Inside Volvo: Uptime

Covering 33 feet of a glass-walled meeting room in the Volvo Trucks new Uptime Center is a full-color mural of a truck on a desert highway with the words, "When a truck is down, our customer's business stops."

This philosophy is at the core of everything that happens at the new Uptime Center, located at Volvo Trucks’ North American headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina. The center brings together dedicated teams and technology to monitor and respond to vehicle issues in real time, help dealers troubleshoot difficult cases and find the necessary parts for repair.

Under One Roof

In the past, the operational teams responsible for customer Uptime were in different locations. Now located under one roof, Uptime support employees can easily interact with one another face-to-face, allowing increased flexibility and faster response times.

“Bringing these professionals together under one roof allows them to collaborate and prioritize more quickly and effectively,” says Göran Nyberg, president, president, Volvo Trucks North American Sales & Marketing. “We owe it to our customers to make our superior service and support even better. They don’t make money if their trucks are not running.”

This means Volvo customers can rest assured that their case is being looked after by a team of highly trained Uptime experts, Volvo Action Service, that now have resources within arm’s reach. “The Uptime Center concept came from trying to balance technology and support,” says Mark Curri, vice president of Aftermarket Quality and Operations. “Agents have in-house expertise available to help them with any obstacle or delay they could encounter in the course of a repair event,” he says.

The new 123,000-square-foot building features a bright and airy entrance with soaring ceilings. Each of the three floors includes large collaborative spaces with bright murals and children’s artwork. Windows line the walls of the call center space on the first floor. Visible from every vantage point are flat-screen monitors mounted from the ceiling, which show the Uptime team’s progress toward their goals.

Curri says this is another key benefit of the Uptime Center. “Whether your job is making sure we have spare parts in inventory, or working on the front end with telematics data, we are all contributing to the same thing,” he says. “Employees feel very connected to the progress on the digital info boards. We have one common measurement.”

The People

The frontline of the Uptime Center is the 40 Volvo Action Service agents who work directly with customers, dealers and Volvo representatives to resolve problems as quickly and efficiently as possible. Agents take care of every step of the truck repair process, from towing and road service to load shifts and swaps, parts expediting and maintenance scheduling.

Agents are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. “That means on Christmas day when you and I are home with our families, we’ve got Volvo Action Service agents here working to handle our customers’ needs, because our customers never stop,” says Director of Emergency Services Beth Coggin, who oversees the call center.

The agents manage repairs for all Volvo Class 8 equipment, which includes 25 different product lines. “Our agents have to be proficient at fielding any and all different types of inquiries,” Coggin says. “One moment they may be handling a 1985 Volvo, and the next moment it may be a 2015 Volvo with all the bells and whistles. It’s pretty amazing.”

Also amazing is the volume of work that happens in the Uptime Center. In November 2014, the center handled more than 20,000 cases, more than 13,000 of which were telematics cases or scheduled maintenance. Agents handle an average of 18,000 inbound calls a month and make approximately 28,000 outbound calls ­(every case involves one inbound call and as many as four outbound calls). “We are essentially the face of Volvo to the customer,” Coggin says. “If anyone needs anything, they call us.”

Coggin recognizes this is not always an easy role. “It’s a hard job,” she says. “You have to be able to multitask and not take things personally. The people who call us are in a crisis situation, and we have to be mindful of that.”

In addition to the Volvo Action Service agents, the Uptime team includes product reliability engineers who are responsible for diagnostics, developing service information and dealer tools, and ensuring issues are addressed. There are also dealer support personnel who help troubleshoot challenging cases, manage warranty claims and resolve information technology issues. Parts specialists assist dealers in sourcing and managing parts and work with suppliers and production plants to fulfill orders.

The Results

Since last year, Uptime has improved by more than a day. Rich Ferguson, senior vice president of Aftermarket and Soft Products, says an integral part of uptime is the network of more than 350 Volvo dealers located throughout North America. “Whether the vehicle is out on the road or nearby, the customer is offered the same level of service and support as they would expect from a home dealership,” Ferguson says.

