MAASTRICHT - Daimler-Benz has opened a 24-hour customer-relations facility in Maastricht, Netherlands, to serve all of western Europe.
Owners of passenger cars and commercial vehicles will be able to call the center toll-free, 365 days a year.
The Customer Assistance Center has an initial workforce of 200 and 12 different languages are spoken.
Only the Netherlands, Germany and Austria are covered at present.
'CAC is not simply a call center. It offers service and information with cross-border mobility, and coordinates backup by our local sales and service organisations,' said
Dieter Zetsche, Daimler-Benz board member, when he opened the center on 15 October.
He said the center would also be developed as 'a marketing tool, because we can make better use of available databases,' and for market research.
Daimler-Benz expects to take about 2,000 calls a day initially. This will rise to 10,000 a day when every west European country is integrated into the service by the end of next year.
In 2000, when the workforce reaches 500, the center will be able to handle 10,000 calls an hour.
Mercedes-Benz of North America has operated a similar service center for three years. 'But things are simpler there, because people only speak one or two languages,' said Zetsche.
The Netherlands, and Maastricht in particular, were chosen because they offered the best combination of labor flexibility, language skills and infrastructure, said Huub van de Coolwijk, president of Mercedes-Benz Netherlands.
He said the majority of the DM150 million ($83 million) investment 'has been spent in 1997 and 1998.'
Local distributors and dealers cooperate with the Customer Assistance Center although they were reluctant to do so in the beginning, fearing loss of control over relations with their own customer base.
'But after we convinced them that CAC would improve service and communication, they no longer saw it as a threat, and are now giving CAC their full support,' van de Coolwijk said.
Only Mercedes-Benz owners can call the center at the moment, said Zetsche, 'but Smart or our other brands could be integrated into this operation in future.'