The travel industry was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, as March 2020 saw so many routes shut down across the globe, and some countries closing their borders to international visitors. For Spanish shipping company Baleària, this had an immediate impact on its customer support channels.
The Mediterranean and Caribbean ferry operator saw an increase of more than 500% in the volume of contacts during the first weeks of the pandemic, and was receiving the same number of requests in a month that it normally got in a year. Maribel Linares, Project Manager, Partnership, Loyalty and Customer Experience at Baleària, says:
Normally we have this big amount of queries when a boat is canceled because there's a storm or an engine breaks down. Or you cannot go to the Caribbean because the weather is awful, and we need to offer them a change of boat or do you want to cancel or change the date or change the port. We're used to these ups and downs.
When the pandemic started, summer was already sold. There were cancellations and people couldn't move properly because cities were locked down. The big amount of queries came because all these people needed to get a voucher and the call center takes on all the managing or changing or canceling."
While this put huge amounts of pressure on the customer experience team, they faced an extra challenge as all the queries needed to be dealt with by phone or email. Before the pandemic hit, Baleària already knew it needed to shift to an omni-channel approach and offer additional ways of handling queries. Even though so much travel was halted by COVID, the firm still transported more than 4.5 million passengers last year. It needed to find a way to let all these customers get in touch via the channel that suits them, whether telephone, email, chat, WhatsApp or social media.
Getting on board with Zendesk
The Coronavirus crisis sped up Baleària's omni-channel plans, and in April last year, the firm implemented Zendesk. Linares says the choice was based on the intuitive and scalable aspects of the Zendesk technology, along with the short-term implementation period required. She explains:
We did some market research and we tried several tools. We asked our agents to try them in their normal work, we did an agent customer experience and Zendesk was the one that included everything that we wanted. It was important for us that it was scalable, you can start with a small product and then just keep growing.
The trial period lasted around 25 days in all, and the firm tested three different products, including Zendesk and Altitude. Zendesk was the last product tested, and came recommended by the firm's innovation and IT team.
According to Linares, agents found it easy to make the switch from their former processes using emails and calls to using the Zendesk system, guided by help from its support website and health center. It simplified the existing process of logging whether each contact related to a sale or information, once an email or call had been handled.
It took around seven to nine days to set everyone up on Zendesk ticketing to resolve queries via the system, and Baleària integrated its existing Genesys PureCloud calling service into Zendesk with no problems. Linares says:
We approached the project in a good way, working with an agile methodology — everything can be changed, there's always time to go back. You don't need these massive projects that take a year, and then once you've got it rolled out, the thing you needed 300 days ago is already old. Go little by little, and from the minimum available product, just go out and test it a lot first, listen to your customers and your partners.
Adding chat and WhatsApp
Once ticketing was up and running, Baleària expanded the system to add Zendesk Chat and WhatsApp, which it rolled out across the business in just two days. Offering support for these channels is becoming increasingly important for businesses as people turn more and more to apps like WhatsApp and away from email for their communications, a fact reflected in Zendesk's move last month to upgrade messaging from an optional add-on to a core part of its customer service offering.
Baleària is currently using WhatsApp to deliver boarding passes to customers, which lets passengers avoid ticket office crowds — especially important with social distancing measures in place. The company is also sending travel-related notifications via WhatsApp to passengers traveling to the Balearic Islands, including Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza. Customers can receive tickets and vehicle passes through the app, or can sign up for SMS as an alternative.
Rather than restricting the Zendesk tools to the Customer Experience team, Baleària involved other departments in resolving tickets during the pandemic, with the intention of getting all staff to be customer-focused and of dealing with the huge volumes of queries faster.
As well as the call center and customer care teams, invoicing, the Caribbean team and some sales staff are using the technology as well, all as a light agent. So almost every department is aware of the Zendesk product and receives notifications about tickets or if a client is contacting them. This has brought all departments closer to the reality of the client, and lets them quantify what they do. Linares elaborates:
We showed them and they were really interested because it was easy, and because you've got this analytics part, which is fantastic for every department, then you realize what you have to spend more money on or if something is not working. It makes us a closer team as everyone knows what the rest are doing.
The idea of doing it as a team, including at least one or two people from every single department, is important because you cannot do a project like this thinking I work in the office, I don't pick up the phone. You really need the commitment from everyone on the team, and you can reach it by including them in every single step and not just at the end.
Faster resolution with a chatbot
The next stage will be to offer the chatbot through WhatsApp, which is something Baleària is working with Zendesk to implement. This further shift to messaging will decrease the pressure on customer care staff as people are less likely to pick up the phone once there are additional tools to use. Linares says:
You can talk to an agent on WhatsApp or web chat, which is better for the agents, because once you're in a call, you're just with one call, but you can be with up to five chats. So it's a live channel, but it's not as restricted as a call. The work that they're doing is more efficient and they've got a lot of shortcuts and macros that they can use.
Baleària has also been able to discover the top 20 questions people are asking, which can be answered without talking to an agent and the firm has worked on adding the relevant information to its help center. She adds:
There are many questions that with the chatbot and the help center would be one-touch, information questions, so they won't reach an agent, meaning fewer calls and emails and tickets. Also clients are being re-educated, they know if you call for something urgent, an agent will pick up because we've got priorities on the calls. If there's something that is not urgent, then you know, you can find out on the website on the help center or you can ask the chatbot.
The firm is also rolling out a self-service system, which will let customers manage their own tickets on the web site and could be in place by this summer. For now, customers are benefiting from less contact with the company and shorter timeframes to get their queries resolved. Linares says:
Before, if you were sending an email saying, I want to change my ticket date, you didn't know if you needed to provide the ticket number, your identity card, or whatever details. Now when they open a ticket on our website, you choose which kind of client you are — for instance an agency and I want to change five people's date — and it immediately displays what we need to action your change. Previously, that required four emails, now we're one-touch answers.
Linares thinks the firm will be operating more or less as normal by the summer, as COVID-19 continues to subside and we move into the Vaccine Economy. However, this very much depends on the lifting of government travel restrictions and progress in the rollout of the vaccine. Whatever the case, Baleària is now prepared for any future spike in customer query volumes.