Seventy percent of these Volvo dealers use Asist, Volvo’s web-based tool for monitoring vehicle status and managing estimates, repair approvals, purchase orders and communications. “We consider our dealers our partners of choice,” says Ty Lindsay, manager of Business Development. Lindsay works with Volvo fleet customers to ensure they are most effectively using Uptime Services to run their businesses. “If anything happens to any of our vehicles, the dealer is the first person we call,” he says. “Asist gives us the ability to collaborate ideas and solutions with them.”

The Technology

Volvo Action Service agents have height-adjustable desks so they can stand rather than sit during their shifts. Each desk has two computer monitors that run Asist, as well as Remote Diagnostics, Volvo’s telematics-based proactive diagnostic and repair planning system that monitors critical fault codes.

More than 55,000 Volvo vehicles on the road today are equipped with Remote Diagnostics, which has been standard on all Volvo-powered models since 2013. This technology means Volvo customers can be alerted to potential problems with a truck long before they ever happen, reducing average disgnostic time by up to 70 percent, while lowering repair time by more than 20 percent. “That’s real money and time saved by our customers,” Ferguson says.

In the past, when an alert when off on a truck, there was nothing that could be done about it until an actual breakdown occurred. Now, when a critical fault code is detected, Remote Diagnostics creates a case in ASIST and identifies what parts will be needed and provides technicians with straightforward repair instructions — even before the truck arrives for service.

Evandro Silva, Manager of Connected Vehicle Solutions, describes the telematics concept in terms of cell phones. “Think of the cell phone as the connection piece on a truck,” he says. “It has an application that reads truck data such as fault codes, operational conditions, hours of driving, fuel economy and more, and then sends that data.”

But data alone isn’t enough. “I hear people say data is key, but it’s not really,” Silva says. “Data is an enabler, and then information is key.”

Connected vehicles are only part of the equation. The data they capture must be analyzed and then communicated to customers in a way that helps them to better run their businesses. “Sending data to customers and leaving them to do what they want with it doesn’t benefit customers,” Silva says. “From Volvo’s perspective, data alone does not add value. Information is what our customers need, and that’s what we provide.”

Telematics data also helps Volvo to continuously improve its product. “We learn a lot from the data coming off the trucks and we use it to bake fixes into future trucks,” Silva says. “We can conceivably fix problems that customers haven’t experienced yet.”

Useful information — and communicating it effectively — is at the heart of the Uptime Center. “Uptime for us is about helping our customers make decisions about their three most important assets: their trucks, their drivers and their loads,” Ferguson says. “The Uptime Center integrates technology and people to most effectively manage those assets.”

The Future

The use of telematics is going to continue to grow, with estimates predicting 24 billion devices, including trucks, connected to the Internet by 2020. “Your ability to connect and provide information will be as important as the truck itself,” Ferguson says. “If you don’t provide that connectivity into the systems and the ability to manage uptime, it’s going to be hard to compete in the marketplace moving forward.”

The future will also involve educating customers about how technology, coupled with live support, can benefit their businesses. “We need to make sure our customers not only understand how powerful the product is they just purchased, but also understand what’s behind that product,” Lindsay says. “I think that when they are completely involved in the solution, from the engine to the transmission to the chassis to the cab to the Uptime Center to Asist to telematics, the customer is better off.”

For this reason, Uptime Center support is available free of charge for the first two years for every new Volvo truck purchased. “If customers don’t experience it, they will not understand the value,” Silva says. “Truck owners are connected anyway, but now we transferred this technology to their business. We are making life easier for them.”

As important as technology is to the future of Uptime, Volvo also recognizes the importance of the human element. “Technology like telematics by itself is great,” Curri says. “We can learn a lot from the data, but there’s also the human side of it, understanding the context of an event. You can’t put a price on that.”

This goes back to the reason the Uptime Center was built: bringing together the team dedicated to reducing downtime and getting trucks back in service as soon as possible. Today, when a particularly complex case arises, the Uptime team gathers in the “war room,” the same room that features the mural that says, “When a truck is down, our customer’s business stops.” There, the team can easily bring in the people and resources they need to get to a resolution.

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