Ever wonder about the dedicated people behind the Defense Travel System (DTS), the fully integrated, electronic, end-to-end financial management system that transformed temporary duty travel for Defense Department personnel? To fully appreciate their efforts, you need to take a closer look at DTS and what it does for the DoD traveler.
DTS meets unique DoD mission, security and financial system requirements within the guidelines of federal and DoD travel policies and regulations. Before DTS, federal travelers went one place to get their travel orders, and to still another to make transportation, lodging and rental car arrangements.
After completing their travel, they filed a travel voucher through one of many travel systems in use throughout the DoD. Many submitted hardcopy forms they filled out manually along with their receipts to be processed — and then waited — sometimes not so patiently for reimbursement.
DTS, in contrast, enables travelers to complete all these transactions from the convenience of their desktop computers. According to the Defense Travel Management Office (DTMO), the organization that serves as the single focal point for commercial travel within DoD, DTS processed more than 3 million temporary duty travel vouchers with an average voucher payment time of 7.8 days during fiscal year 2008.
DTS enables better oversight of the multibillion-dollar DoD travel enterprise and ensures compliance with applicable federal and DoD travel policies and regulations, according to the DTMO.
Enter the TAC
To expand assistance provided to DoD travelers, the DTMO established the Travel Assistance Center (TAC) to provide 24-hour assistance (including federal holidays) to DoD personnel before, during and after official travel. The staff can answer questions about travel-related topics including the DoD travel card, travel policy, commercial travel services and programs, as well as provide assistance with DTS to all defense travelers — both military and civilian — regardless of military service or defense agency.
The TAC complements the assistance provided by defense travel administrators (DTA), according to Jim Deming, the TAC program manager. DTAs are typically designated to assist personnel working in their activity.
"In the beginning, our customer base was mainly made up of defense travel administrators. This past summer we opened our services to all military service and defense agency travelers. This was a phased approach that began in October 2007. Today, we execute the call center function for DTMO for DTS assistance, and recently expanded our mission to answer all travel-related questions, including questions on the new DoD [Citi] travel card transition, commercial travel services and travel policy," Deming said.
The TAC also assists recruits traveling from their Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) to their first training base. From the time a recruit leaves a MEPS to the time that a camp or station accepts the trainee for an individual training assignment, the TAC makes sure each recruit gets from place to place.
“You would think that was an easy task, but somebody can get sick, flights can be delayed or canceled, and you can have inclement weather issues. We take calls from the recruits, and we put them in hotels and get them fed because these individuals travel sometimes with little cash, and have not yet been issued a DoD travel card.
“For a lot of them, it is their first time away from home and they are young — sometimes as young as 18. We are their lifeline. We work with major hotels that are located close to airports to provide lodging and meals, and we work with the United Service Organizations, the USO, so they can assist,” Deming said.
At the time of the interview with Deming, the DoD transition to the new Citi travel card was just over the horizon — Nov. 30. Deming said transition planning had been going on for more than a year to ensure a smooth transition for travelers.
“Do you know that Citi opened a state-of-the-art 33,000 square-foot support facility in Norfolk? We are meeting with Citi representatives to finalize plans for the transition — that’s one more link to providing good service to DoD travelers.
“We have a message on the TAC interactive voice recording system so that customers that have travel card questions or issues can select from a menu to speak directly to an analyst at the TAC, or be transferred to Citi’s support desk for card service issues. We know that this will be a big change for travelers, and we have been working for a year on the type of support that we anticipate travelers will need,” Deming said.
Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic has managed the travel call center for the Navy since 2004, so when DTMO established a call center for DoD travelers, SPAWAR offered its expertise in this competency area. Deming, a retired Army colonel with 26 years of active service, oversees the TAC and its staff of 35 personnel, 32 of which provide direct support to the call center. Many on the staff are former military service members with experience in travel-related services.
What the TAC Does
In simple terms, customers call the TAC at 1-888-Help1Go and speak to an analyst based on their type of problem. For first time callers, the analyst will first create a traveler profile and call cen¬ter ticket so they will be able to track the progress of the ticket and retain a record of the help received.
The analyst then records the problem and resolution on the call center ticket. If the analyst cannot resolve the issue during the call, the ticket is escalated to either DTMO or the DTS vendor for resolution.
DTMO recently launched Travel Explorer (TraX), a user-friendly Web solution that is an extension of the TAC and offers a central¬ized source of travel information. TraX allows users to submit a call center ticket, track the progress of open tickets while TAC representatives conduct research, or search and review respons¬es to previously submitted questions.
Before submitting a help ticket, users are encouraged to explore the self-help features for instant access to hundreds of frequently asked questions, as well as to view various training opportunities and trip planning tools.
Customers receive timely assistance and many issues are resolved with the first communication with the TAC. September was a particularly busy month with more than 15,000 call center tickets issued. “That was a new record for us,” Deming said.
The TAC leadership team coordinates with the DTMO daily to discuss any emerging issues. When it is time for a DTS software upgrade, meetings expand to include the DTS-PMO. The program management office is in charge of acquisition of the system, development, integration and maintenance of DTS.
In the last three months, DTS underwent three software upgrades, crossed the fiscal year, and adapted to the new DoD travel card. During these events, TAC lead analysts performed functional tests, often working weekends and late hours to ensure proper functionality.
Customers contact the TAC from all over the world including the Middle East and Pacific. Since quality customer service is the hallmark of the TAC, each Tuesday the team offers a “DTS Outreach Call” for anyone from the DoD travel community. Calls last about two hours and are held at 8:00 a.m., and 1:00 and 10:00 p.m. EDT to accommodate those in each time zone. Typical topics include the top call center tickets for the week, the latest DTS software upgrades and other emerging travel-related topics.
