Tools of the Trade

By Beth Reece

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Isolated image of DLA Customer Assistance Handbook with large metal clip on top and multicolored tabs on the side.
DLA Customer Assistance Handbook
Isolated image of DLA Customer Assistance Handbook with large metal clip on top and multicolored tabs on the side.
DLA Customer Assistance Handbook
DLA Customer Assistance Handbook
Photo By: Beth Reece
VIRIN: 190901-D-FO204-231

“Where’s my stuff?” troops relentlessly want to know. Defense Logistics Agency customer support specialists like Mike Chapman are happy to find their answer, but true help is empowering customers to get it themselves.

“Once they have a knowledge base on how to use our self-help tools, they can take care of their own questions rather quickly. I can’t tell you how many times our training folks have heard, ‘Gosh, if only I’d known that 10 years ago,’ or ‘Gosh, I wish I’d known that sooner,’” he said.

Chapman and his DLA Logistics Operations Training Team shows troops how to help themselves by instructing them on four primary resources: FedMall, WebFLIS, FED LOG and WebVLIPS. FedMall, the federal government’s online ordering system, gives users access to tens of millions of items from DLA and the General Services Administration, as well as commercial off-the-shelf products.

WebFLIS is the online Federal Logistics Information System. It contains over 15 million items and provides details such as National Stock Numbers, approved item names, part numbers, manufacturer data, physical and performance characteristics, and more. Buyers can access the data electronically with a common access card or via FED LOG if they don’t have internet access. FED LOG is also available in DVD/CD format or for download at FedMall.

WebVLIPS, or Web Visual Logistics Information Processing System, is also CAC-enabled and allows users to track orders from the time they’re released into the Defense Department pipeline until the material is received and recorded by the unit of destination. The status and location are available for 60 days after transactions are completed.

The ordering process typically begins with WebFLIS or FED LOG, where users determine an item’s NSN, the 13-digit code assigned to every item repeatedly bought, stocked, used, distributed and disposed of through the federal supply system.

“Let’s say the customer has pulled a part off a piece of equipment and all the information he has is the manufacturer’s part number. He can use either of those tools to identify the part by NSN,” Chapman said.

WebFLIS data is updated four to six times a day, and changes to the system have made it more user-friendly than ever, he added.

Graphic of the DLA  and Fed Mall Logos on a purple background.
FedMall Graphic
Graphic of the DLA  and Fed Mall Logos on a purple background.
190901-D-YE683-032
FedMall Graphic
Photo By: Paul Crank
VIRIN: 190901-D-YE683-032
Service members in supply and logistics get a brief introduction to DLA in their initial job training, but Chapman’s team extends their knowledge with hands-on training on the agency’s processes and systems through classroom instruction and distance learning with online courses and video teleconferences. Training is customized to customers’ needs.

“For example, we’ll pull data from a respective unit to figure out what their pain points are. If we know what kinds of calls they’re making to our Customer Interaction Center, we know what things they’re having difficulty with. Then we can tailor our training to them,” Chapman said.

The CIC – at 1-877-DLA-CALL – is DLA’s one-call resolution center, where callers get help with everything from placing orders to the availability of excess equipment managed by DLA Disposition Services. Agents take about 1,500 calls a day, 24/7, and while they exist solely to help customers, those who know how to use DLA’s self-help tools can often find answers faster.

“A lot of times the customer is looking for some pretty basic information, and if they know how to use our systems, they can retrieve that data in seconds versus waiting for an escalated ticket to be processed,” he added.

CIC agents try to educate callers on how to research easy questions on their own when the call volume is slow. Customer and warfighter support representatives co-located with troops also offer over-the-shoulder training on DLA’s ordering systems and arrange formal training by Chapman’s team if more in-depth instruction is needed. When DLA recognized U.S. aircraft maintainers at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, were repeatedly calling the CIC for assistance with order rejections, a trainer offered the unit on-site instruction.

