Leaders, customer reps discuss ways agency honing support at global summit

By Dianne Ryder

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The Defense Logistics Agency hosted its annual Global Customer-Facing Summit April 18-19 for those who serve as the face of DLA to its customers. Attendees discussed ways to provide stellar customer service and networked with peers from around the world.

DLA Director Army Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams delivered opening remarks to more than 250 customer-facing team members at the Hilton in Springfield, Virginia, April 18.

“As DLA representatives on the front lines of support to the warfighter, I’ll use a word that I don’t use lightly, and say that you are ‘indispensable’ to DLA support,” Williams said.

Once a supply organization centered in stateside locations, DLA now has more than 2,000 people deployed or stationed forward, Williams said.

“You could be the customer’s only touchpoint to DLA sometimes and the person who sets the perception of that customer,” he said. “You are the bridge between the needs of our customers and this very complex logistics organization.”

Williams noted that even though summit attendees represented worldwide DLA field offices, “the only thing [the customers] know is that you represent DLA. When you reach out to shake the hand of a customer, you’re representing all 27,000 people within DLA.”

The director addressed the five lines of effort in DLA’s Strategic PlanWarfighter First, Global Posture, Always Accountable, Whole of Government and Strong Partnerships — and how they relate to the customer-facing community.

“We exist to provide the warfighters with what they need and where they need it and when they need it — you play a major role in that,” he said.

Global posture improves DLA’s ability to deploy on short notice and customer-facing representatives’ worldwide presence enables the agency to quickly respond to customers’ needs, Williams said. 

DLA’s whole of government support has also increased exponentially, Williams said.

“We don’t necessarily have a DLA element in Puerto Rico, but last year, during the horrific storms that ravaged our nation and U.S. territories, we were able to get people there from DLA very quickly,” he said.

He also noted DLA’s customer-facing representatives support more than 100 service and combatant command exercises worldwide each year.

As to strong partnerships, Williams said nothing in the agency is done without “phenomenal collaboration.”

“Always accountable” speaks to DLA’s “cost consciousness and value innovation” and is every DLA employee’s responsibility, Williams said. He addressed the goal of DLA becoming fully auditable and accounting for real property inventory, which must be accomplished by the end fiscal year 2018.

Williams referred to the supplements to DLA’s strategic plan — the People and Culture Plan, Industry Engagement Plan and Enterprise Enablers Document, sponsored by DLA Human Resources, DLA Acquisition and DLA Information Operations, respectively.

The director said customer-facing representatives could “take their game to a new level” by:

  • Knowing their agency
  • Learning and understanding the customer’s business
  • Taking ownership of customer inquiries
  • Establishing and earning customer trust
  • Advocating for the customer

Williams expressed his appreciation for the customer-facing representatives and encouraged attendees to complete the Culture Climate Survey. He closed by fielding several questions from the audience.

Summit briefing topics included an introduction to DLA’s updated news webpage, supply-chain updates, career broadening opportunities, customer support analytics, breakout sessions and panel discussions.

David Kless, executive director for Operations and Sustainment in DLA Logistics Operations, echoed Williams’ remarks, saying customer-facing representatives bore an important responsibility and should be demanding about their needs.

“If we’re operating in remote areas or we’re out with a customer, we have all these great tools,” he said.  “But if you can’t access them or you’re not familiar with them, we’re not doing our job to set you up for success.”

During two panels, senior leaders took questions on multiple topics; one addressed increased industry engagement with suppliers.

Roxanne Banks, deputy director of DLA Acquisition, said discussions with industry are “constant,” in addition to the recently released Industry Engagement Plan.

Market intelligence is something DLA Acquisition is exploring more intensely.

“Looking at critical vendors; researching their supplier base; understanding their financial health, capabilities, manufacturing processes; and ensuring they have what they need is another thing that keeps us focused on readiness,” Banks said.

Other questions included obsolescence of weapons systems, access to DLA websites and helpdesk assistance, readiness and additive manufacturing, expeditionary contracting team availability and future capabilities.

DLA Vice Director Ted Case said a third of his time is spent working transformation or reform initiatives, but ultimately, the services need DLA. 

“We have at least nine transformation issues that we’ve submitted … We took the strengths of each of the MSCs and showed where we could grow in those areas,” Case said. “There are areas we can always be more efficient, but [continue to] push transformation initiatives.”

Human Resources Director Brad Bunn referred to the People and Culture Plan as an example of DLA’s success in attracting and retaining talent in various job series.

“What we have to be doing is looking to the future. Our People and Culture Plan focused on refreshing, building and revalidating competencies,” he said. “We know how to do our core business, we invest heavily in training our people to do their jobs; I’m just not sure that we have made those investments to develop the competencies of tomorrow.”

Bunn also addressed the challenges of DLA’s multigenerational workforce, telework and maintaining the right skill sets and competencies.