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How a Manufacturer Created a Global Help Desk in Three Languages

Moving a business is never easy. But change allows you to look at doing things differently. This is how Essilor got a global help desk in three languages.

Essilor, which manufactures and distributes lenses for eyeglasses, was moving its Florida operations to Texas. Its US-Canadian help desk was located in St Petersburg, Florida. “We didn’t want to buy all the infrastructure needed to set up a help desk in Dallas,” says Paul Hayse, Director of IT Office Automation for Essilor.

In addition, Essilor, a French company, had outsourced a second help desk for Europe and Asia. The outsourcer rented space in Essilor’s manufacturing facility in Provins, France. “We didn’t have the space for the agents. And the contract was coming to an end, so it was a golden opportunity to combine our help desks,” Hayse explains.

The obvious challenge: language. Essilor had to find a supplier that had great English, French, and Spanish conversational skills.

Supplier Selection for a Global Help Desk Provider

Essilor, which manufactures popular brands like Varilux, Transitions, and Crizal, issued an RFP. Fifteen suppliers replied. Essilor whittled the list to three and then visited each supplier. There was a supplier in the Netherlands, one in Belgium, and another in France.

“You could really see the difference in cultures in the lunches we had,” says Hayse. “In the Netherlands, lunch was very simple. There was a pitcher of milk, sourdough bread, and thinly sliced cheeses and meats. In Belgium we had very nice sandwiches. The French supplier had elaborate meals outside in the restaurants. Lunch was fantastic.”

Although they loved the French food, Hayse selected TechTeam, located in Brussels, because of its language competencies. TechTeam’s help desk services clients in 22 languages.

The manufacturer also liked the fact that TechTeam was located in Brussels; its offices are close to NATO’s and the EU’s headquarters. Hayse says there are a host of native English speakers in Brussels because of these governmental bodies. “It’s not difficult to find people with the technical skill sets we need who want to work at 2:00 am,” says Hayse.

In addition, Essilor was impressed with TechTeam’s understanding of the intricacies of manufacturing. Ford and John Deere are on its client roster. The company was founded to serve Ford; 25 percent of its annual revenues come from this 25-year relationship, reports Robert Gumber, Vice President for Services Delivery for TechTeam.

Essilor signed a five-year contract with TechTeam and moved its help desk to Brussels.

The Transition Challenge: The Gulf War

Essilor took six months to prepare TechTeam for the transition on its processes; the supplier needed to see them through the manufacturer’s eyes. TechTeam also needed that time to recruit the right personnel. There was also a construction component. TechTeam had to build out its facilities because Essilor wanted its own area in the Brussels building.

The relationship faced its first challenge during the go-live phase. TechTeam originally planned to have one go-live date. But the Gulf War broke out; Essilor US instituted a travel ban. So the supplier had to go to plan B: a staggered go-live. The French help desk went live first. The American help desk, which remained in St Petersburg, went live 90 days later.

Essilor sent five of its US help desk staff to Brussels for a month, arriving two weeks before the go-live date. “By the end of the first week they could log email tickets,” says Hayse.

Today Essilor has a help desk supervisor in the US who works with TechTeam on a daily basis. Claire Fromange, TechTeam’s Account Manager for Essilor in Belgium, spends one week a month in Dallas as well as two days a week in France.

Task #2: Operations Monitoring

Essilor also outsources a portion of its operations monitoring to TechTeam. For example, if an Essilor server has a hardware problem, TechTeam logs the incident and follows set procedures to resolve it. “We monitor their entire IS environment,” says Fromange.

The consolidation helped improve service. Before TechTeam took over, two IT departments took care of the system, one in France and one in the US. Time zones and language were continuously a problem. If the system went down in France, it affected the US operations. “If we didn’t have the cell number of a person in France, we couldn’t call him. And he’d be asleep. When we woke him up, we discovered he couldn’t speak English and our technician couldn’t speak French,” recalls Hayse.

The consolidated monitoring has shortened resolution times by 70 percent, according to Fromange.