Classroom setting with instructor at the front and Marines seated in front of computers.
Daren Campbell, a DLA customer support representative for Marines in Virginia and the Carolinas, familiarizes warfighters with DLA’s self-help and ordering tools like FedMall.
Classroom setting with instructor at the front and Marines seated in front of computers.
190901-D-YE683-033
Daren Campbell, a DLA customer support representative for Marines in Virginia and the Carolinas, familiarizes warfighters with DLA’s self-help and ordering tools like FedMall.
Photo By: Courtesy Photo
VIRIN: 190901-D-YE683-133
“With rejected requisitions, customers usually don’t know why they’re being pushed back or whether the item is on back order,” Chapman said, adding that FedMall users can input the NSN in DLA Orders and see why it’s back ordered under Item Notes.

The DLA Orders page is available from FedMall’s drop-down Tools tab. From there, users can navigate to Item Notes to see a list of substitutes, if any exist, for out-of-stock or obsolete items. These details aren’t available in the customer order details, so it’s important that users know about the DLA Orders and Item Notes sections of FedMall, he added.

“I’ve seen where people have ordered the same NSN five or six times because it was rejected, but had they just looked in the right section they’d have found the NSN for a replacement for the item,” he continued.

Customers who can’t find the status of their supplies in DLA systems may want to check U.S. Transportation Command’s IGC (CAC required), a global database that combines DLA and USTRANSCOM data, said Tom Bruns, chief of DLA Logistics Operations’ portfolio program support. “Frustrated” cargo that’s mislabeled, for example, is tracked in the IGC but not WebVLIPS.

Infographic poster with Customer Interaction Center contact information with woman wearing headset.
DLA Customer Interaction Center Graphic
Infographic poster with Customer Interaction Center contact information with woman wearing headset.
190901-D-YE683-035
DLA Customer Interaction Center Graphic
Photo By: Paul Crank
VIRIN: 190901-D-YE683-035
Customers ordering material that’s out of stock or delayed by long production times may also want to search for it in DLA Disposition Services’ Reutilization, Transfer or Donation Program.

“This program is a huge benefit because it saves taxpayers’ dollars and reduces customer wait-time,” said Daren Campbell, customer support representative for Marines in Virginia and the Carolinas.

Though material is considered excess, it’s often brand-new, he added. DLA also pays to ship the items.

Bruns, who queries customers to determine what problems they’re having with DLA’s self-help tools and online training, acknowledged that FedMall, WebFLIS, FED LOG and WebVLIPS each have their own look and feel. And that can throw some customers off. 

“The tools aren’t built on the same type of platform, so while customers may know how to use a particular tool, when they switch over to another tool they have to learn a whole new language and capability. It’s not like going from an Amazon-like site to another Amazon-like site,” he said, adding that the more a customer uses DLA’s self-help tools, the more intuitive they become.

One tool all customers agree on is the DLA Customer Assistance Handbook, which includes contact information for representatives at all of the agency’s locations and supply chains, a list of Federal Supply Class assignments, code descriptions, acronyms and other resources.

“They love it,” Bruns said. “Many customers prefer to have it in hardcopy so they can earmark it and write notes on the sides.”  

Customers can view descriptions of courses provided by the DLA Logistics Operations Training Team or call 269-961-4829 for more information.



SELF-HELP TOOLS

FedMall
www.fedmall.mil
DoD’s online ordering system. Provides access to research and tracking tools. 

WebFLIS
www.dla.mil/does/webflis
Provides essential information for supply items including National Stock Numbers, item names, part numbers, manufacturer data, physical and performance characteristics, and more.

FED LOG
www.dla.mil/does/FEDLOG
Provides access to WebFLIS data when internet access is unavailable.

WebVLIPS
www.transactionservices.dla.mil/daashome/webvlips
Allows users to track orders from the time they’re released into the DoD pipeline until they’re receipted by the unit of destination.

Reutilization, Transfer or Donation Program
www.dla.mil/DispositionServices/DDSR/PropertySearch
DLA Disposition Services’ tool for finding and acquiring excess material without paying shipping costs. 

DLA Handbook
www.dla.mil/CustomerSupport/Resources/Communications
A comprehensive guide for working with DLA. Includes contact information, program details, code descriptions, guidance on procedures and more.

U.S. Transportation Command’s IGC 
www.igc.ustranscom.mil/igc
Global database that combines DLA and USTRANSCOM data. Good for tracking status of “frustrated” cargo that’s mislabeled and not traceable in WebVLIPS.