A growing number of VIKING’s global maritime clients are securing the benefits of centralized service planning, despite challenges to implementation brought by Covid-19.
When BETTER SAFE caught up with Cathrine Kristiansen, Global Planning Manager, she was approaching the end of a hotel quarantine in Laem Chabang, having returned to her post in Thailand from a visit home to Norway.
The episode offered one more example of Covid-19 disruptions but, going about her working day, Kristiansen stressed that the continuing challenges had in no way slowed down the centralization of VIKING’s service planning. In fact, the transition of European clients had been so successful that the centralized service was being rolled out to other territories early, she said.
Local customers will always be served locally, Kristiansen emphasized, but international customers have quickly adapted to the idea that cost-effective service planning can now be delivered from remote locations without losing the personal touch.
A former service planner herself, Cathrine transferred to Thailand six years ago to oversee the centralization of the back-office processes providing the backbone to VIKING’s quality assurance and the platform for the success of its fixed-price Shipowner Agreements. She also took responsibility for doubling the number of local service employees, instilling VIKING values and training staff to handle a broad range of customer cultures.
Two years ago, Kristiansen was invited to apply the lessons learned to reorganize service planning company wide.
“We had seen how customer satisfaction among international clients was better served by a streamlined network and uniform processes. The capabilities of our ServiceNow IT system and the VIKING customer portal offered the opportunity to bring the same rigor to service planning."
Catrine Kristensen - Global Planning Manager
The benefits of centralized service planning in lifesaving equipment also made sense for an acquisitive company integrating the Norsafe boat and davit business, the Drew Marine Fire Service division and, recently, the HydroPen container firefighting system.
“I’m fully aware of the attractions of local service from my own experience but many of our clients really appreciate and need a global partner to support their life-saving equipment needs. Central planning means we can contact the right people in our network to serve our global clients more quickly, and that service rollouts and IT upgrades are achieved in a single step. With the detail of every job accessible to the relevant staff and the customer, there is also greater accountability.”
Rather than Thailand, VIKING selected Turkey for its initial project to streamline planning for Europe, based on proximity to market and its ranking as VIKING’s number one service location, largely courtesy of high-volume work for Greek ship owners.
However, with Covid-19 fast-emerging in the early months of last year, Cathrine’s necessary focus on processes and systems, contract management and the partner network needed to be supplemented by local leadership in Turkey.
Stepping forward has been Erman Gül, Service Planning Center Manager, VIKING Istanbul. With a Masters in Maritime Transport Engineering, Erman has strong experience in logistics and ports, and has carved out a multi-disciplined role in VIKING’s Turkish business since joining in 2016.
He has also been able to draw on Turkey’s deep pool of maritime talent to build a specialized service planning team, expanded from 17 employees in 2020 to 31 staff in 2021, with 45 staff projected for 2022. Service planning across Europe has been progressively integrating the full VIKING range of liferafts, lifeboat, PPE and fire safety equipment servicing solutions across Europe and surely, this has been a challenge of a different order, said Gül.
“Centralization has streamlined key aspects of planning for international customers, allowing us to offer faster response times built on round-the-clock service."
Erman Gül - Service Planning Center Manager
Drawing on lessons learned in Thailand, he acknowledged that developing the personal touch from a centralized operation takes time. “We need to understand different working cultures and their expectations, so we educate our people by letting them shadow experienced staff. We also work with our partners for hands-on training to ensure our service planners meet the VIKING standard.
“Individuals and teams are given responsibility for specific countries so that customers get dedicated attention, with the added bonus that personal interaction is supported by the global organization and systems.”
As the centralized service planning capability has grown, so more international customers have been migrated across. Client groups in Estonia and Sweden were being integrated at time of writing, with Spain set to follow by the end of the year, but Kristiansen said key clients in Miami were also now part of the global service planning regime, supported by shift work patterns, while other clients in the Americas and in Asia will be introduced to the new service capabilities in the months ahead.
A large share of the shipowners now serviced from Turkey are covered by multiyear, fixed-price VIKING Shipowner Agreements.
“Ironically, the centralized service planning function has been an even greater success than we originally planned for,” said Cathrine Kristiansen. “Now that the Safety Academy in Greece has reopened, we can step up hands-on training on lifeboat service planning, there and we also look forward to tapping into the expertise available from our marine fire service colleagues in the Netherlands.”