Bring Clarity and Visibility to Your Customer Service Strategy with a Scalable CRM
If I could travel back to 2018 and have a conversation with myself, I know exactly what I’d say: “Don’t wait until your tools prove to be inadequate and begin to impact customers. Find resilient platforms that will scale with customer needs and business growth.”
It’s a hard lesson to learn. Often the tools that a startup uses at the beginning of its journey will not be the ones that follow them through all stages of growth. When you find the right technology, however, it can become a force multiplier for positive customer impact.
The Engine Behind the Most Customer-Centric Travel Company on Earth
mission is to build a travel marketplace that always saves customers money. We make travel easier, more transparent, and more accessible for people around the world. As Head of Customer Experience at Hopper, my wheelhouse contains two components. One is service delivery, from our customer-facing team members and their leaders around the world. I also lead Hopper's service platform group, which is the engine that powers our internal and external support teams: systems and enablement, workforce, as well as learning and talent development.
The growth and scaling of the team is a classic startup story. When I started at Hopper, our customer support team was co-located out of a single boardroom at Hopper's Montreal HQ. If anything changed about our product, process, or technology, it was easy to shout across the table to our colleagues. We could innovate, move (and fail) fast, while learning numerous lessons along the way.
At Hopper, we see ourselves as a fintech-driven travel marketplace. At no point in time did we ever think of ourselves as a traditional hospitality business, with hundreds of travel experts handling one-off requests from customers. We have an equally technology-driven approach to customer experience to stay true to our innovative inclinations, prioritizing self-service wherever meaningful to customers. If our guests watch, book, and manage travel through our platform in a super smooth, data-driven way, why would they ever want to wait on hold at all?
Today, our customer service organization comprises more than 800 people. As we grew, we knew we had to work differently and find an approach that matched our startup spirit.
Without Routing and Prioritization, Our Customer Service Tools Fell Short
Our customer service strategy leads with automation and self-service. To achieve these capabilities, we experimented with a lot of tools, throwing stuff at the wall to see what stuck. We did not presuppose to have a crystal-ball understanding of customer needs or wants, and thus learnt a lot about our customers through experimentation.
We recognized, for example, that the average Hopper customer wanted freedom and flexibility to determine how and when they could get in touch with us. They wanted full control of their own requests and to submit them directly in the app. We went full throttle into that space to meet our customers where they were. We quickly gutted our phone system and put in a new chat system to support our customers’ preferences.
Even though we learned a lot, we committed time to various platforms that were not sustainable or well suited to the complexity of our business, and we had a long way to go to increase efficiency. On a surface level, our systems combined traveller and travel booking information, so a customer and their booking would appear as one unit of work. The way our systems amalgamated this data made it difficult to predict support volumes workloads. We could not answer questions about how many repeat bookers we had or how many units of work should be assigned to an agent.
Our existing toolset didn’t allow us to dynamically route conversations based on issue type, customer type, or other custom parameters. It was impossible to prioritize based on how pressing a customer issue was, or route a request to the most qualified expert. Travel is a complex and often time-sensitive business, but our system addressed everything on a “first come, first served” basis, meaning the guest who wanted to request a specific room four months from now would be prioritized if they reached out first, rather than someone who was at their gate having trouble checking in.
By 2019, we were at a critical inflection point with our tool stack. We had systems that didn’t work the way our customers worked, and how we worked. We had more customers than ever before, but we couldn’t accurately predict how many staff members we needed to serve them. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and our challenges became extremely pronounced. As we saw a significant increase in requests from customers about their travel plans, we knew we had to move very quickly to find a new platform to support our customers.
Finding an Extensible Platform to Grow with Us
Our enablement team shortlisted eight different tools to evaluate based on a 300-point criteria table that broke down every aspect of our customer needs and what we needed from a CRM platform. A few industry peers had good things to say about their recent implementation, so we added that platform to the mix, too.
A top priority was finding a partner who could move very fast with us. We wanted to move quickly and decisively, but work with a partner that had a deep expertise of how contact centers work, and the importance of data models. After evaluating platforms on our criteria, Kustomer landed in the top three. From there, we had to determine which team would bend and flex to meet our needs and expectations.