In addition,. Essilor standardized its ghost images. Ghost, an application from Symantec, creates images for PCs so they can be replicated. This allows a technician to quickly set up a PC each time the same way with the same applications already installed to specific company specifications. “We did this to improve help desk supportability worldwide,” says Hayse.

Sixty percent of TechTeam’s work belongs to the help desk with the remaining 40 percent devoted to monitoring and alerts.

Increasing the Scope

At the outset TechTeam had 19 agents working on the Essilor account. The head count is now up to 25. Hayse says Essilor has increased TechTeam’s volume every year of the contract. It needed more agents as it added more geography to the scope. New additions included Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. The French help desk’s role has expanded beyond Europe to Asia and Africa. “We sell our lenses in 45 different countries,” Hayse explains.

Hayse says initially Essilor enjoyed some cost savings by outsourcing. But they became inconsequential as Essilor increased its demand for TechTeam’s services.

Outsourcing Benefits for a Global Help Desk

Cost savings paled in comparison to outsourcing’s other benefits. Most important, outsourcing “helped us mature our IT processes,” according to the IT executive. Now the procedures are “professional, producing more process-driven results,” Hayse reports.

For example, Essilor had to document and truly understand its processes before it could ship them to a supplier. “We couldn’t give them to TechTeam and say, ‘Figure this out.’ Outsourcing forced us to solve our issues problem by problem,” says Hayse.

Since the manufacturer outsourced, it has documented 1,500 processes. TechTeam provided the standard templates. For example, one document describes how to handle a specific alert. “Now we treat that alert the same way each time. We forced the help desk to follow our processes,” Hayse reports.

TechTeam has also brought ITIL (Information Technology Information Library) to Essilor.

Also, outsourcing allowed the manufacturer to grow. Initially it had 47 locations in the US. Today it has 100. “We needed scalability. TechTeam has been able to grow with us,” says Hayse.

Outsourcing also made Essilor a truly global company. “Even though our CIO was in France, we had few global initiatives to integrate the two main IT groups in France and the US,” Hayse says. Today the company thinks globally. For example, it devised a global PC policy. “The lessons we learned in combining our help desk allowed us to accomplish other projects more easily,” Hayse reports.

Offshoring for a Global Help Desk

The warm working relationship can be challenged by the seven-hour time difference. “The challenges arise when you need to talk to someone late in the day,” Hayse says. TechTeam has minimized that difficulty by working Essilor’s normal business hours on Central Standard Time.

Hayse says his team enjoys working with the Belgians because they have a great sense of humor. Belgium, he says, is much like the US (and the waffles are fine as well as the beer!) It also helps that Hayse speaks fluent French; he was a French foreign exchange student.

The Importance of Partnership

Hayse says this global relationship works because “we view them as a partner.” He says he views TechTeam’s employees as his own. “It’s an attitude,” he admits.

Frequent interaction helped develop this camaraderie. Hayse makes periodic trips to Belgium. He also sends US technicians to Europe to meet their TechTeam counterparts. “We find it’s a lot easier to call someone with a problem after you’ve met them,” he observes.

Fromange says Essilor has worked hard on its end to make the relationship work. “They have been very supportive of us. They are really open to making a good relationship possible. They made sure we understood their infrastructure. They were instrumental in our training,” she reports.

Fromange says Essilor “has taken me into their management team. They’ve helped me help them.” On her part, she says she’s “committed to Paul Hayse. We are working together for a common goal.”

That’s how global sourcing is supposed to work. C’est vrai!

Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:

  • Change often allows companies to rethink current ways of doing things. A move caused Essilor to consolidate its two help desks on two continents into one global help desk.
  • Outsourcing allowed the lens manufacturer to mature and standardize its IT operations. It required documenting processes, which it had not done before.
  • Learning how to do business globally helped Essilor make other helpful global corporate decisions.
  • Both partners have to be committed to each other’s success for a global outsourcing relationship to work. Speaking each other’s native tongue helps, too!


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