In the Spring of 2020, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) faced unprecedented challenges that put a lot of strain on the entire aviation industry. With the pandemic came new customer needs that SAS has had to respond to. To better serve its customers under this new normal, SAS has been improving their digital customer service by providing better self-service options for customers and improving tools for its customer service agents.
In 2020, the customer service IT landscape at SAS consisted of a large number of separate systems which, while functional by themselves, for the most part, were not integrated. This made it more difficult for agents to find the information they needed to provide great service. It also made the iterative development of new functionalities challenging and slow. One key objective was to decrease this complexity of the IT landscape to support the further development needs of their customer service processes.
- Improve the digital customer service experience
- Decrease the complexity of the IT landscape
- A single customer service platform, Salesforce, for a 360 view
- Efficient ways of working with the new tech stack
- Improving the customer service level whilst lowering the service costs
To this end, SAS had chosen to consolidate the processes onto a single platform, Salesforce, and had begun the process of moving teams to the new platform. A single platform for customer service would enable a 360 view for agents to see why customers are contacting SAS and how to serve them best.
Through a single platform, customers would also have a seamless experience contacting SAS, regardless of the channel they use, as it would be easy for agents to communicate across teams and resolve the customers’ issues. Having all customer interactions on a single platform also makes it easier to track how SAS responds to customer needs and to find and resolve bottlenecks in existing processes.
The culture of a company is the sum of the behaviours of all its people. With Columbia Road and the means of a small cross-functional DevOps team, we’ve managed to achieve great business impact by transforming the way we serve our customers. Together we have successfully built a new lean IT landscape for our customer service operations and created new and efficient ways of working for our customer service agents. A new platform with Salesforce allowing a 360 view of customer data has not only lowered maintenance costs but enabled better internal collaboration and, most of all, a better customer service experience for our customers.
Maria Andersson, Head of Digital Development and Customer Interaction, Scandinavian Airlines
SAS had begun moving to Salesforce with another partner as a large-scale project but had temporarily paused the work due to the pandemic. To resume this work, SAS and Columbia Road decided to create a new small cross-functional DevOps team consisting of Columbia Road consultants and SAS IT and customer service professionals. The team’s main mission was to establish a modern, digitalised, easy-to-use customer service experience for SAS. To keep the team working consistently toward this, we defined key principles to guide the team’s work. We settled on four main ones.
Key guiding principles for the cross-functional DevOps team
- Focus on being able to reprioritise quickly instead of committing to long-term plans. This is especially important in light of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
- Existing processes should not be transferred to Salesforce, but new ones should be set up and evaluated, considering the best fit with Salesforce and the changing customer needs.
- The development process should make it easy to release new functionalities consistently while building a good foundation for future development.
- Routine operations and maintenance work should be automated as much as possible.
Committing to years-long plans makes it easy to forget your customer focus and prioritise sticking to a plan which might not be relevant anymore. Instead, constant evaluation of development priorities is the best way to ensure that we always work on the functionality that brings the most benefit to SAS customers. We achieved this through constant collaboration with SAS process development teams and individual agents providing feedback on what would make their lives easier in day-to-day work.
At the same time, to avoid leaving a trail of unfinished work due to shifting priorities, we committed to defining and finishing features that would bring some specific benefit to the users. To do this, we defined ways of working where customers’ needs would guide development work.
While taking existing processes and moving them as-is is a straightforward approach to migrating to a new system, it does not resolve any of the existing pain points, and users will not be able to reap any benefits from the new system. Therefore we decided not just to move existing processes as-is into Salesforce, but instead evaluate them for improvements or create new ones to best fit working within Salesforce.
A development process that embraces change and speed without sacrificing quality
To allow for constant reprioritisation, we needed a development process that would allow us to commit to small increments of work while at the same time building a strong foundation for the entire system. We adopted a mindset of “It should be easy to hand over this project to a new team at any point in time”. This meant creating strong internal processes for collecting user feedback, maintaining documentation, change management, constant refactoring at the code level, quality assurance through testing, and code and design reviews. These allowed us to build iteratively towards a fully-featured customer service platform.
Finally, being a small development team, we knew that getting bogged down by routine maintenance and operations work was a real possibility. To avoid this, we worked on automating as much of this routine work as possible. Practically this meant, among other things, setting up continuous integration and fully automated release processes, comprehensive test suites to make recurring releases stable, prioritising bug fixing over new development work and clear incident management procedures. In addition to these development practices, another critical component was to train users to manage their processes, configuration and reporting in Salesforce as much as possible.
These principles, together with a strong mandate to work towards realising the vision of future digital customer service at SAS, have allowed the team to respond quickly to the needs of stakeholders without compromising platform stability or long-term architecture.
During the past year of collaboration, SAS and Columbia Road have built a new unified case-handling system for customer service on top of Salesforce whilst also building a team with effective ways of working and practices for cooperation with various stakeholders. This has allowed for not only easier maintenance and lower costs for SAS but also a vastly improved service level and experience for SAS’s customers.
Key benefits delivered during the project include:
- 360 customer view: When a customer reaches out to SAS, the assigned agents can immediately see relevant information for handling their request directly in Salesforce. Past interactions with the customer are highlighted, and data from other internal systems can be pulled on demand.
- Better collaboration: Better visibility into ongoing customer interactions and minimising back-and-forth emailing have greatly improved collaboration between departments.
- Empowered staff for continuous development: Empowering process owners to improve their processes by making it easy for them to make small changes to the platform and request larger ones from the development team.
- Accessible data and easy tracking: Reporting and tracking complex customer interactions have been made easier by having relevant data available in a single system.
- Smooth onboarding: Training customer service agents has become easier due to the lower number of systems they need to learn to be able to work effectively. Moving between departments and teams has also become easier.
- Full integration and automation: Salesforce is integrated into other SAS systems, allowing for the automated handling of customer requests, and creating a strong foundation for future automation needs.
- Simplified IT landscape: Future development and maintenance have been made easier due to a strong foundation in Salesforce and an overall lower complexity in the IT landscape thanks to decommissioning of older systems.
- Faster release cadence: The new development processes and ways of working allows for more frequent releases of new functionality and a faster response to stakeholders' needs.
Columbia Road continues to work with SAS to build the tools available for customer service agents and improve how customers are served in their digital channels.