The online travel business is a dynamic industry with seasonal highs and lows and fast turnover of “products” — the tickets, reservations and packages it sells. Providing excellent customer support is difficult. This article explains how one such company outsourced its customer support services to address the many challenges of staying competitive.
The client is one of largest online travel companies in the US and offers online booking of airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, vacation packages, cruises, and destination tours and services. It has progressively added several travel-related product lines in the last five years. With the increasing scope of services, the travel company required its service provider to be flexible and to constantly align its services with changing business conditions. The service provider’s job was to provide personalized email response services with a turnaround time of no more than three hours on 24×7 basis, year-round.
The specific challenges the travel company faced included:
- Maintaining high levels of quality in the face of varying business volumes, over bookings and shortfalls.
- Accurately forecasting customer support volumes in the dynamic and seasonal travel business.
- Continually and frequently updating a wide customer base with policy changes, upgrades and product and service information.
The company it turned to in order to meet these challenges was Motif, a service provider with operations in Morristown, NJ, USA, Ahmedabad, India and Manila, Philippines.
The Quality Assurance Challenge
The challenge was maintaining high levels of quality in the face of varying business volumes, over-bookings and shortfalls. Since the company deals with travel, volume varies with weather issues. Support involves assisting stranded air travelers and canceling hotel and rental car reservations.
The Motif quality assurance (QA) team worked in tandem with the client’s QA manager to adhere to quality guidelines. Based on the Motif team’s performance, the e-mail QA process was moved to Motif. Almost immediately, Motif’s in-house QA team provided the client with an itemized score sheet for grading processed e-mails. Calibration calls (which were conducted once a month by the client to ensure that Motif was delivering service consistent with the expectations of the client’s product managers) resulted in as low as 0.3% variances. The Motif QA team then formulated detailed QA guidelines to be used along with the score sheet. The sheet contained point values for specific parameters such as accuracy, grammar, punctuation and documentation in broad categories (such as soft skills and process accuracy). The evaluation sample size of the emails was three emails per process associate per week. Motif’s average calibration variance was under a percent (0.75% to be precise) whereas the client’s expectation was less than 5%.
Based on the effective QA procedure internally implemented by Motif, which exceeded the client’s quality expectations (as shown in the figure), the client outsourced the customer support quality function to Motif. Earlier, the client did the QA process in-house. Quality enhancements included consistent policy and guideline improvements, very low calibration variances and accuracy and consistency in scoring.
Resource Allocation to Meet Fluctuating Customer Support Volumes
Online travel is a dynamic and seasonal business. With multiple product offerings and fluctuating volumes, the daunting challenge here was to maintain a service turnaround time of a maximum of three hours (this service guarantee is stated to each customer when he or she sends an email through the client website. One aspect of that guarantee is that the service would maintain high levels of accuracy.
To handle volume variation and resource allocation, Motif’s operations team developed a volume forecasting analysis process that projected the monthly, weekly, daily and hourly volumes based on statistical data collected over the years. The process analyzed historical data, taking into consideration seasonal variations, special offers and promotions from the client, political and economic trends, flight occupancies and the client’s share of the occupancy and other factors. This analysis was necessary because an unforeseen spike in email volume at odd hours would make it difficult for Motif to staff and schedule the program effectively at short notice.
The analysis helped forecast and schedule required resources based on requirements and helped maintain SLAs mandating specific turnaround times.
Continually Updating and Informing Client Customers
The client’s numerous customer relationship and loyalty programs, sales and marketing updates, acquisitions and continuous product upgrades required Motif to be constantly updated with these changes to effectively serve and support the client’s customers.
Motif developed an in-house queries database tool using Oracle 10g to keep track of daily updates and queries. This tool helped in speeding up the information dissemination process among all associates in a 24×7 environment. It also provided real-time updates. Whereas the client’s earlier CRM tool had a section for updates, they remained valid and available for reading for only 60 days. Motif’s innovative tool contained all the updates the team had received to date — with the exception of those that were no longer valid. Process associates could updates originally released as far back as six years previous. The updates were entered or updated by team leaders via a graphical interface, and the process associates had read-only access to the database via the same interface.
Quick access to correct guidelines ensured efficient and accurate resolution of the end-customer’s questions. This helped improve customer relationships as well as customer response quality and productivity.
Process Improvement and Content Development
Motif’s operations team continues to provide suggestions to the client for the improvement of QA processes, website functions and features of their customer relationship management tool. This has resulted in weekly focus group calls among the two companies’ operation managers, QA managers and team leaders to improve the client’s only medium of sale — its website and customer interaction processes. Because of Motif’s product knowledge, resolution of bottlenecks and ability to go the extra mile, the client provided Motif’s operations team with direct access to its website to make direct changes to the customer-facing content.
Motif identifies and reports system bugs (if any) and has assigned dedicated resources for managing content.
The service provider also proactively continues to develop additional content for new products, features and launches. Requests from the client come in the form of an announcement of a change in the policy or a new feature being launched. Motif’s process associates develop content (scripted guidelines in-house). The content development team determines what changes need to be made in the scripts, sends updated drafts to the client for approval and loads approved content via the CRM tool (using specific user logins).
Outsourcing to Motif has enabled the client to achieve high productivity and quality standards in its customer interactions. By employing in-house tools, Motif automated processes, monitored and improved quality and enhanced productivity for the client. Motif’s focus on quality and its ability to provide flexibility to the client has resulted in higher customer satisfaction and eventual expansion of the program from a single product line to eight product lines.