implementing the new processes and ServiceBench applications, Whirlpool, its service partners, and its consumers have realized increasing benefits. The ease, speed, and accuracy of the systems have greatly improved the level of Whirlpool Corporation's relations with service companies. With the new systems, Whirlpool says that servicers are happier and more productive, and that response time for customers has greatly improved, building customer loyalty. Whirlpool has also seen a significant improvement in efficiency and a corresponding reduction of operating costs. And, the company has taken a leadership position in electronic supply chain communications within the industry - ultimately a standard that benefits all manufacturers and their corresponding consumer bases.

"We think other manufacturers could benefit from this solution as well," adds Steve Zannos, director of In Home Service for Whirlpool. "The system gets us closer to our servicers and ensures an excellent level of service for the customer. We like to think of it as the Sabre system for the service supply chain. By standardizing processes, companies can provide better service follow-through and ultimately, higher levels of customer satisfaction."


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