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CRM in practice: the airline industry

15th Jan 2007
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The airline industry has been badly bit in recent years – 9/11, the war on terror, foot and mouth, pressure from the Green lobby and so on. So for firms like British Airways (BA) and Singapore Airlines, the need to contain costs is all the more essential – with the Software as a Service (SaaS) model offering great potential.

The airline has a vision of a customer-enabled where the web plays a pivotal role in allowing customers to serve themselves to everything from booking a flight, holiday or car, to checking in online, changing their booking and printing their own boarding pass. Five years ago, BA deployed RightNow to create AskBA, a customer service implementation that answers 55,000 customers’ questions every week.

“A key element of a customer enabled is that dealing with us should be so easy that customers can choose to serve themselves,” said Chris Carmichael, technology exploitation manager, at British Airways, at “It also helps to drive down operational costs by reducing dependency on the contact centre, while at the same time benefiting customers. We were looking for improved ROI above and beyond that already experienced with a continued focus on driving out even more cost from the contact centre. We wanted all of this with the additional and important caveat of improving the customer experience.”

The company wanted clearer sign posting to important site including Book Now buttons added to customer services pages for easy end-to-end transactions and a ‘manage my booking’ tab allowing customers to reach the new customer enabled functions BA reckons that every 10 items viewed during a RightNow customer service session saves BA a call. BA gets 24 million calls a year to its approximately 15 call centres in Europe and the US. Some 7 million-of these -are information-based, such as customers wanting to know how many hours before check-in they have to arrive at the airport. Each call handled live by a customer service representative costs about $4.50 to $6.

With a RightNow-enabled customer contact centre BA was able to simplify internal processes so that all Executive Club loyalty scheme related information could be streamlined into a common system for use across multiple contact channels. The system allows agents to add their own expert knowledge, which can then be viewed by colleagues while on the phone or responding to emails. It also enables details of Executive Club marketing campaigns to be made available to agents, readying them for any resulting enquiries and so helping to improve the customer experience.

The shift towards more online customer management and service also comes in handly at times of emergencies. After 9/11, usage of the BA website by travel agents increased 150 times on the usual interactions as customers looked for information on flights and schedules.

Last August the RightNow system hosted more than 4.1 million customer service interactions for during the disruptions caused by industrial action. BA had no prior warning of the disruptions that would lead to a huge usage spike concentrated across a three-day period. Overnight customer interactions rose from a daily average of around 80,000 to more than 735,000 – eight times the usual demand. As a result the usual monthly average of 2.1 million interactions doubled as customers looked for information online. Customers who called by phone were direct to the site with call queue messages, relieving some of the pressure at a time when the call centres were under unprecedented demand.

Carmichael, said. “We had no way of planning for this; we didn’t know if everything would run smoothly or how heavy the volume of traffic would be. It was only a few days after the height of the action that we actually realised how seamlessly the site had handled the huge spike in demand.”

BA is the not the first airline to have adopted the SaaS model. Air New Zealand has reported a significant reduction in call centre enquiries since the implementation of RightNow Web eService Centre (RNW eService Centre). At one point it managed in excess of 10,000 online customer queries each day during an extraordinarily hectic time for the airline. This has resulted in a rapid return on investment, as a fast resolution to an enquiry via the Web site is more cost efficient than tying a call centre operator up with a simple enquiry.

Air New Zealand recognised that a high portion of calls to its customer service team, and email traffic generated via the Web site, related to issues of a repetitive nature. This prompted the company to look for an online self-service solution to improve responsiveness to customers on its Web site and via other touch points such as email and phone.

Others are now following such examples, with Singapore Airlines using to improve collaboration between its US home-based corporate travel staff who are dispersed among various cities including Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Philadelphia and San Diego. Singapore Airlines had moved a majority of the sales team to a home office environment, and they needed an application to facilitate the collaboration between different sales people who had been reliant on e-mail and offline meetings as the main methods of communication and collaboration.

"We have a highly dispersed team of inside and outside sales representatives in North America, and it was often a challenge to collaborate as a team to meet our sales goals," said Michael Stellwag, manager of direct sales and marketing at Singapore Airlines. "We have been able to centralise all of our customer information and make it fully accessible to the members of the sales team who needed it, no matter where they were located.”

The airline has also been exploring industry specific applications in the AppExchange marketplace, with 14 downloaded and rolled out to date, including the Hoovers database access.

British Airways is one the world's largest international airlines, carrying around 36 million passengers worldwide. The airline's two main operating bases are London's two main airports, Heathrow (the world's biggest international airport) and Gatwick. British Airways franchise carriers GB Airways, British Mediterranean, Loganair, Sun Air and Comair add to the BA network to give the airline a presence in all major world markets.

Singapore Airlines has grown from a regional airline into one of the world's leading carriers. The company has a number of subsidiaries, including SilkAir, the regional wing of Singapore Airlines, Tradewinds Tour and Travel, as well as the industrial giants SIA Engineering Company, SIA Cargo, and SATS.


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