EDS Puts Clients in the Drivers Seat

Customers no longer on lock down, now can give more feedback

Electronic Data Systems Corp. built a business—and a reputation—locking customers into long-term deals that were never famous for warm and fuzzy things like customer care and responsiveness. But as part of a cultural shake-up, EDS is putting customers back in the drivers seat with a new service excellence dashboard that encourages more frequent user feedback.

The dashboard is one of several operating mechanisms put into place to foster greater communication and accountability across EDS organization as well as with its customers. And it symbolizes a reinvigorated EDS that is more focused on the customer than ever before, according to company officials.

"Eighty percent of EDS people today touch clients directly," said CEO Dick Brown at a recent security analyst briefing at the companys Plano, Texas, headquarters. Prior to the reorganization, which centralized control and slimmed EDS down to four major operating units from 48 independent business units, only about 50 percent of EDS employees were involved with clients, Brown said.

The dashboard pulls together performance information on EDS professional services from multiple sources. Weekly performance assessments are entered by executives in the field, electronic surveys are filled out by clients, periodic personal interviews are conducted with users and quantitative performance data is pulled from monitoring agents within the clients systems or infrastructures. The data is disseminated to executives throughout EDS.

Key to the service excellence dashboard program is an electronic survey that clients fill out. The Web-based survey, called e-Client Direct, puts the feedback mechanism directly into the hands of a contact deemed most appropriate by the customer.

Contacts e-mail addresses are forwarded to EDS, which in turn sends the contacts passwords that provide entry to the survey. When they log on to Web servers that administer the surveys, their feedback "goes directly into the database and is displayed on the desktops of EDS executives across the world," said Charley Kiser, global director of service excellence for EDS.

About 55 percent of EDS clients use the electronic survey at least once a year, although many fill it out two or three times a year, Kiser said. The goal is to get 100 percent of the companys clients to use the electronic survey by the end of the year—a fast ramp-up, given that it was first implemented just over a year ago.

EDS intends to take the real-time feedback to another level later this year when it rolls out what it is calling EDS Portal.

The portal will "enable clients to give us feedback at their own discretion—whatever and whenever they feel is valuable," Kiser said. It is expected to go into beta testing during the third quarter.

The dashboard has been used in one instance to save a client from missing a critical deadline.

Late in a development project, a subcontractor working on a part of the clients program ran into a problem he couldnt solve himself.

When the EDS executive in the field flagged it and described what the problem was, "We covered the globe, identified the specialists in the company familiar with the problem and had them working on it," Kiser said. Within 24 hours, the specialists were en route to help solve the problem.

Such collaboration—another aim of the service excellence dashboard—would not have been possible under the decentralized organizational structure that existed at EDS in the past, said Julie Schwartz, vice president of research for the Information Technology Services Marketing Association, in Lexington, Mass.

"When they were separate business units, it was very difficult to implement a companywide measurement of customer satisfaction," Schwartz said. "There was no central authority that said, You will do this."

That centralization is unique to EDS among large professional services companies.

"Most [EDS] competitors are so decentralized, they probably cant implement a worldwide customer satisfaction measurement system. It usually happens in the field after the engagement is complete," Schwartz said.

Although its impossible to determine how much of an impact the service excellence dashboard has had on the bottom line, in at least one instance it helped EDS to win an outsourcing contract. Weyerhaeuser Co. cited the dashboard as one factor in its awarding a seven-year IT outsourcing contract to EDS late last year.

Other efforts to streamline EDS operation have also helped. The company reported that it has reduced its expenses by $2 billion, and it has created more repeatable, packaged service offerings.

Still, the dashboard brings a new awareness and participation in client issues to top-level executives. Brown said he refers to the dashboard at least once a week, as do other company executives.

"Monday morning he looks at the dashboard and initiates phone calls," Kiser said. "It allows Dick and other executives to keep their finger on the pulse of customer needs. By reinforcing our client-focused culture, Dick becomes part of the team that addresses any customer issue."