TAC Quality Initiatives
The TAC follows a philosophy of continuous process improvement — team members learn this on the first day of work. Personnel avidly embrace the tenants of the ISO 9001:2000 Quality Management System (QMS). All team members are expected to routinely contribute to better ways of doing business.
“We hold a TAC improvement meeting every week where analysts come up with suggestions to improve service to the customer, whether it entails changes to our interactive voice recordings or changes to the call center ticket management system. Some of these suggestions we use as rapid improvement events. We employ them quickly to improve the overall customer experience,” Deming said.
The TAC uses, in addition to other highly regarded sources, Help Desk International (HDI), as a benchmark for customer service. Guided by an international panel of industry experts and practitioners, HDI is a leading resource for call center emerging trends and best practices.
“We use Help Desk International standards for gathering metrics data and analyze it to make sure that we are within certain standards for our key performance indicators,” Deming said.
The TAC utilizes Lean Six Sigma techniques to identify and refine processes. The team integrated scheduling techniques with inbound call metrics to optimize staff scheduling, eliminating excess capacity when call volume is low and ensuring maximum staffing during peak call hours.
The TAC also employs state-of-the-art technology to maximize the efficiency of the workforce. Some of the technologies used are described below.
• AltiGen Automatic Call Distribution System. The team continually analyzes and refines this tool to meet the changing needs of the travel community. Recently, the team found a way to reduce caller wait time. Compounded annually the savings are significant. This high-tech telephone network allows the team to “home source” analysts to minimize weather-related commuting problems and continuity of operations challenges. Additionally, it significantly minimizes staff turnover and has demonstrated increased analyst productivity.
• RightNow Ticket Management System. The team continually analyzes and refines the look and feel of the product to promote ease of use for the analyst in gathering pertinent information to assist the customer. Effective use of the reporting capability provides management with appropriate dashboard metrics to measure effectiveness.
• LCD Display System. Multiple large screen display systems are used to monitor queues and to communicate important notices to team members. The recruit assistance team uses the displays to monitor national weather patterns and airport delays to anticipate disruptions affecting recruit movements.
• Plantronics Wireless Headphone System. The TAC believes that continuous improvement and improved quality of life can be achieved without costly intensive changes. For example, the TAC recently moved from using standard headsets to wireless headsets.
Initially implemented for weekend and overnight shift employees, who often have to get up from their desks at a time when staffing is light, the benefits of wireless headsets were subsequently extended to the staff during peak staffing hours. Analysts were able to access resources located away from their desks while continuing to assist callers.
How the TAC is Organized
The TAC is composed of several teams — generalist, commercial travel office (CTO), financial and technical.
The generalist team is the first contact point for customers. In addition to answering travel-related questions, TAC general analysts assist with DTS document or system error resolution, and research and update submitted tickets. They also route tickets to other TAC teams when required.
The TAC CTO team troubleshoots DTS documents that might not transmit properly between DTS and the global distribution system, resolves passenger name record (PNR) errors, verifies approvals in PNRs and confirms reservations.
All CTO analysts have access to DTS and the three major global distribution systems: Sabre Travel Network, Apollo Travel and Worldspan.
“Our CTO analysts assist in updating reservations so that the quality checks performed by Sabre and DTS allow the document to update in DTS and process through the routing chain so the traveler can get an authorization approved,” Deming said.
The TAC finance team addresses issues and tickets that are related to centrally billed accounts and debt management and specializes in resolving accounting system rejects.
One of the more popular questions from travelers is “Where is my reimbursement for travel?” according to Deming.
“Our average voucher payment time is 7.8 days. DTS interfaces with many partner financial systems with which we have to coordinate and research issues. DTS is a very complex system that complies with and far exceeds the standards for payments to DoD employees outlined in the DoD Financial Management Regulation,” Deming said.
The TAC technical team monitors DTS health along with the developers and maintainers of the system. Every morning the technical team lead checks all the connections and servers to the global distribution systems for the airlines to make sure that they are all awake and working.
“We perform different scenarios to ensure the system is up to peak performance. If it isn’t, we immediately report that to DTMO,” Deming explained.
“If a caller tells us that they are having trouble connecting to DTS, we put them through a series of troubleshooting exercises to see if it is DTS or the network at the installation where the customer resides.”
TAC employees go through a rigorous 60-day training program. The training plan takes them through all possible scenarios in DTS and call center operating procedures.
|About the Defense Travel System|
The Defense Travel System (DTS) is a fully integrated, digitally secure, electronic system that automates temporary duty (TDY) travel authorizations, reservations, and voucher processing of DoD travel transactions. It is specifically tailored to meet unique DoD mission, security and financial system requirements while remaining within the guidelines of federal and DoD travel policies and regulations. For more information on DTS, please visit the Defense Travel Management Office Web site at www.defensetravel.dod.mil/.
The Defense Travel Management Office (www.defensetravel.dod.mil/) was established to serve as the single focal point for commercial travel within the Department of Defense to establish strategic direction, set policy and centrally manage commercial travel programs. The DTMO maintains central oversight for commercial travel management, travel policy and implementation, customer support and training, DoD travel card program management, and functional oversight for the Defense Travel System.
Travelers can contact the TAC 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling 1-888-Help1Go or DSN 312-564-3639. Users can create an account in TraX and submit call center tickets online.
To access TraX, please visit www.defensetravel.dod.mil/Passport. Participation information and a schedule of upcoming topics for the DTS “Outreach Call” can be found in the announcement section of TraX.