How to scale your workflow using chatbots, WhatsApp and SunCo: the Brussels Airport story

With roughly 250,000 incoming and outgoing flights and more than 25 million passengers a year (in 2019), Brussels Airport is by far the biggest airport in Belgium. 74 airlines connect the airport – locally known as ‘Zaventem’ – to 236 destinations around the world. The airport is managed by Brussels Airport Company.

As one of Europe’s main travel hubs, Brussels Airport serves a very diverse set of customers and visitors, each with their own specific questions, meaning the airport’s staff also perform a wide variety of tasks. All of this makes the airport a fascinating but unpredictable environment, in which pressure on customer services (among other departments) can be sky-high at times.

The challenge?

In 2018, a series of events – including operational issues and exceptionally bad weather – occurred in rapid succession, while the number of passengers the airport served kept increasing. High time for the Customer Care team to address certain bottlenecks and find a solution for them.

“We needed a partner that would help us deal with contingencies like infrastructural problems or exceptional weather conditions,” Brussels Airport’s Welcome Center Coordinator Alexandra Debandt explains. “Because whenever a crisis like that unfolded, our Customer Care team would suddenly be under immense pressure. Processing the sheer volume of cases then became a heavy burden, and we’d struggle to answer within a reasonable space of time.” 

The Customer Care team also wanted to honour its Customer First ambitions by offering guaranteed 24/7 availability for all passengers. The fact that customer service was closed at night up until 2018 was something Brussels Airport really wanted to change as an international hub, to ensure passengers in different time zones could get a timely answer to their questions as well.

“Last but not least, we wanted to adopt a single system to unite all our channels (telephony, e-mail, social media). In the past, we used a different tool for each channel, which meant the team constantly had to switch between tools – anything but efficient or user-friendly,” Alexandra explains.

The solution: experts propose Zendesk

During the search for the right system to tie all channels together, Brussels Airport reached out to several contact centres, to check how external partners and different tools could help fulfil the airport’s goal of being available 24/7. “The most glowing reviews, including of the contact centres we got in touch with, always recommended Zendesk and Premium Plus,” Alexandra recalls.

Premium Plus proposed an innovative solution for an omnichannel system tailored to Alexandra and her team’s needs. Leveraging an integrated CX ecosystem with a chatbot, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Sunshine Conversations (SunCo), Brussels Airport would easily manage vast streams of incoming messages while unburdening support teams. “After a few demos and tutorials, we, too were completely convinced!” The scaling capabilities of Premium Plus’s solution were one of the main selling points for Brussels Airport. “We were looking for a high-performance omnichannel system with excellent reporting mechanisms. Zendesk ticked all those boxes.”

The implementation: “a pleasant experience”

In the second quarter of the year, Brussels Airport began to prepare the switch to Zendesk in cooperation with Premium Plus. They unified all communications within one easy-to-use interface and started scaling support with a chatbot. With Zendesk’s Sunshine Conversations, they could use a single bot for multiple channels like WhatsApp and Twitter. That way, adding new channels to the ecosystem is a breeze. September 2019 saw the go-live of the social media transfer (Twitter, Facebook), followed by e-mail (November 2019) and telephony (January 2020). Throughout the entire process, the cooperation between Brussels Airport and Premium Plus went smoothly, Alexandra Debandt emphasises: “I’ll admit we don’t go through a process like this every month. Still, I never expected it would be this pleasant, fun and educational.”

The result: following up on cases has never been easier

About a year on, Brussels Airport remains just as enthusiastic, Alexandra summarises: “Zendesk is very user-friendly, so following up on and solving cases has never been easier for our team. The system hasn’t failed us even once over the past twelve months. And Zendesk Explore has become a very important source of data for our analyses. We wouldn’t be able to manage without it anymore. The tool gives us a perfect picture of passengers’ experiences and needs, across all channels. These reports are a fantastically reliable indicator we can use to plan and adjust our work.”

The team is also very satisfied with the integrated chatbot Premium Plus installed on the airport’s social and messaging channels. The chatbot is a significant help for passengers and support teams. It solves FAQs in a heartbeat, so when there is a delay or an unforeseen event, customers get notified of the situation ASAP. At the same time, agents don’t have to reply to the same questions over and over. The result? Getting more work done, faster.

Moreover, when the bot can’t solve the issue, it connects passengers to Zendesk’s live chat agents: “It allows us to help out travellers even faster. Not an unimportant issue, as some travellers contact us while rushing to catch a connecting flight. While we offer a chatbot, customers can at any moment opt to ignore the bot in favour of live-chatting with an agent instead. Afterwards, each contact request is safely stored in Zendesk’s centralised platform.”

Alexandra Debandt also has nothing but good things to say about the cooperation with Premium Plus: “They immediately answer any question we might have, and take the appropriate actions. We’re glad we embarked on this journey with them in 2019, with everything in place by January 2020. Almost as if we were preparing for a major storm that was brewing.” No need to spell out which storm Alexandra is referring to…

Average # tickets/month

2900

Number of
contact channels

0

Number of passengers in 2019

0 M

Support team
availability

12 /7

Aircall and Zendesk: Customer excellence in times of Covid-19

To integrate Aircall with Zendesk, the Customer Care team still had to use a landline for all telephone queries. “Without the new system, Covid-19 would have been a completely different experience for the team.” Alexandra admits. “But now we were able to simply continue offering customer care as usual during the pandemic. Even when the volume of incoming cases tripled in March 2020, the team still managed to deal with all of them within the amount of time we’d set ourselves. And they did so from home, just as if they’d been in the office.”

In March, the airport also set up a Covid-19 telephone hotline, because reports showed the number of phone calls in particular was skyrocketing, Alexandra Debandt adds: “Passengers really wanted to speak directly with another human being – so we made sure they could. Together with our external helpdesk partner, which also uses Zendesk, we were able to respond to all phone calls because of this Covid-19 hotline, which was up and running in no time, thanks to Premium Plus’ rapid response.” To provide passengers with correct flight information and other support, an additional WhatsApp passenger chat was also launched in April 2020, without any notable issues affecting the launch.

Alexandra looks back on 2020 with satisfaction: “Thanks to the arrival of Zendesk and Premium Plus, we were able to weather this exceptionally challenging year. We have full faith in our ability to handle 2021. Now we do have the tools  at our disposal to successfully deal with crises.”

Tools & Guidance

 
  • Zendesk Suite
  • Zendesk Sunshine Conversations in combination with a chatbot from Airport.ai
  • Aircall integration with Zendesk
  • Activation of an online and integrated omnichannel platform to easily reach customers at any possible channel
  • Activation of a specific Airport chatbot in facebook messenger and WhatsApp to handle first line contacts with a transfer (including all context) to their care team
  • Activation of an integrated remote proof phone solution
  • Activation of an online FAQ platform

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