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The power of digital for an enhanced customer experience

Efficient, simple, customized: a successful customer experience lies in these three words. It is a core objective of Air Liquide’s strategy, which relies on leveraging the power of digital to offer its customers and patients a first class experience.

24/7

listening

1 bn

data collected every day

246,000

connected devices

Home delivery, transport on demand or car rental companies have long been forging ahead in terms of customer experience, offering user-centric intuitive platforms, secure online payment, express delivery… Today, the industry and healthcare sectors are getting in tune with providing a consistent and customized experience to customers and patients. However, there is nothing obvious about replacing over-the-counter service with an application, or guaranteeing the implementation of a new contract within the hour.

In short, "making it simple" can represent a real challenge when it applies to dozens of countries and involves complex logistics and high tech assets. When talking about digitization, technology alone is not enough. People are at the heart of this transformation, be they customers, patients or employees. Take a look behind the scenes of this transformation.

Making it simple: a large scale challenge

This is the challenge now faced by Air Liquide’s 66,000 employees. Consistent with the Group’s customer-centric transformation strategy, they are contributing, day by day, to offer its more than 3.6 million customers and patients a flexible and transparent experience, regardless of the channel through which they choose to make their purchases, contact Air Liquide or manage their inventories.  

Customers and patients now share the same expectations, shaped by digital usages. “Healthcare professionals and patients experience digital services in their daily lives, they expect Air Liquide to provide an experience similar to that offered through the tools made available by their bank, airline, telecom operator, etc." says François-Xavier Bardot, Vice President Digital Transformation – Healthcare.

In other words, customers and patients are counting on digital delivery to simplify their interaction with Air Liquide, saving them time and improving quality and efficiency. Online experience has even become the first point of interaction in B2B. “In industry, companies looking for suppliers of goods or services, now turn first to the Internet, which represents 70-80% of their customer buying journeys” says Kelly Justice, Vice President Customer Experience Digitization - Industrial Merchant.

Scalable user-centric platforms

To meet the needs of its industrial customers, and make them more competitive in their own markets, Air Liquide can rely on Airgas’ proven expertise in customer experience and digital. The leading U.S. supplier of gases, welding hard goods and safety products has developed a powerful multi-channel approach, allowing customers to choose the ways that best suit them to interact with the company: retail branch, phone, e-commerce website, etc. With airgas.com, thanks to advanced tools including a comprehensive selection of products, fast checkout services and permanent account visibility, customers can save time and increase their competitive edge.

“With the online training provided by Airgas staff, we have used the web portal for ordering gases and hard goods, checking cylinder balances, and viewing invoices. We also use the portal to search for products that are not normally used or bought on a regular basis. We find the ease of using the website to be helpful and a time saver” explains Jackie Adams, Accounting Manager at Clarke & Rush Mechanical which has been a customer of Airgas for many years. The platform is also available to members of the general public who can make purchases as easily as if they were buying a new watch.  

In Europe, Air Liquide has rolled out the myGas digital portal, coupled with the “myGas mobile” app which covers the whole customer journey, from seeking information to real-time monitoring of tanks and orders, 24 hours a day. Thanks to customized access, customers can order their gas directly from their smartphone by scanning the barcode on a cylinder, or look for a local distributor using GPS. And to offer an optimal customer experience, the website is constantly evolving. New processes have been put in place to collect and analyze customer feedback. For example, dissatisfied persons are called back straight away and interfaces are adapted in real time to meet their needs. It is a virtuous circle. A strategy which seems to be paying off as the platform has already been adopted by thousands of users in nine European countries and is also available to customers in the Asia Pacific region.

In the healthcare sector also, digital opens up new opportunities to provide innovative services to patients and healthcare staff. This is the case of the digital platform launched by Air Liquide for homecare patients and their doctors. Initially deployed in Spain, it enables doctors to monitor their patients remotely thanks to a reliable and secure interface. Thus, patients, doctors and nurses can keep themselves informed of the most recent medical data and, with the doctor’s approval, adapt treatments accordingly. Patients receive better support and are also better informed, as they can directly access their prescriptions and technical data about their medical equipment or information on their pathology. They can also contact the healthcare professionals who are monitoring them. According to Doctor de la Cruz, Head of the Pneumology Department and Respiratory Diseases Clinical Management Unit (UGC) Director at the Málaga Regional University Hospital (Spain), “this platform makes our day-to-day easier and enables greater efficiency in the way we follow patients. It actually provides us with the patient compliance history as well as objective data on his/her adherence (compliance to prescribed treatment), which helps us better assess the impact of the prescribed therapy. We can follow each patient individually and better adapt the therapy to his/her behavior.”

One billion data collected every day

Offering an enhanced customer experience means collecting and analyzing high volumes of data to better anticipate customers’ needs, and improve efficiency and visibility. As stated by Ganesh Ramalingame, Integrated Bulk Operation (IBO), Group Program Director at Air Liquide: “one of the objectives is to give transparency of our supply to customers. This requires us to continuously improve our internal processes.”

