Booking.com's approach to employee experience in the contact centre has seen it scoop multiple prizes at the ECCCSA awards over the years. So what's its secret?
Once labelled the Victorian workhouses of the modern era, contact centres have had to fight off their fair share of negative perception, especially in the face of attempting to reverse higher-than-average staff turnover rates.
The stats continue to hurt: call centres have an average UK turnover of 15%, and have to replace 26% of frontline agents every year.
Research from the CIPD suggests the average cost for replacing a member of staff at a call centre is £6,125, which based on the average number of seats in UK call centres means an annual cost to a business of £202,125.
Many brands have had no choice but to instate a more measured approach to retaining and developing their call centre talent as a result of such insidious trends. However, in the case of Booking.com, this was always considered part of the DNA.
“We operate in an incredibly fast-paced industry where emerging technologies are continuously fuelling new kinds of travel experiences, which also means new expectations from our customers,” says Alessandro Rotelli, regional director of customer service EMEA at Booking.com.
“The only way to keep pace and continue delivering ever more efficient and personalised levels of service is to invest in the development of our people, something that has been central to our company since our days as a small start-up.
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“Good people can be hard to find, so when we find them, we like to invest in their future. Professional and personal development across all levels and areas of our business is not only great for engagement, but it also ensures that we are able to share knowledge efficiently and that our people are empowered to grow their expertise and explore different career paths within our organisation.”
The only way to keep pace and continue delivering ever more efficient and personalised levels of service is to invest in the development of our people
Booking.com’s commitment to employee experience has been well-documented, and resulted in recognition from both in and outside the contact centre industry, including last year’s ECCCSA awards, where the online travel site scooped the prize of pan-European contact centre of the year.
So what’s the company’s approach? A key component is understanding the journeys employees take with the company, and how they coalesce with the journeys their customers take with them.
“The employee experience at Booking.com is integrated into everything we do and is approached as a holistic journey,” adds Rotelli.
“It starts the moment future talent first interacts with our company, whether it’s through a video on social media or a recruitment event. As we are a technology company that focuses on travel, we apply similar data-driven principles when identifying the core journeys for our people by focusing on key touch points throughout their career.
“We do this in a variety of ways, such as creating employee personas to guide technical project design and using them to construct engaging processes that focus on the overall employee experience when performing certain tasks.
“We also provide bespoke learning journeys which have a strong focus on building technical skills, as well as specific behaviours which contribute to our unique approach to customer support."
Booking.com’s method dovetails with the doctrine of employee engagement expert and author, Rob Catalano, who outlines five requirements of understanding employee journeys:
- Look outwards. Change your HR approach to look outwards towards the employee, not inwards towards ‘core HR’. Ask yourself how many major initiatives in the last three years were really providing value to employees, versus value predominantly to your HR department.
- Get transformational, not transactional. If your engagement practices are a set of activities or targets as a result of a survey, then it is reactive and transactional. To be transformational there needs to be a deep belief in the power of people to contribute and that employees are integral to deliver business strategy.
- Your strategy must impact employees daily. Consumers are fickle and expect great products and service, instantly. Your annual initiatives and programmes won’t work. Employees work in days and hours, not quarters or years.
- Engage managers. Managers often get overlooked, but they’re employees too. Too often, they’re not ready for management and don’t have the skill set or experience. Make managers part of the process of developing the strategy and enacting it with employees. Managers have more impact on changing the organisation positively than leaders or executives.
- Get ‘employee-specific’. ‘One size fits all’ doesn’t work for consumers and it won’t for employees either. Think about the time you’re being mass-marketed to and you ignore it – your employees are no different. There needs to be a genuine interest in the individual employee.
And as Rotelli explains, the fundamental requirement of mapping employee journeys is to establish a process by which all employees are given individual, personalised, regular dispensation.
“We work hard to provide our people with the tools and resources they need to make their own employee journeys successful. A big part of this is offering a variety of courses and development opportunities, including everything from on-the-job coaching and structured training to short-term assignments on other teams that will help them to develop their skills and expertise.
“This is further reinforced by a quarterly performance management cycle, so we can regularly track how each person is doing and optimise key touch points accordingly to ensure that our people have the support they need to thrive. All of this sets our people up for success within their current role, as well as for their long-term journey with Booking.com.
“Additionally, because of our ongoing growth, there are always a wide variety of open roles for people who want to grow and take on new challenges across the business, whether that’s within customer service or in a different part of our company.”
We provide bespoke learning journeys which have a strong focus on building technical skills, as well as specific behaviours which contribute to our unique approach to customer support
It is over 20 years ago since the seminal Harvard Business Review article ‘Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work’ detailed research proposing happy employees = happy customers = happy shareholders.
An equally influence 2006 Gallup report that examined over 23,000 business units highlighted that companies with engagement levels in the top quartile averaged 12% higher customer advocacy than those in the bottom quartile.
For Booking.com, this correlation is played out in the company’s efforts to empower its staff.
“Within customer service, everything we do is focused on increasing partner and customer satisfaction,” adds Rotelli. “This means our processes and ways of working are built around providing swift and precise answers, supporting customers and trip providers alike, advocating on their behalf as necessary and helping to find solutions. Our people are fundamental for this to work.
“The more empowered they are, the more information they have at their disposal, the more they are able to contribute to process optimisation, it drives a more satisfying experience, both for our people and ultimately for our customers.”
Booking.com recently revealed its guest query resolution rate is at an all-time high – almost 95% of all queries are resolved within 24 hours. The company continues to raise the stakes when it comes to its customer service levels, serving ‘more customers, better and faster’ whilst increasing customer satisfaction scores. Rotelli maintains that none of this could be achieved without an engaged and highly-motivated workforce.
“When our people are happy, it comes across in the way they interact with our customers. When customers hear an upbeat, energetic voice on the other end of the phone when they have a question or problem during their trip, it automatically has a positive impact on how they feel.
“We wholeheartedly believe that our people are a real company asset and a huge part of the Booking.com success story. That’s why we aim to make our people happy, feel valued for what they do and support them in every way possible to realise their dreams. When we do that right, they develop a natural instinct to do the same for our customers and always go the extra mile to deliver great service.”
About Chris Ward
Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.