Australia's second budget airline knew it had to keep customer support costs low to remain viable. One small system, David Braue explains, played a major role in making that happen.
Travel and hospitality.
Cost has long been king in Australia's rapidly changing discount airline landscape, but that doesn't mean customer expectations are any lower. Seeking to provide responsive customer service while keeping its costs in check, Qantas subsidiary Jetstar was already looking for ways to use the Web to lower phone operator costs when it began selling tickets in February 2004.
Two years later, the company's customer support strategy has paid off handsomely. Although Jetstar maintains a call centre for handling many customer enquiries, the focus of customer support is very much on the Internet, which is used by over 80 percent of Jetstar customers to book tickets. There, Jetstar maintains an interactive searchable database of more than 100 of the questions most commonly asked by customers.
Those questions may be simple -- covering, for example, the baggage allowance on a Jetstar flight or the terminal from which the airline flies -- or they may be more complicated, such as Jetstar's contentious 30-minute arrival policy, under which passenger tickets are cancelled if the passengers don't present for check-in at least half an hour prior to departure.
Either way, says customer relationships manager Susan Young, the high cost of having a human operator field common questions over the phone put an interactive Web support database high on the company's to-do list as it prepared for its launch.
"The low-fares model is very different from the Qantas premium airline model," she explains. "Part of our brand communications is that we want to be fresh, and also very honest about what those differences are. But to keep our costs down, a central part of our distribution strategy is to have customers self-process whenever possible."
Although many companies settle for publishing a simple Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list to their Web site to clarify relevant policies, Jetstar recognised that a more friendly customer support engine would make customers more willing to turn to the site for answers. It soon settled upon RightNow Technologies Knowledge Base application, an interactive repository that allows customers to enter their queries using natural-language queries and fully-formed English sentences.
Jetstar's RightNow database began with around 100 questions raised during brainstorming sessions by the company's customer support staff, and that number has steadily increased in the intervening years. The database is hosted by RightNow on servers in the United States, but the page templates have been customised to match Jetstar's own branding and requirements.
All told, Jetstar's site is handling more than 20,000 customer enquiries and 40,000 page views per month -- far more than the company initially expected. Volumes have increased steadily as Jetstar expanded its network across Australia and to New Zealand, forcing the company to renegotiate the scope of its initial RightNow licence.
Susan Young, customer relationships manager, Jetstar
"We wanted to do more than a FAQ," says Young. "FAQs are quite limited, relying on drilling through a page of questions and answers. RightNow adds a sophisticated Web site search that has reduced the load [on the call centre] substantially. It's a valuable part of the whole customer relationship management strategy: if customers can go to the Web site and find the answer they want, it saves them a whole lot of time having to sit on the phone to the call centre."
Rather unexpectedly, the knowledge base has also proved popular for internal use, with Jetstar employees and travel agents often referring to it to answer their own enquiries. In this way, the RightNow database has become a significant central knowledge repository for everyone involved in Jetstar's expanding supply chain. Even employees of arm's-length relative Qantas use the site regularly.
Simply putting its Q&As online was only the start for Jetstar, however. Because there are so many different regulations that apply to customer travel -- and because these regulations are frequently changing -- the content on the site not only needs to be comprehensive, but must be regularly reviewed and updated.
This requirement has forced the customer relationship team to maintain constant contact with business leaders, who are responsible for updating their content but must pass it through the central point before publication in RightNow.
"We're keeping the publishing from one point for a number of reasons," Young explains. "For quality assurance and change management, it's easier to bring content through centrally. The system is very easy to support, and once you set up the look and feel you don't have to touch it again."
Where possible, the team uses Web links -- for example, to the frequently-changing Jetstar route map -- to reduce the risk of discrepancies between multiple copies of similar content. Queries about topics that aren't covered are flagged, potentially leading to creation of new RightNow entries. And, every three to six months, the entire RightNow database is scanned and updated as necessary to ensure the timeliness of the information it contains.
"The product is constantly evolving," says Young. "It's a very good reporting tool that allows us to evaluate what people are asking that we're not answering."
Because it contains important information on company policies, the RightNow database is revisited whenever the company undergoes major changes to its business structure.
For example, a major review was conducted when it recently began flying to New Zealand and found itself having to implement major policy changes across a range of business lines. A similar review is planned for later this year, when Jetstar commences long-haul flights that will extend its reach into completely new markets. With a broadening customer base, issues such as multi-lingual content will immediately become critical.
While Young declined to reveal Jetstar's investment or cost savings from Knowledge Base, it seems strong success with the RightNow environment has recently driven Jetstar to expand its investment in the technology. With so many employees regularly relying on the site, the addition of RightNow Metrics customer survey software this month will allow the content team to automatically survey internal users -- including staff masquerading as "mystery shoppers" to anonymously test out the service -- about the site's overall effectiveness.
Two years since its launch, the system's growth has been strong confirmation of the perceived value of online self-service. For a system that started out as little more than an overblown FAQ, RightNow has exceeded expectations and continues to serve an important role within Jetstar's overall customer relationship management strategy.
"The fact that the number of enquiries is maintaining at a similar level -- and increasing -- shows that customers are getting the benefits out of it that they want," says Young. "If it were an FAQ that was less user friendly, I don't think it would have taken off as much."