Click.: How was peak season in Customer Service?
Downham: This was my first peak season at Booking.com, and the split between partner (CSP) and guest (CSG) was quite new for me. Customer service was separated between those two segments, with agents solely focused on providing either guest or partner support and being that connection point between the two - and that's worked really well.
On the CSP side, our speed of service improved a lot and the backlog of work in our queues halved - impressive. That said, it has been busier than expected with a number of changes taking place that we needed to communicate right across our partner network so great job by everyone involved.
On CSG side, it’s been a really busy peak period with higher volumes in June putting us under a lot of pressure. That was challenging but we managed to get on top of it with a few changes to the way we work and how we prioritise activity and through the end of July and into August we have outperformed last year. There are lots of learnings for us from this year that we will take forward into future plans but a great result given the circumstances.
Click.: How does CS help our partners do their job?
Downham: I'd like to think of CS as the glue between guest and partner, especially as you get into peak season when it's typically more urgent in the guest's mind.
We have several thousand CS agents all around the world ready to help our partners whether it’s a problem at the property or after the stay, CS offers that soft, calming influence for the guest and supports the resolution. This helps alleviate any tension and then hopefully the partner doesn't feel the worries of the guest as much once they arrive.
Our partners also have a lot of questions and there have been various updates communicated to them recently, so naturally this impacts the volume of incoming queries. CS plays a really important role in providing partners with the answers they need, particularly at what is the most critical time of the year for them.
The way we've been able to support the home partners has been one of the biggest areas of improvement in the last 12 months. It's a fast growing proposition and the platform is still evolving with a lot of single property owners moving onto Booking.com.
In addition to the on-demand support that the front-line agents have provided, we've been able to share a lot of insights with the wider business that have helped inform developments on the product side. I've been really impressed with the work that has gone on across across the business around this and we’ve seen a good reduction in the amounts of contacts into our centres.
Click.: How does CS contribute to setting the tone for the guest's experience?
Downham: I think it's essential. The ease with which guests can enjoy a great travel experience with Booking.com and our partners is vital for long term success - the smoother that process is, the more likely they are to do it again. The more we can bring the role of Booking.com and the role of the partner closer together in the eyes of the guest, the more they will come back in the future. Our CS agents in the front line play a key role in that.
Click.: How is technology helping CS?
Downham: The number one goal for customers is solving the problem and doing so with speed. So we have to be faster. We're increasingly moving to online text channel support, with a messaging product that we provide pretty significant support to guests and partners on.
There are a lot of benefits to that: it's convenient for customers who are typically using their mobile to communicate; agents love it because they can reach out for help from colleagues without the customer being put on hold. But perhaps one of the biggest benefits is being able to analyse the interaction, translate it from 40 plus languages and feed it back into A.I. to drive the machine support - plus it allows us to push those insights to the rest of the business quicker.
Developing these innovations will be a big priority over the next couple of years, progressing how we shift away from phone and email to live text-based interaction.
Click.: What is unique about how Booking.com approaches CS?
Downham: The philosophy of Booking.com is that CS is not a cost centre to the business, which is typically how it can be seen. Instead we really focus on the value of CS, and being a customer and partner first business. We continue to aim for a balance but I found that philosophy quite refreshing, because then there is an appetite for continually improving.
Our agents really do care about customers and partners. If you spend time with CS you find that they are deeply passionate about providing great service. This is not always easy; sometimes the way in which problems are resolved - the systems, the information - is complicated. So, a big focus for me is how to take that complexity away and help CS agents do what they most enjoy doing - helping the individual customer or partner. Get those things right and I don't see any reason why we couldn't have the best CS organisation in the world.
- Booking.com customer service is split between partner (CSP) and guest (CSG), with agents focused specifically on providing support to these segments
- Peak season 2019 saw the speed of CSP improve considerably and the backlog of work halved
- Insights CS agents gain from contacts with partners are shared with the wider business to help inform future developments
- Technological innovations such as messaging and machine learning will be a big priority in the next few years