GE Fleet gets its customers on the road with BI

When it came to determining how to provide information to customers, the car and truck fleet management company made sure customers had a voice.

Managing a corporate fleet of cars and trucks brings up a lot of questions and information requests. For GE Fleet, the answers lay in asking more questions.

Faced with shrinking customer satisfaction numbers and the departure of long-time customers, GE Commercial Finance, Fleet Services decided to extend its business intelligence (BI) to its customers.

A division of General Electric based in Eden Prairie, Minn., GE Fleet manages corporate car and truck fleets, overseeing the entire lifecycle of a fleet, from purchase to repairs to trade-ins. Five years ago, the company determined it was losing its existing customers and not bringing in enough new business. So, when Kathryn Marinello came aboard as the new CEO in 2002, she decided to conduct a customer satisfaction survey, set up a customer advisory board and asked GE Fleet's customers what would make their lives easier.

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GE Fleet had shifted from a paper-based reporting system to one that provided customers with information on their fleet via the Web. The initiative was hardly met with enthusiasm. Customers responded, "You gave me too much data," "It's too hard to manipulate all this data and use it," and "Just give me nuggets of information that drive action."

"We decided to turn the business 'outside-in,'" Kiran Mysore, director of BI for the company, said in a presentation at the Gartner BI show last month in Chicago. "We wanted to be repeatable and reliable and save our customers money. We translated that into actionable objectives and metrics for success."

Providing BI to customers, partners and suppliers outside a firewall is something other companies are beginning to grapple with, as they try to figure out security, permissions and delivery options.

GE wanted to offer fleet information such as mileage reports, repair schedules and account information. For the new project, GE Fleet decided to focus on three areas: content, accuracy and timely information. While GE had already moved to a Web-based system, customers were still getting paper bills, and at times those bills wouldn't match, Mysore said.

Committed to Six Sigma, a data-driven approach and methodology to eliminating defects, GE did not jump to a technology, but rather began with a process approach. For the content area, GE Fleet decided upon eight metrics to measure progress.

"Eight may not sound like a lot, but with the process of making that accurate and repeatable it was a huge project," Mysore said.

Fleet focused one metric on the span of time between when a customer requested information and when it was delivered. Before GE Fleet started its project, that time span ranged from two days to three weeks. The company created an information request process to streamline the flow of information and eliminated a lot of wasted calls from GE to its customers asking them, "What do you mean," Mysore said.

Customers responded to GE with a wide range of requests for new functionality from drilling down into reports to slicing and sorting information. GE went back to the customer advisory board and asked users to prioritize their requests. For example, users were asked if they would rather have drill-down capabilities in six months or role restructuring in one.

"This made us think about what we need to satisfy our customers without being tied to a specific technology," Mysore said.

GE Fleet eventually selected reporting tools from Paris-based Business Objects SA and used software from Tibco Software in Palo Alto, Calif., for its portal.

In two years, GE Fleet has been able to decrease costs associated with reporting and information requests by 75%, quadruple the number of users and double the scope of the project. In that two-year span, ROI has been achieved with productivity savings. Customer satisfaction that was between three and four on a 10-point scale jumped to 8.22 for overall satisfaction and 8.78 for assistance in better administering a fleet.

In the future, GE Fleet will price the portal based on advanced functionality. Revenue will fuel future development, Mysore said.

The next initiative will be a MyDashboard product rolled out to 10,000 users to provide a feedback mechanism.

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