Kustomer stood out for a couple of reasons, the first being how much the team was willing to customize. There are bigger, more legacy platforms out there, but highly innovative companies like Hopper require a significant amount of flexibility and customization. My teams also carried the responsibility of seeing firsthand the customer impact of using ill-suited tools during the early stages of the pandemic. Kustomer was ready to dig into the code and ensure that every element of their platform fit our customers' needs.
Another differentiator was Kustomer’s many-to-many data model. This would allow us to link information across different platforms, pushing hundreds of different attributes from our backend systems directly into Kustomer, making the platform an extension of our core technology. We could see every element of a booking and what was happening with our customers in a way that we couldn’t previously. We liked that the Kustomer timeline gave us a 360-degree view of a customer’s journey, from their first interaction with the app to contacting us through various channels. All of this could be viewed in a centralized location, where previously, we had to piece together that picture from a multitude of different systems.
Kustomer also addressed our pain points by dynamically routing conversations in the right priority to the right people. And most critically, if a customer reaches out to us after their initial contact, they will be routed to the same agent they spoke to before. That’s a little thing, but we found in speaking to thousands of customers that all those little things add up to a lot. Fostering a connection between a customer and a Hopper travel expert is a meaningful value proposition for our company.
Kustomer was the perfect mix of being resilient for scale but built for the needs of a modern service team—something that isn’t a given with today’s CRM technology. Many platforms are either anchored in the old way of doing things or they’re so new that everything ultimately feels like smoke and mirrors, where data gathering is a mess and nothing makes sense. Kustomer’s product vision demonstrated a commitment to data-driven customer service and combined the best of the traditional and the new world.
A CRM transition is no easy task. It takes significant lift and touches every part of the organization, impacting every product owner's roadmap. Kustomer’s sales, enablement, and engineering teams were crucial in helping us make a case throughout the organization for why the platform was the right fit.
When it came time to deploy, the Kustomer team became an extension of our amazing in-house implementation team. Together, they created a powerhouse that evaluated and tested everything so we could roll out in a fast-paced but highly intentional way.
Higher-Quality Service at a Lower Cost
In the few months since implementation, we’ve already seen positive results. By switching to Kustomer, we removed the redundancies of 13 different layers of technology and cut our customer service software costs by 20%. Right before we implemented Kustomer, we rarely met SLAs. Today, we’re meeting them constantly. Most importantly, we saw our CSAT go up by 10%. We’re not only spending less on tooling, we're also providing customers with better service in a timeframe I could not have fathomed when we started this journey.
Kustomer provides greater visibility into workloads, which helps with dynamic routing. If we’re running a product experiment, for example, we might say that certain keywords should trigger the call to be moved to a certain group of agents. And now, if a customer is scheduled to travel in a few hours, we are confident that they become our highest priority.
Enhanced visibility into our contact volume means we can finally optimize the number of travel experts we need during each shift. This is so basic and fundamental, but when you grow as quickly as we have, the tendency is to throw not enough or too many people at the problem. With better visibility, we now strategically plan and move agents around as needed.
A Unified Customer View Boosts Agent Satisfaction
Kustomer has also improved the lives of our frontline travel experts. We need to meet customers where they are, whether it’s via email, chat, our app, or social media. Instead of our team needing to be in all of these different places to serve customers in their channel of choice, they can now see all communication in Kustomer. That omnichannel element is so seamless, I think agents have forgotten there are different channels at all.
Agents have a greater understanding of their workload and are more efficient when tackling it. We see this in the employee satisfaction surveys we conducted before and after the transition to Kustomer. Our agents are happier with Kustomer because all of the contextual information they need is easily available, which makes it simpler for them to help customers. They also have greater continuity in their work, all of which improves the customer experience.
Armed with more data about our agents’ work, Hopper was able to create brand new performance incentive and career development program for agents. Kustomer helped to unlock these employee programs we knew boosted team morale and output, but that we previously couldn’t formalize because we didn’t have the data we needed.
With Kustomer, Hopper found an extensible platform that can grow with our business. While I wish that we had hopped on this flight sooner, we’re making up for lost time, fast. Kustomer helped us gain clarity and visibility on our operations and how we can better serve our customers.