by Aaron Lazenby
In 1931, Simón Barceló started a small transportation company, seizing the chance to move people and freight around the rocky coastline and paradisiacal terrain of Mallorca, Spain. Barceló thrived, and his regional knowledge revealed a new opportunity—after two decades in the cargo business, Barceló became a hotelier.
Location: Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Industry: Travel and tourism
Oracle product: Oracle Service Cloud
Customer Experience Manager
Length of tenure: 16 years
Education: MBA and Master of Tourism Administration, University of the Balearic Islands
Personal quote/mantra: “It is important to select the best technology. However, a well-trained and motivated team is even more crucial to achieve success.”
Three generations after this pivot, Barceló Group has thrived and grown into one of the largest tourism operators in the world. Today the travel division operates 700 travel agencies and one airline on four continents. The hotel division owns 116 properties with 34,000 rooms in 20 countries and a large stake in a US-based hotel management company with 100 properties.
This international expansion meant that Barceló Group needed strategies and systems to serve customers all over the world. Those two responsibilities belong to Ángeles Guillén, customer experience manager at Barceló Hotel Group. A 16-year veteran of the company, Guillén has seen the travel and tourism industry transformed by digital business. To keep pace with an increasingly demanding international customer, Guillén has led a complete overhaul of Barceló Group’s contact center strategy, including moving service applications to the cloud.
According to Guillén, building the IT and process infrastructure was the critical step in the transformation. “Customer relations are not complicated,” she says. “The complicated part is configuring and managing an efficient contact center that can serve our clients in the mobile, immediate, digital, and social environment. And we need to be able to scale that structure to meet the company’s growth.”
Here, Guillén shares how her team moved Barceló Group’s service support systems to the cloud and rebuilt its customer experience for modern business.
Profit: How has the travel and tourism industry changed during your work tenure?
Guillén: Sixteen years ago, our commercialization was entirely concentrated on tour operations. The tour operators managed our interactions with our customers, so we did not have the opportunity to get to know our customers very well. Consequently, in 2002 Barceló Hotel Group initiated a direct sales strategy with our customers through a new booking portal on barcelo.com and a new customer service center, which exclusively served the Spanish market. Today, due to the rapid growth of our ecommerce, it is imperative that we are able to serve our customers on their own terms.
In addition, the tourism sector is evolving rapidly. Travelers today are looking for more-flexible vacations. They have increasingly exact, complex, and personalized demands. We must always be in a position to meet their needs, so IT and customer communications are becoming increasingly important in a digital world, especially because our customers have an increasing number of tools for communicating with us at any time and from any place.
That’s great for the customer. But for us, the challenge lies in being able to manage a unified interaction across online, mobile, and social channels. We take pride in being customer-focused, so our global customer service model must be one of our strengths. This has been an extremely important pillar of our success, which has led to our growth and the leading position our company enjoys.
Profit: How have you learned from your customers? How have you helped direct the investments your team has made in technology?
Guillén: Barceló Group is completely committed to customer satisfaction. For example, the few complaints that we receive reach our chairman and the full executive team responsible for operations at the hotel where the customer has stayed. When it comes to decision-making, everybody from the chairman on down practices active listening with our customers. This forms part of the corporate culture that we all adhere to as employees of this company.
We consider our dissatisfied customers our greatest source of learning. We want relevant and personalized communication with customers, and that is why in 2013 we responded to customer requests for immediate assistance within our online booking platform, barcelo.com. This marked our first steps in a customer interaction–related technological transformation designed to keep Barceló Group in sync with the market.
Those web improvements led to a new strategy to expand our customer service and sales channels. We evaluated various solutions, and we chose to run a pilot of Oracle Service Cloud. We tested the tool in one of our contact centers to check that it met our needs, and it was a success. We subsequently proceeded to implement the solution on a global scale.
Profit: How did you organize the pilot project?
Guillén: We set up a two-month test of the Oracle solution to build out an experimental customer interaction center. We kept the scope of the pilot limited: a help portal in two languages on barcelo.com with a self-service section that enabled customers to submit questions and be directed to related FAQs, submit inquiries using contact forms, and chat live with a customer service representative.
The goal was to get to know the solution, understand how many licenses we’d need, and figure out how we would have to change our own processes to adapt to a new tool. With Oracle’s help, we were able to get that pilot running in 10 days.
We consider our dissatisfied customers our greatest source of learning.”
The customer feedback from the pilot results was clear. We added an agent console that allowed us to monitor the quality of service our representatives were delivering. We were able to unify inbound global email contacts and route requests to the right agent in the right market in the right language. Our expanded self-service FAQs and smart-assistant features helped us reduce email contact by 30 percent. And the addition of chat opened up a new sales channel for us—during the two months of the pilot, we generated more than US$250,000 in new revenue.
The success of this pilot led us to do a full implementation of Oracle Service Cloud.
Profit: How did you expand that pilot into a full-fledged implementation?
Guillén: The implementation was scaled. We started with our European center and continued through the remaining contact centers, for a total of seven around the world. The implementation of Oracle Service Cloud, together with a telephone-traffic-setting console, has allowed us to transform these physical customer service centers into a single virtual contact center, which provides a rapid response 24/7 with maximum coverage.
A big part of the rollout was the extensive training we provided for the entire contact center team. We had to train the contact centers and the tool’s management team on how to use the Oracle Service Cloud agent console and how to provide support for the new chat function. It also involved training other client-facing teams within the company on the new, automated process optimization—to receive and respond to complaints and suggestions, for example. It would be unfair to overlook the hard work of these teams—thanks to their continued efforts and commitment, they have made a significant contribution to the success of the project.
And it was a very personal project for me. I joined Barceló Group to contribute to the creation of the ebusiness area. So, I took a very hands-on approach. I designed and developed the contact center strategy from scratch—everything from designing the price-check and room availability technology solution to creating the agent training manuals.
Profit: With Oracle Service Cloud in place, what volume of customer interactions are you able to handle?
Guillén: Over a 10-month period in 2016, our contact centers have responded to 1.3 million incoming calls—interactions that have been enhanced with the support of Oracle Service Cloud. We have responded to 149,582 emails, which as I mentioned is a 30 percent decrease over previous years, thanks to the newly implemented self-service and smart-assistant functionality. We have had 87,000 chats, which represents a highly significant support and sales channel. And we’re providing this service to customers in 10 languages across 60 countries with direct toll-free and international numbers.
Profit: Has the project been a success, and how has it affected the organization?
Guillén: The implementation of Oracle Service Cloud was, and is, revolutionary for our customer service centers. It has allowed us to optimize, standardize, accelerate, monitor, and improve the profitability of our customer service on a global scale through our contact center platform.
We have a number of internal indicators that we track, and we have seen significant improvements. On the business side, providing immediate support at barcelo.com helped us increase our conversion numbers and reduce the loss of customers. We have seen improvements to customer satisfaction as well, which is reflected in our sales numbers. This has given us a competitive edge.
For customers, the positive indicators have been around the increased efficiency and quality of our customer interactions. We are ready to serve more people through a variety of channels, including social media. We have placed our contact centers in countries where we have significant product portfolios, so we can provide customer support through agents who are native to these markets.
And that is the goal: we want to establish as close a connection as possible with our customers. It’s integral to our culture.
Photography by Shutterstock