Integrating and virtualizing global contact centers

Integrating and virtualizing global contact centers

How Etihad Airways is delivering a first-class customer experience in 16 languages across 40 countries.

As the air travel industry continues to consolidate, global standards are being employed to ensure control systems talk to each other, and this trend is starting to appear in airlines’ internal systems too—particularly contact centers.

  • Etihad Airways has grown to become one of the world’s leading airlines, serving 116 destinations around the world in multiple languages.
  • It has also taken minority stakes in seven international airlines.
  • When it set out to virtualize its contact centers, it wanted all three far-flung locations—Abu Dhabi and Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates and Manchester, United Kingdom—to act in perfect harmony.

“The challenge was those legacy contact centers were run as individual sites. There was no sense of a single contact center servicing the entire Etihad Airways business,” says the airline’s project manager, Alex Holcroft. A transformation was required to establish uniformly high service standards, he said, and it also had to ensure easy contact center integration for new acquisitions.

Holcroft sought to make lasting changes that would drive the airline’s future success and continue to provide the airline’s guests with a first-class experience in 16 languages across 40 countries no matter where their call landed.

Turning three into one
Contact centers are the airline’s most important opportunity to create a positive first impression, and Etihad Airways anticipated enormous business benefits from transforming its three contact centers into one virtual entity.

“As the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, we want passengers to feel like our guests from the very first call, wherever they are,” says Ruth Birkin, Etihad Airways’ head of global contact centers.

  • The airline chose to implement the BT Cloud Contact Cisco platform delivered from the cloud on pay-as-you-go terms.  
  • It combined all three of Etihad Airways’ contact centers and transformed them into one virtual entity that integrates inbound calls into a single queue.

“We’re consuming the contact center as a service,” says Robert Webb, Etihad Airways’ CIO and CTO. “We’re able to use our 450 multi-lingual agents around our centers much more effectively. We’ve already started to see a 10 percent increase in their efficiency.”

Precision platform for the future
Etihad Airways now has a complete set of advanced features including IVR, call recording, multichannel call handling and workforce optimization. Callers from 40 countries can be directed to one of 16 language teams across the three contact centers.

“This is really a set of next generation capabilities that’s critical to the success of interactions with our guests around the world,” says Webb.

One particular feature the airline and its customers benefit from is precision queuing, which uses logic to go beyond skills-based routing. “When the call comes in, precision queuing routes that guest to exactly the right agent,” says Birkin. “They may be in Manchester or they may be here in the UAE.”

  • The Cisco Powered™ platform is able to easily accommodate new routes, such as Abu Dhabi to Madrid, which began service in 2015. The process to set up Spanish-language menus on the global IVR system, as well as test new numbers, was fast and straightforward.
  • The airline was also able to increase productivity and better serve cargo customers, which account for 20 percent of its income. The workforce optimization features of the platform helped the cargo team bring even more professionalism to customer responses.

“The transformation has enabled us to automate tasks that were previously manual, such as rostering and call volume forecasting,” says Alistair Burrows, head of contact centers at Etihad Cargo. Cargo customers tend to have an average call abandonment time of 10 seconds. If a call’s not answered quickly, the airline will likely lose the business, he says. “We can be there when they call and answer much more quickly than previously.”

Overall, Etihad Airways now has essential insight and management information across the three contact centers, allowing it to maximize performance and reduce operating costs through optimization, says Birkin. “The tools and technology that agents have on their desktops really put them in control of their work.”

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