A.O. Smith Water Products Co. officially opened its new 20,000-sq.-ft. Customer Care Facility in Ashland City, Tenn., in July. This facility will provide technical support, training and comprehensive service to customers for A.O. Smith, State, Apollo and Maytag brand water heaters. Formerly operated as A.O. Smith's service parts center, the renovated facility is equipped with 240 phones and is open seven days a week.

"We combined the best aspects of A.O. Smith and State Industries' customer support infrastructures, and the result is a facility that is unique in the industry," said Ron Massa, president of A. O. Smith Water Products Co.

The technical support call center handles inquiries regarding selection, installation, maintenance and troubleshooting for residential and commercial water heaters.

The new facility also houses a training center for plumbing contractors, wholesale personnel, engineers and service agents. The company said it expects to begin classes in spring 2003 and plans to expand A.O. Smith and State field training programs.

The Customer Care Facility will also handle order entry and customer contact activities.

"Generally when you contact a customer service department, they tell you they will get back within 24 hours. Our average response time might be from eight to 13 minutes," said Roy Wood, director of customer care and product support. The call centers are designed to handle the nearly 60,000 monthly telephone calls the company receives. The facility, which used to be A.O. Smith's service parts center, is now equipped with 240 phones and is open seven days a week.

In addition to telephone calls, the Customer Care Facility is expected to receive 2,000 email inquiries each month, a number that the company says has been growing steadily. "Email allows us to send a link from our Web site with the information the customers need to troubleshoot their system," said Wood. "They can print it out on their PC and have a document. Most find that even more effective in dealing with technical issues."

The Customer Care facility will also handle warranty and service administration and will provide distribution services for the company's diverse customer base.