Practically every railroader has a Lionel train in their collection, and the company's impact on the hobby itself can't be overstated. So you might be interested in a closer look at their customer service process, and that's exactly what we've got.
Peek inside the Lionel Customer Service Facility with this wonderful read and some cool photos straight from the folks at Lionel themselves.
Lionel Cares: Customer Service Process
More than 30,000 phone calls. More than 15,000 emails. More than 18,000 parts orders. Every year.
Lionel’s Customer Service Facility is a very busy place. And these numbers don’t even account for the large number of locomotives, starter sets, switches, transformers, remote controls, and other various parts the center receives for repairs.
Even more impressive is the center’s massive inventory with 140,000 different parts numbers listed in their computer database and more than 110,000 various parts in stock at any given time (most of them no older than five years), Lionel’s technicians are able to fix most problems thrown their way in a timely manner.
Providing such a wide assortment of services and keeping track of the extensive inventory is something Phil Hull, Lionel’s Senior Manager of Customer Service, is very familiar with. Hull, who has 18 years of experience in the model train industry, first came to Lionel in 2009 as a sub-contractor and then later as an employee. He was part of a team that faced the daunting task of turning what was a nine-month backlog into a mere two-week turnaround for repairs in just six months. Currently, the backlog stands at only seven days; however, there are exceptions to the two-week processing period, such as if a special part has to be ordered or if there is an issue with the delivery.
Add a relocation that took place during the spring and summer of 2014 to that list of goals and it is obvious that Hull had his work cut out for him. It took approximately two months to move the Customer Service Facility from Canfield, Ohio, to Concord, N.C., where Lionel’s headquarters are located. The new center opened its doors on August 1, 2014.
The facility is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT with Customer Service Representatives available to answer any and all questions, from the simplest to the most technical. The facility’s primary goal is to provide in-warranty repairs for Lionel trains and accessories.
When customers call customer service, they are quickly connected to a Customer Service Representative. The average wait time is three to five minutes, even during the busy season (October through April), which is impressive when you consider how many inquiries they receive daily. All calls are recorded for quality assurance.
“Once we go through the process of determining is it a product failure or operator failure, basically we sit down on the phone with the customer with the train and we go through step-by-step and figure out what’s wrong with it,” Hull said. “Then about four to five percent of callers have to send something in for repair.”
After a Customer Service Representative speaks with the customer and it is determined there is a product failure, the customer is provided a Return Authorization number, used for tracking the item throughout the entire repair process, that must be placed on the outside of the box. The item is then shipped to Lionel’s Customer Service Facility, preferably in its original packaging and foam. Upon receipt, the item in need of repair is logged into the system and an automatic email confirmation is sent to the customer. Repairs are done in order by the date each item was received. When a treasured item is sent in for repairs, the utmost care and service is provided to ensure the repaired piece is returned to its owner safely and in full working condition.
There are three different types of technicians that work on the various items sent in for repair. Each is ready to tackle any challenges thrown at them. These consist of techs specializing in entry-level and ready-to-run sets and accessories, techs trained in steam and diesel repairs, and techs that focus solely on legacy trains and transformers.
Before a repaired piece is sent back to the customer, it is put through a series of tests. For example, locomotives and trains are run on an in-house track under different conditions at different speeds for no less than two hours. If a locomotive has a smoking feature or makes any sounds, they are also tested, regardless of whether or not there was anything wrong with these features.
“The reason we do that is we would like to see it break on our watch,” Hull said. “We don’t want to send the train to you and it break on you. What we found is usually within an hour everything that’s going to go wrong has.”
Emails are just as efficient as calling, if not more so. Customers can also access a slew of helpful resources under the “Customer Services” dropdown menu at www.Lionel.com.
Whether you are a longtime hobbyist or just starting out, rest assured that your train-related issues are in good hands, if you ever have to send your Lionel trains and / or ancillary items in for repair.
It's never fun when you need the help of customer support, but thankfulyl Lionel has a great facility and process to make it as painless and rewarding as possible.