No longer lost in translation – Unbabel helps Skyscanner with the language long-tail


Travel search engine Skyscanner has used translation technology specialist Unbabel as part of its strategy to improve customer service and response times.

The Edinburgh-based company, which was acquired by Chinese online firm Ctrip in 2016, has more than 60 million visitors to its online platforms every month who speak more than 30 languages.

The problem

As its visitor numbers have grown, Skyscanner has been working to improve its customer service and reduce response times to consumer queries from around the world, at the same time as trying to “optimise the cost and efficiency” of the customer service department.

Before starting to work with Unbabel in 2014, Skyscanner’s average first-response time to consumer queries was 17 hours with a customer satisfaction score of 75%.

The solution

Part of the solution to improve Skyscanner’s service was to increase the number of customer service agents from just one in 2012 to a team of 10 working across multiple time zones and languages.

Staff are backed up by using customer service support platform Zendesk which allows customers to self-serve on the most common queries – leaving human agents to deal with more complex issues.

But research also showed that Skyscanner’s increasing global reach was presenting a language challenge – particularly for less commonly used languages such as Romanian or Finnish.

Analysis revealed that English was used in 58% of all requests with the top five languages accounting for 80% of enquiries. But the challenge was how to deal with the “long tail” of other languages where offering traditional support would be expensive, unscalable – and with some languages – infrequently used. Yet Skyscanner still wanted to interact with these customers in their own languages.

The solution came in using Unbabel’s “Translation as a Service” platform, which was integrated with Zendesk through an API that allows Skyscanner’s content and live chat to be translated into the correct language. Unbabel’s platform uses AI-based technology which is “refined” by human translators.

Unbabel says that for clients this platform “improves reliability, reduces exceptions, minimises ongoing requirement for high-touch human interactions and therefore ultimately reduces costs significantly”.

The outcome

Within the first year of this new customer service strategy being introduced, Skyscanner had increased customer satisfaction scores from 75% to 92% and responded to initial customer queries 70% faster with the average first-response time – dropping from 17 hours to five hours. In the following year, Skyscanner was able to ensure that first-response times never exceeded six hours.

Jon Thorne, Skyscanner’s global user satisfaction manager, says:

“To be honest, we were sceptical at first – it seemed too good to be true. We had reservations about the reliability and speed of translations, particularly given the reputation of the rest of the industry.

“But integration with Zendesk was super-easy, and to mitigate the risk, we tested Unbabel with languages for which we had strong existing cover in the support team. Everyone was impressed.

“Then we branched out into other languages where we – at least – had local language specialists elsewhere in the business. Again, the feedback was positive. Now we’re ‘hands-free’, with Unbabel integrated into our workflow.

“It doesn’t just cut the cost of support, it’s binary: it means we can provide support in scenarios where previously we simply couldn’t.”

At a glance:

Skyscanner – improving customer service

Goals:

  • Improve customer satisfaction
  • Reduce first-response time
  • Optimise the cost of maintaining a high-quality customer service function

Action:

  • Increased size of support team
  • Automated common queries through self-service option
  • Used Unbabel for multilingual coverage across multiple time zones

Outcome:

  • Increased customer satisfaction score to 92%
  • Responded to initial queries 70% faster
  • Ensured first-response time never exceeded six hours



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