Jon Thorne – Skyscanner’s Director of User Satisfaction – once described himself as an ‘expert complainer’. Because in his 8+ years of heading up Skyscanner’s user satisfaction team, he’s personally dealt with thousands of customer queries, complaints and downright bizarre requests.
With up to 100 million monthly visitors, yet a team of just 15 user satisfaction agents – Jon and his team know a thing or two about how to keep customers happy, and how to deal with large volumes of customer support requests, across multiple languages and time zones.
We spoke to him to get some tips and advice on how Skyscanner approaches their customer service challenges, and how they increased customer happiness (CSAT), and productivity at the same time.
It’s my team’s job to keep our customers happy and therefore ensure they come back to Skyscanner. So customer satisfaction – CSAT – is the big one for us. After every interaction we have with a customer, we ask the classic CSAT question:
“Were you happy with the support you received: yes or no?”
That then becomes a percentage. We when we first started measuring CSAT back around 2015, it was about 75%. That gave us a strong signal that our customer support wasn’t in great shape.
We also measure ‘time to first response’, and ‘time of full resolution’. People like to have their questions acknowledged quickly, and ultimately they just want to have their situation resolved as fast as possible.
Because we’re a comparison site, customer queries often involve us interacting with a third party – for example an airline, travel agent or hotel – which puts some questions beyond our direct control; this can make full resolution measures much more challenging for us though.
We needed more data. We needed to understand what the specific problems were. So we started measuring lots of other things, like the amount or type of macros (pre-written template responses to common questions) we were using, the airline or travel agent that was involved, the differences between CSAT in the 35 different languages we support, and various other things.
We needed to know how all these other factors affected how happy our customers were. This allowed us to identify exactly where we were falling short, and where the opportunities for improvement were.
One of the biggest problems we saw was that in the earlier days of Skyscanner – we had a tiny customer support team (just 3 people!) - but thousands of tickets to deal with. We were swamped and simply could not reply personally to everyone.
But from our analysis, we saw that a huge number of these tickets were asking for quite simple information that we just weren’t providing, or info that we did provide, but that was not easy for users to find. So we invested a lot in improving our ‘self-serve’ support. Creating a resource of commonly asked questions and problems and ensuring that users could find that information quickly and easily.
It’s obviously different for different businesses but in Skyscanner’s case, if we look back to when the company first started, we had pretty much the most basic form of customer support: an email inbox. That quickly becomes unmanageable as you grow so the next most obvious thing is a ticketing system; we currently use Zendesk.
This is a great tool and things like macros are huge for us. For all of the common questions like: ‘Where's my booking confirmation? How do I change my booking? How do I cancel my booking? Etc’ we've got pre-written responses in multiple languages that we can deploy with a few clicks (always personalising wherever possible).
The triggers and automations in Zendesk are also extremely powerful and we can automate a lot and we have reminders of going back to customers, making sure we don't forget about people.
Next we focussed on our self-help section, both creating content and making it easier to find. By empowering users to find answers to their questions more efficiently, we massively reduced the need for customers to raise support tickets.
This is a win-win; customers are happier because they get an instant answer, and my team are happier because it means we have more resource to focus on the tickets which really do require more in-depth investigation, or on other continuous improvement projects.
For instance through our contact form, there's some natural language processing which suggests relevant help articles as people are typing the description of what their case is about.
We have continually improved the self-help section of Skyscanner, meaning that only a very small proportion of those visiting the help site end up raising a support ticket. This also means that we’re now much better equipped to deal with further user growth because we have a more scalable customer support model.
In our case, because we deal with many languages, we also use a really smart tool called Unbabel. It uses a combination of human and machine translation and allows us to respond to people in their native languages without resorting to machine translation, which can be a disaster, because you get lots of misunderstandings.
Beyond this there are further productivity improvements we are now considering such as the use of an AI writing assistant for our customer support replies, chat bots and other tooling.
From all these improvements, we’ve reached the point where our CSAT score is consistently above 90%. We’re very pleased with the significant increase we’ve driven, but we’re always striving to improve it. I’d love to get to 100% but there’ll always be a few cases where the customer is not completely happy, so 90+ is a pretty good place to be and I’m proud of the work the team has done to get us there.
As businesses scale, there’s certainly a danger of that happening. Often when a business reaches a certain size, the emphases can change from product quality and growth, to increasing efficiencies and cost-cutting. When teams are asked to do more with less, that can be pretty hard to do. It can also often lead to innovation, but ensuring that the focus remains on helping customers more efficiently and effectively, rather than just saving money, is key.
Skyscanner always puts the user first, so we never do anything that would negatively impact CSAT. By implementing the tools and methods we have, we were able to increase our productivity, and CSAT at the same time. It’s not simple, but with the right mindset and execution, we’ve shown that it is possible.
We certainly have! Although most of the feedback we receive is from people we can genuinely help, over the years we’ve also had the occasional bizarre request or misdirected enquiry. Here is just a small selection:
"Are there any airlines which I can transfer two sheep from England to Greece? Which days and times can I fly and how can I pay?"
"I lost a small makeup-bag with my and my dog’s passports, e-tickets and boarding card. The bag was black with a red heart on and the text ‘ELLE’. I would be happy if you could find it! My dog’s name is Ozzy."
"When we went to Tokyo, we stopped and changed plane in Amsterdam. I looked in the shops and I, who doesn´t often find a perfume that I like, found one which I loved the smell of. But, when I tried it in Tokyo, it was not the same and the smell went away quite soon. I wonder: do you sell a different kind than the one your costumers can try? I´m so disappointed. I would like a true answer."
"I just saw a plane flying way too low over my area in west Edinburgh at around 23:30hrs. The plane looked to be flying at approx 500ft high from the ground. Can you please give some insight about this as this was frightening to see a plane so low?"
“Hello dear, if you want buy any Airbus aircraft we can supply your company with 80% financing. If you want, please come back to me very soon. Thanks.”
Jon Thorne is the Director of User Satisfaction at Skyscanner – the global travel comparison website with over 100 million monthly visitors.
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