Transavia, part of Air France – KLM, was the first airline to introduce WhatsApp as a service channel, with the help of SaySimple. Jerry Downing is the founder of Transavia’s web care department and paved the way for the company’s for social messaging success.
Meet a man who has earned his spurs as a customer care professional and whose vision is loud and clear: social care should be the eyes and ears of every customer-centric company.
Q: So Jerry, how did your airline adventure take off?
A: I started working for Transavia back in 1994 as a steward. I worked my way up to the position of senior purser. Then I left the Transavia’s onboard services to pursue a career at the head office, so I’ve been around!
Q: Has customer service always been a passion of yours?
A: I was born in Nashville. I guess America’s service culture rubbed off on me. Hospitality has always been deeply embedded in my professions, whether it was a part time job or full time role.
Q: How did your career develop when you started working at Transavia’s head office?
A: My main responsibility was developing cabin and staff trainings. Then my focus gradually shifted to customer service and eventually to web, as social media was becoming more popular around 2005. As the demand for a web care department grew, I was offered the chance to setup and guide the online service team as it is today.
“ Your customers want answers as soon as possible, so give them what they want.Jerrey Downing - Transavia
Q: How did the upswing of social media affect Transavia?
A: Like many large companies, Transavia was challenged to think in non-traditional ways. Social media put a lot of brands on the spot, to many it was either a gift or a curse. And then WhatsApp saw an explosive growth in users. At Transavia, we felt a need to create focus in a time of distraction.
Q: Sounds like a hectic phase. How did you master the chaos?
A: I wanted to equip my team with the right tools, so I started researching and stumbled upon SaySimple. The first and only business option for social messaging at the time, so I didn’t need long to decide. SaySimple’s hands on and proactive approach was a breath of fresh air. When we teamed up, that’s when the ball really started rolling.
Q: What was the main objective of introducing WhatsApp to Transavia’s customers?
A: Being leading and innovative has always been a part of Transavia’s DNA. At the time, Coolblue was the only Dutch company that was actively using WhatsApp as part of their customer service. Everything was new and raw, so we never specified any hard targets. There was no plan, we simply wanted to put emphasis on our digital mission to be where the customer is.
Q: What were the risks at the time?
A: Potential damage to the brand’s public image, a flooded customer service lines. That’s why we opted for a soft launch, instead of a big bang.
Q: What happened when you made the big move and implemented WhatsApp?
A: It was a complete whirlwind. That February were overwhelmed with 1500 conversations. In hindsight we were very understaffed, but we worked long days and it all paid off. There was a lot of excitement in the air, and that motivated our staff. Fast forward to today, and WhatsApp makes up for 55% of all incoming messaging questions. A whopping 7000 conversations, on a monthly basis. Can you believe it?
“ WhatsApping is the new verb for callingJerry Downing - Transavia
Q: Wow! That couldn’t have gone unnoticed?
A: It was insane, we nearly drowned in interview requests! We were all over the news, from blogs to newspapers. We received over 80.000 euros in media coverage value, an all-time high for Transavia’s press ratings.
Q: How did this change affect the Transavia customer?
A: We were able to decrease our average handling time which helped us improve our customer service ratings. A lot more satisfied customers!
Q: How do you expect for the world of social messaging to have changed, five years from now?
A: No one knows what the future holds, but I think WhatsApp will be the number one customer service channel for companies. Twitter will probably be less relevant for Dutch customers, just like telephony. Besides, telephony is expensive for both customer and company, while WhatsApp is free. But WhatsApp for Business isn’t completely free of charge for brands, so they should rethink their strategy on this matter.
Q: What would you advise entrepreneurs and managers who are starting in the same way as you did?
A: Trust your gut, go with the flow, forget the plan. Convince your stakeholders to start a pilot and take it from there. Simply start small, test and fine-tune until you have a seamless customer experience. This work is all about the human factor, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Transavia is a Dutch low cost airline that offers charter flights and scheduled flights to summer and winter holiday destinations around Europe and to the Mediterranean. They are market leader in holiday air travel in the Netherlands.