The COVID pandemic put a huge strain on Virgin Atlantic Airway’s customer service operation. All its communication channels were flooded, whether digital, telephony, social, or via the CRM system, and the airline was struggling to efficiently handle customer communications.
At the time, Virgin was running disparate technology for the different communication channels it offered, meaning agents had to be trained in multiple tools and did not have a single customer view. A customer might have been waiting in the WhatsApp queue, having already spoken to an agent on the phone. However, there was no way for the company to make that connection without agent intervention.
Coupled with the fact that many agents were working from home, handling time for customer contacts almost doubled.
Previously, Virgin was using Aspect (now Alvaria) for its telephony, quality management system and workforce management. For digital customer communications, it was using LivePerson.
The airline wanted to deliver consistently excellent service, whatever the channel, and decided to look for a cloud-based platform that would integrate all the different communication methods into a cohesive single view. Ceri Davies, customer center manager at Virgin Atlantic Airways, explains:
What we were looking for was to be able to look across all channels to understand how customers were behaving. Were they trying to get hold of us in multiple channels? Which ones are they happier with? When we were looking at the solution, we purposely wanted to go with a company that was able to house all of those.
Virgin considered products from what it deemed the top five vendors and carried out extensive research. This included compiling a list of requirements for the digital space that the airline was already supporting, including social messaging both privately and publicly on Facebook and Twitter, along with email and WhatsApp. Davies explains:
Digital was probably the space that we found it more difficult. When we went to particular vendors, they weren't always able to tick all the boxes. They may have been able to tick 90% of them, but they didn't have all the digital that we wanted.
Everyone knew a lot about the telephony, but when it came to the digital space of how we’re using our bots, that's where we found that Genesys were able to answer our questions and understood our requirements a little bit more.
Virgin began its search in 2021. The firm had several contracts coming to an end this year, including its digital contract ending in March 2022. After signing the deal for Genesys Cloud CX this January, the digital products launched on 8 March - a very tight turnaround, notes Davies – and went live with telephony in June.
In the contact center, Virgin is now using Genesys for web messaging and public social messaging. The airline’s baggage teams use SMS and WhatsApp-initiated conversations, and Genesys has also enabled Virgin to automate manual processes for its in-resort teams. Davies says:
Previously, if you were going on holiday to Barbados, for example, our in-resort teams who work in Barbados would have sent you a message manually. That message would have been making sure you were ready for your flight, anything that you needed to remember. We gave our people the gift of time as that system is automated now, so customers will get those messages and then the in-resort team just concentrate on replying.
While Virgin intends to roll out private social messaging, this is on hold at present until Virgin is able to build some better parameters around it and find the necessary resources. But Virgin already has its own chat bot, Amelia, and is in phase one of the process to integrate that into Genesys, adds Davies:
What we can't do with Amelia at the moment, is she can't hand off to an agent. We want to build that so that the bot sits in Genesys, and we can pick and choose when she will hand off to advisors.
This will allow Virgin to use the technology to put customers on different priority levels. The airline wants to integrate Genesys and Amelia into its loyalty system so the bot will be able to recognize if a customer is a gold member, for example, and would be able to prioritize an agent to speak to that person. Davies predicts:
The future next year is that Amelia will sit in front of Genesys and then we will be able to escalate customers to web messaging as and when we want.
The new platform has proved popular with the 400 Virgin Atlantic customer service agents using the technology, especially around the ability to view KPIs in the system and the launch of gamification in September. Davies observes:
We've got that little competitiveness happening within the teams now. They don't have to go into a separate system to see their KPIs, they've got their dashboard that they look at as soon as they log in.
Staff can see their coaching scores straight away. Historically, a team leader would need to visit the Aspect quality management system, listen to and mark calls in there, send the information in an email to the advisor and then book in a meeting to give feedback. In Genesys, team leaders can listen to calls in the system and add their commentary, and the advisor can read over the feedback straightaway.
Agents no longer have to navigate multiple screens, and can now manage every customer contact – calls, emails, messages, social posts, outbound campaigns – from a single unified desktop. This is supported by AI chatbots offering self-service to customers, and escalation to an agent only happens if needed.
The airline now has shorter, controllable queues and reduced system costs. Virgin has seen a 40% reduction in open tickets, and 30% of all social media contacts resolved via self-service.
While Virgin is keen to expand its use of Amelia and AI, it is also conscious of the impact this may have on the advisor experience. Virgin has focused on developing an AI strategy and improving the website so it can take more minor questions away from the contact center, and its staff can then help with the more complex queries. Davies points out:
But obviously the other thing that we need to be mindful of by doing that, is it's more stress on people's cognitive load. We are definitely mindful with how technologies can help our people as well.
Virgin is currently using SharePoint as part of its effort to support staff by pushing required information to them. While the airline is aware it isn’t utilizing the Microsoft software in the best way possible, the AI element is missing to make life easier for staff, Davies says. Virgin has been exploring various knowledge management systems to improve its offering for staff and customers.
The firm is currently running a proof of concept with one of its departments using Genesys Knowledge Center, which creates and suggests articles to users. Based on the results of this test, it could lead to a further rollout. Virgin would then be able to use Genesys Smart Advisor to read what the customer has asked and suggest relevant pages with the answer before the agent goes into the web messaging pane. Davies explains:
It's about how do we work to reduce the effort that agents are having to put in to do a good job, and freeing them up to be able to support the customer rather than having to put all the effort into using the systems and find answers.
Looking ahead, Davies is keen for Genesys to add more capabilities around workforce management and customer journey over the next year, to help integrate communications across its different departments:
If you're a customer who's in disruption, you may get an email from one of the teams in the contact center advising you that the flight's canceled and that we've re-booked you. But if you receive the call from that customer, you can't see the email that customer received. What we are really interested in is how do we link all that together so it's more of a customer journey platform and the advisor has got all the information they need.