In order to keep this promise, Air Liquide can rely on the high volumes of data collected from its assets at all levels of the organization. Through the accelerated roll-out of the Internet of Things (IoT), the Group can optimize production and reactivity. This is the case in Healthcare where Air Liquide has conducted several pilot projects using technologies for medical oxygen cylinder location at French hospital centers to optimize stock management. This is also the case in the industrial gas sector where IoT allows Air Liquide to improve the reliability and security of product supply (bulk and cylinder). There are many examples: geolocation tags fixed on cylinders, sensors installed on bulk trailers, onboard computers in trucks to geolocate the vehicle and ensure real-time tracking of delivery and fleet performance, telemetry on customer tanks to monitor their level of gas and replenish their stock, relieving them of the need to place an order, and so on.

IoT allows Air Liquide to improve the reliability and security of product supply

The Group therefore benefits from a valuable source of information, allowing improved anticipation of orders, and reductions in delivery times and errors. In the future, these same data will be combined with other information and given back to the customer so that they can improve their speed to market, anticipate supply and demand, and partner with Air Liquide to ensure they always have products to meet their changing needs.

For example, the Airgas Welding Efficiency Analysis (WEA), conducted by the Advanced Fabrication Technologies team, is designed to help new and existing customers improve the efficiency of their welding processes. First, Airgas evaluates the customer’s welding process including gas and wire consumption and consumables usage. Once the data is collected, it is entered into the WEA tool. The customer then receives a report summarizing the analysis to help them understand the performance of their welding operation and benchmark themselves against industry averages. Finally, Airgas Welding Process Specialists meet with the customer to review the report and recommend measures to optimize their welding processes and overall competitiveness

Digitization is also at work behind the scenes, in Air Liquide Large Industries production units providing customers with oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and so on. By automating and centralizing its operations, Air Liquide can increase the reliability and flexibility of supply to its customers in metals, chemicals, refining and energy. This is the case for instance in France and in Asia where the Group opened remote operations centers as part of its “Smart Innovative Operations” (SIO) program. These centers enable remote management of production, energy efficiency and reliability. For example, 18 units in eight countries in the Asia Pacific region are managed through the Kuala Lumpur center in Malaysia. Using predictive analysis and digital technologies, the Group can better anticipate and meet the needs of its customers throughout the region, 24/7.

All in all, the Group can rely on the information provided by around 246,000 connected devices (in Healthcare, Industry and new markets) and collects 1 billion data every day.

Listening 24/7

However, technology alone is not enough to improve ease of use and responsiveness. A real cultural transformation is required. It must be customer-centered in order to better understand customer needs and expectations and ensure that the different links in the value chain, from production to the sales service, work in harmony.

The multi-channel approach (see above) demands detailed knowledge of the customer journey. From this perspective, the “Voice of Customer” program, which collects and analyzes customer feedback from 45 countries in real time, is essential and contributes to continuous improvement.

Similarly, the VitalSmile application, downloaded to the tablets of Air Liquide Home Healthcare activity technicians in Spain, enables them to have their patients assess the quality of each procedure (with 5 satisfaction levels). Dissatisfied patients are contacted within 24 hours to identify corrective actions. Launched in Spain, where Air Liquide accompanies several tens of thousands of patients at home, VitalSmile already collects more than 4,500 assessments per day.

What is changing through these programs? For industrial customers, it is the guarantee of increased transparency in the relationship, encouraging trust, and savings in time which improve their competitiveness. For patients, it is the availability of personalized support throughout their care journey, with the ambition to ensure enhanced compliance and better quality of life.

More agile teams

Development of new digital platforms, acceleration of assets’ digitization, and enhanced customer focus: improving customer experience necessarily involves a transformation of the Group’s organization. “To create value, strengthening the adoption of our solutions is key. In this respect, it is essential to unleash collaboration between Digital and Customer Experience teams, IT, World Business Lines and Operations, because of their proximity to customers. In short, it is an inclusive transformation powered by and for people” says Olivier Delabroy, Vice President Group Digital Transformation.

New ways of working have been adopted. Within “Digital Fabs”, small multi-disciplinary teams of about ten people work on a specific transformation stream. There are people from different activities and countries collaborating with data scientists, software developers, designers or user researchers. The Group also draws on the expertise of Alizent, which specializes in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), for improvements in monitoring supplies and managing product traceability through sensors put in truck cabins, in particular.

Finally, open innovation is widely harnessed. Air Liquide works with over 100 start-ups, some of which have already contributed to the co-development of innovative digital solutions with the Group: new connected objects, new intelligent navigation systems, geolocation, etc.

In the end, all the Group’s stakeholders are involved to accelerate digital transformation and offer an enhanced customer experience, creating value on the long term.

Data protection: simplicity goes with trust

New services to enrich the customer experience require the processing of very large volumes of data, the analysis of which comes at a price: trust. Used to complying with the highest industrial and health standards, the Group has developed global expertise in data management: acquisition, processing, hosting, using in-house or third-party software, with a very strong focus on data protection. Whatever the business sector, data protection is currently subject to continuous development and adaptation. Compliance with regulations - reinforced with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe - is a priority for the Group in its relationships with customers and partners. Air Liquide relies, in particular, on the promotion of best practices among all subcontractors and third parties involved in data processing.

Article published on March 26, 2019