Kiwi.com responded ingeniously to the pressures of the pandemic, building its own in-house helpdesk platform integrated with Unbabel’s API, improving agent efficiency regardless of language.
No one could have predicted the impact coronavirus lockdowns would have on the travel industry in 2020. Kiwi.com, the leading travel technology company, experienced a sudden 25% surge in customer inquiries after lockdowns started taking effect. At the same time, many of its global business process outsourcing (BPO) partners had to shut down their offices, causing a nearly instant decrease in available customer service agents worldwide. To respond to that sudden surge with only 30% of its customer support workforce, the Kiwi.com product team built an internal chat/email hybrid helpdesk platform powered by Unbabel’s Language Operations (LangOps) solution. Using this new platform integrated with Unbabel, the team was able to increase agent productivity and leverage the reduced available workforce to handle an influx of multilingual customer requests.
The Unbabel Effect:
- Reduced customer wait times from seven days to hours or minutes
- Reduced abandon rates from 35% at peak times to under 1%
- Shifted 80% of interactions to the helpdesk platform, reducing cost per contact
- Reduced average handle time by 20%
Kiwi.com was founded in 2012 by Oliver Dlouhý and Jozef Képesi. The travel tech company was created for travelers by travelers. Its proprietary algorithm — Virtual Interlining — allows users to combine flights and ground transportation from more than 800 carriers, including many that do not have commercial agreements. Kiwi.com powers more than 100 million searches every day and employs 2,000 people worldwide.
At a Glance
- 14,057,075,465 miles traveled by customers in 2019
- 2,000+ global employees
- €1.3Bn in revenue in 2019
- 40,000 average seats sold per day pre-pandemic
- Customer service team supports 12 languages
Responding to coronavirus lockdowns
In early 2020, Kiwi.com (like all other global travel companies) experienced a surge in cancellations and customer service requests as a result of lockdowns and restrictions caused by the pandemic. The company had to respond to an instant 50% reduction in its BPO workforce due to office closures around the world and the need to reduce costs. At the same time, the customer service team was responsible for handling an 80% cancellation rate at the beginning of the pandemic, causing strain on Kiwi.com’s mostly phone-driven customer support system.
Surges in customer contact volumes created long backlogs and didn’t provide the usual level of customer support Kiwi.com aims to deliver. “We are a product-led organization, and thought creatively about how to solve this problem with technology,” said Jiri Lnenicka, Group Product Manager at Kiwi.com.
Creating a language-agnostic helpdesk
Since the Kiwi.com team relied on native speakers to translate customer requests, they knew that creating a language-agnostic helpdesk platform was a priority. At a challenging time when the biggest needs were to drive efficiencies and keep costs low, increasing language skills capacity wasn't viable. Native-speaking agents represent a 20% higher cost, and require three to six months to onboard and train.
Using the same ingenuity for its customer-facing products, the Kiwi.com team developed an internal helpdesk solution for its existing agents. The team knew that the system had to work both in real-time and asynchronously, to alleviate the pressure on its team of support agents and reduce the number of phone inquiries.
Plugging Unbabel into a global support platform
After developing the helpdesk platform, Kiwi.com’s product team was able to use Unbabel’s open API to integrate the LangOps platform into its agents’ workflows. Using Unbabel’s unique human-machine translation technology, any agent could seamlessly respond to helpdesk messages from any of the company’s 12 supported languages — without the need to understand the native language.
For example, Unbabel’s LangOps platform would automatically translate a helpdesk message from French into the agent’s native language. The agent would then respond in their own language, and Unbabel’s machine translation to French would be double-checked by a human editor before returning to the French-speaking customer. This human-in-the-loop AI translation ensures native quality, and retains the cultural nuances of the original language.
Since the helpdesk was implemented, feedback from agents has been excellent. The API integration with Unbabel has been seamless and hasn’t caused any disruption to agents’ workflows. Similarly, customer satisfaction levels remain the same, and no issues have been reported.
Additionally, Unbabel allowed Kiwi.com to export customer inquiry content in both the source language and English. This increase in data quality coupled with a natural language processing (NLP) solution significantly improved the outputs of sentiment analysis — and helped reveal valuable insights about top customer inquiry topics, internal processes, bottlenecks, and more. For example, as pandemic-related cancellations continue in India, the customer service team can gain multilingual insights on the airports and customers most affected by shutdowns.
“Unbabel helped us minimize the negative impacts of the pandemic by unleashing the full potential of our workforce.”
— Jiri Lnenicka, Group Product Manager at Kiwi.com.
Language-agnostic platform weathers surges with reduced workforce
Kiwi.com’s newly developed helpdesk platform was invaluable as the company weathered the pandemic with just 30% of its original customer service capacity. During peak times, using the new platform integrated with Unbabel, response times were reduced to hours or minutes, depending on the nature of the customer inquiry. Abandon rates for customer inquiries decreased from 35% to under 1%, as native speakers no longer had to deal with emails.
With a hybrid chat/email approach, the team was able to reduce reliance on costly phone interactions and create a truly language-agnostic solution anyone can use. Voice conversations dropped to one-third of the original volume, and now the team handles around 80% of all inquiries through the helpdesk platform. Average handle time for the new platform with Unbabel integrated (versus previous email inquiries) dropped by 20%.
By using English-speaking agents, Kiwi.com is able to save 20% per agent over the cost of a native speaker, while providing excellent service for customers. The flexibility and scalability of the platform allows any agent to respond to inquiries across 12 languages, helping Kiwi.com optimize their existing workforce’s capacity.
“Thanks to our new language-agnostic helpdesk, we can serve more customers in less time. We expect more growth as the world reopens, and we know we won’t have any issues scaling up quickly without impacting customer service.”
— Jiri Lnenicka, Group Product Manager at Kiwi.com.
- Integrated Unbabel API into helpdesk platform in approximately one month
- Weathered pandemic-related surges with 30% of workforce capacity across 12 languages
- Reduced cost per agent by 20% for English speakers vs. native language speakers
- Cut customer phone inquiries by 33%