​Flight Centre on becoming a 'centre of operational excellence'

Using technology, Flight Centre slashed call times from 14 minutes to 4, and reduced outages by 88 percent.


Retail travel company Flight Centre has a presence around the world, boasting approximately 10,000 employees in Australia and another 8,000 or-so internationally that all consume services hosted domestically.

Despite having almost 20,000 staff -- customers as Flight Centre Enterprise Operations Manager Michelle Carroll calls them -- there was previously only one way to contact head office, and that resulted in inbound calls being basically unmanageable.

Special feature

Digital Transformation: A CXO's Guide

Reimagining business for the digital age is the number-one priority for many of today's top executives. We offer practical advice and examples of how to do it right.

Read More

"Call volumes were through the roof, they had no way to self-service -- they couldn't search a knowledge base, etc -- my call queues at times were in excess of 200 calls waiting for 48 minutes at best," Carroll said during the ServiceNow NowForum in Sydney.

"That's not a good user experience."

Having used ServiceNow in previous roles, Carroll said she went on a mission to convince the bean-counters and the senior executive layer of Flight Centre that it needed to undergo a significant transformation, using technology from ServiceNow as an enabler.

To Carroll, it wasn't a digital transformation Flight Centre undertook, but a shift to become a "centre of operational excellence".

Flight Centre stood up the project called ServiceMe, which Carroll said despite being a bit tongue-in-cheek, was designed around being used by millennials who don't want to take the time to research something.

"We had to make it Googlesque ... We gave it a fun image, it's got a Lego fit-out, it uses their language, 'I want something', 'something is broken, just fix it IT' -- so we did that," she explained.

Despite Carroll's ROI specifying improvements were to be recognised within seven months, she said it took at most four weeks to see improvements.

"Within four weeks ... due to the implementation of this portal, call volumes had reduced by 50 percent and average wait times went from 14 minutes to 4 [minutes] on average," she continued.

"Customer satisfaction was in the toilet -- there was no other way to describe it -- it's now sitting at 4.8 out of 5.

"Every productivity second lost is a consultant potentially not committing on a sale, so a sale gets lost or another consultant gets to pick it up. It's a very competitive environment to work in and we needed to improve that."

All of the top tier applications that are revenue-generated or are critical to business operation, Carroll said, have been mapped out to allow a simple view of the health of an application, such as a travel booking system, a service from a SaaS provider, or a bespoke travel application.

"My gold, my pipe dream is zero outages, zero P1 incidents, in any given calendar month," she said. "I've got a lot of systems and services to take into that vision."

Despite having further to go on its digital transformation journey, the meantime to restoration since Flight Centre went live has already reduced by 88 percent.

"And that equates to millions of dollars in potential loss sell that we didn't lose -- and that is a massive achievement," Carroll added.

It wasn't all smooth sailing, however, with Carroll touching on the difficulty involved in changing the way things have always been done within an organisation. Especially she said when the average IT tenure at Flight Centre is 15 years.

"I've been involved in fiery conversations with people that have been there a long time ... those same people are still coming up after a period of time apologising for their behaviour asking how to get a taste of this vision and journey ... Architects as an example," she explained. "You've got to prove what you're saying can become a reality. It's not just a sell, there is something tangible.

"Next step in our journey to complete the orchestration and automation of all the moving parts of what it means to be operationally excellent all the way through in a streamlined fashion."

The comments regarding a cultural battle to stand up technology from Carroll follow reports from the ABC that detailed in August a toxic culture within Flight Centre.

The company has been accused of ripping off customers and underpaying staff, with the ABC also reporting some staff told them working at Flight Centre was like being in a cult.

The report details the practice of Flight Centre encouraging travel consultants -- who are reportedly paid below Australia's minimum wage -- to add hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars to bookings.

This followed Flight Centre in April being ordered to pay AU$12.5 million in fines to the ACCC for attempts to fix international fares between 2005 and 2009.