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Focus on the Fab: KLA CSEs Keep Customer Operations Humming

May 2, 2023 5 min read

KLA’s customer service engineers (CSEs) are on the front lines. They’re part of KLA’s public face to global electronics manufacturers, working to update, troubleshoot, diagnose and repair complex equipment and minimize customer downtime. KLA Advance will share their stories through 2023 beginning with Irene Gresti in Italy and Albert Xu in China.

“Albert and Irene are among our highly specialized and sophisticated hands-on professionals with a huge amount of knowledge who work to help deliver success to customers every day,” says Kevin Mille, senior director, global service operations, KLA.

Adds Eric Rutledge, vice president and general manager, electronics, packaging and components service group: “Together with KLA’s technical support engineers (TSEs), CSEs take the lead in working swiftly and meticulously to keep semiconductor manufacturing moving around the world.”

Irene Gresti, KLA Italy

Before joining KLA five years ago, Irene Gresti gained significant engineering experience with different companies while studying for her bachelor’s degree. But that background didn’t prepare Irene for her fast-moving role as a CSE for KLA, where she often faces the unexpected.

Although Irene is not an installer, she had to step forward one day to resolve a configuration issue during installation of a KLA tool at a customer site by re-setting up the product to customer expectations – a potentially time-consuming process. When travel in Italy was restricted at the peak COVID-19, a KLA technical support engineer (TSE) could not visit the customer, and the regular installer had left the company during this time, meaning that Irene had to complete the installation – and fast.

“Because I had trained on this particular tool a few years prior and I’d served this customer every day for other needs, my intervention was the best and fastest option. Thanks to support from a colleague – along with studying the installation procedure – I completed the job without delays, and the customer was satisfied, which is always my goal as a CSE.”

Irene Gresti, KLA customer service engineer

It’s for that reason Irene approaches her job with a sense of methodical urgency. When customers experience issues with their equipment, she always listens carefully to their concerns and analyzes all variables to identify a solution quickly and accurately. Patience and the ability to understand their concerns is crucial in building trust and maintaining solid relationships, according to Irene.

“Having a flexible mind and a strong sense of adaptability are pillars that apply to any type of relationship, especially customer interactions,” she says. “It’s important to approach critical situations with sensibility and precision, which are the foundations of positive customer relationships.”

Trying to change lingering feelings that certain jobs may not be suitable for women is part of Irene’s daily mission: “Every day, I try to reinforce with people how anybody, regardless of gender who has deep engineering experience, has the confidence and knowhow to handle technical issues.”

Irene says the entire CSE team in Catania, Sicily works as a unit to support customers. And, if CSEs are often TSE’s arms and eyes at customer site, Irene credits TSE colleagues for their support when resolving complicated issues. Irene and other CSEs contact TSEs to help resolve difficult problems requiring in-depth system knowledge and understanding of operating principles. TSEs often consult with other engineering teams to determine the best course of quickly resolving a customer problem.

“I appreciate Arne Defosse in the U.S. for his wisdom and calm that helped me resolve a key issue some years ago and Alexander Maz in Germany, who has assisted patiently with his strong product knowledge through many situations on some of the five families of tools that I support,” she says.

Albert Xu, KLA China

Every challenge, Albert Xu believes, is an opportunity. Albert recalls his first solo outing as a new KLA customer support engineer back in 2016, and he takes to heart the lessons he learned.

A customer’s tool was down and, fresh from KLA’s preventative maintenance (PM) training, Albert tried to apply his newfound skills by checking every soon-to-expiring PM on the equipment. Years later, he now admits, “Things weren’t going smoothly. Warnings and errors were popping on and off. Around 4 p.m., someone suggested I ask for help from KLA’s support staff the next day – but the situation instead stimulated my confidence, and I kept working.”

Armed with determination but still lacking some troubleshooting experience, Albert searched manuals and checked every cable, clearing all errors one by one. Almost 12 hours later at 3 a.m., he recovered the tool, and all was well.

“From that experience, I learned to never be afraid of facing a challenge, and I enjoy growing while facing any technical issue,” he says.

Albert was actually a KLA customer before coming to work for the company. After earning his degree, he worked as an engineer at a semiconductor equipment supplier and used KLA tools to test and maintain equipment. When technical issues arose, Albert would contact KLA for support.

“This was the beginning of my relationship with KLA, and it gave me a sense of what customers are facing when they have technical issues,” he says. 

Customer production lines often run continuously. If one machine is down, other equipment may experience jams. A single tool or even the entire fab may be inoperative, taking the entire line down, Albert explains.

“You can only imagine the pressure on customers to resolve the issues. That’s why CSEs need to recover tools quickly and effectively.”

Albert Xu, KLA customer service engineer

Some issues can challenge a CSE’s skills and knowledge – and honest engagement with customers during these times can help build relationships. Albert explains: “There’s a saying in China – ‘As distance tests a horse’s strength, so time reveals a person’s heart.’ Solid relationships are built on moral standing and long-term performance.”

When faced with situations he cannot resolve alone, Albert reaches out to colleagues – both to fix an issue with a tool and, importantly, to learn and grow. “Technical support engineers (TSEs) are our strong backup who always offer valuable support,” he says. “I must mention Lu Ye. He’s kind and wise, always be patient with my questions and always offers reasonable and valuable advice. Although CSEs are a key foundation of KLA, we must also share credit with TSE colleagues.”

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