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How Customer Obsession is Helping redBus Stay Resilient During a Crisis

How Customer Obsession is Helping redBus Stay Resilient During a Crisis

When the COVID crisis led to an unexpected rise in call volumes and ticket cancellation, here's how redBus turned things around with its Customer Obsession mantra. Using technology, the company brought down its abandoned call rate from 46% to 2.5%, saw a 60% drop in incorrect refunds, and up its CSAT score by 1.8%. Here's how.

India’s largest online bus ticketing platform, redBus services more than 23 million customers through a network of over 2600 operators across six countries. Udit Gupta, Senior Product Manager, redBusascribes this success to relentless customer obsession.

Ours is a business purely driven by customer experience and comfort. Being in this space for more than a decade, we know that there is only one sure-shot way to succeed – customer obsession. At redBus, we break down customer obsession pragmatically into – constantly listening to the customer, continuously enhancing our service functionalities based on customer feedback, and suitably personalising the customer experience.

Staying true to this approach has helped us tide over the rough patches caused by COVID-19.

Customer service driven by customer obsession

The ongoing health crisis has led to behavioural changes across customer groups. At redBus, we are pivoting on technology to draw out valuable consumer insights and meet these challenges. It is only when we heed the voice of the customer that we can make meaningful changes to our products or services.

The challenges that the pandemic brought had no reference points from the past. So we asked ourselves some hard questions:

– What are the specific pain points customers are facing?

– How can we innovate to address each of these challenges?

– How can technology help us achieve these outcomes?

I have outlined below the strategy that has helped us stay resilient in these unique times.

Paying attention to customer pain points

The nation-wide lockdown led to bulk ticket cancellations across the board. Customers were anxious. Like many online travel services companies, we witnessed a never-before seen spike in call volumes.

During Lockdown 1.0, calls about cancellations, speedier refunds, and seeking assistance for alternate travel bookings nearly tripled. There were also queries and complaints peculiar to COVID: about state-specific travel norms for inter-state bookings, or concerns regarding the violation of prescribed safe travel guidelines. Our agents handled as many as 42,000 pandemic-specific calls in a day. We saw call volumes increase by up to nine times on new booking-related queries alone.

Caught unaware, our agent strength was proving to be inadequate, exacerbated by work-from-home tech issues. As a result, the abandoned call percentage shot up five to six times, resulting in multiple social media and email escalations.

How we responded with innovation

1. Speedy refunds, ‘safer’ bookings: Sensing our customer’s concerns around refunds, we enabled a novel feature of ‘instant refunds’ to offer speedy reimbursements for ticket fares, within 30 minutes of refund initiation. We then triggered relevant refund updates to customers to assure them of transparency and quick action. We have since seen a 60% reduction in cases related to incorrect refunds. Proactive communication has also resulted in an overall reduction of refund-related queries by 10%.

In association with the regional transportation companies and the Global Distribution System (GDS), we created a first-of-its-kind programme – Safety Plus. Our system dynamically blocks adjoining seats to those reserved by the user to ensure social distancing norms within buses. Safety Plus has become a big hit with our customers. Customer complaints around operators who violate safety guidelines are pushed out to our partners through cases raised on Salesforce Service Cloud – this helps us ensure guidelines compliance.

2. Enabling non-voice service channels: To manage the spike in call volumes and to ensure each of our customer’s queries were answered swiftly and efficiently, we introduced non-voice service channels. Within three weeks of the lockdown, we created a customer self-help module, redBuddy. Leveraging the omni-channel support capabilities of Salesforce Service Cloud, we automated our workflows to redirect customer calls to redBuddy. Over the past few months, we have seen the volume of non-voice customer interactions rise to 47.3%, from 25% before the lockdown.

These automated workflows have resulted in 70% of our calls getting resolved through customer self-service, with only 30% being put through to live agents powered by Service Cloud. Service Cloud offers these agents a 360-degree view of customer data, giving them complete context into a customer’s query. This has helped drastically cut case resolution time.

3. Personalising customer service: We wanted to make customer interactions as comfortable and reassuring as possible. This led us to launch IVR in English and five regional languages. Contrary to what we believed earlier, data now shows us that nearly 68% of the customers prefer to reach out to us in vernacular languages, while only 32% opt for English. Personalising customer service to match customer needs has contributed to increasing our Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) Score by 1.8 percentage points.

4. Training and managing agents: For our agents to deliver optimally in these testing times, it was important they have all the information they need to answer a customer satisfactorily. This became possible with Service Cloud Knowledge Base, a repository of rich resources that holds the answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), and explanations around business processes, embedded right into an agent’s console.

Additionally, powered by Salesforce Service Cloud, we created a live chat monitoring tool in-house. The tool allows supervisors to monitor agent-customer interactions so they can step in and support an agent when needed.

5. Integrating all service channels: To improve the overall call handling experience for both agents and customers, it was imperative to integrate all critical data related to customer transactions on a single platform. In view of this, we integrated our IVR channels and redBuddy, and data collected through these channels is now consolidated on a single system. This has given us a two-fold advantage:

1. Agents have end-to-end visibility of customer transactions, with the result that the average call handling time has dropped by 40 secs per call.

2. Conversations with customers resume from exactly where they last ended, regardless of the communication channel.

Technology has played a key role in boosting our customer service efforts. While we have always leveraged Salesforce to streamline customer service, we recently transitioned to Service Cloud Lightning. This has allowed us to solve customer queries faster, provide smarter self-service, and offer personalised customer service, anytime-anywhere.

Our advice to companies that are in service-oriented businesses like us is to make the customer the focus of all your endeavours. Identify customer needs, personalise customer experiences, and invest in technologies that help you respond to customer needs rapidly, during a crisis and beyond.

In conclusion, I must add that while redBus is customer-obsessed, we have not forgotten our partners – bus operators we work with. During this difficult time, the redBus family has crowdsourced funds to financially support out-of-work bus drivers and conductors. This has made an impact in communities we work in and also strengthened our relationship with our partners.

Udit Gupta

Udit Gupta, an ex-entrepreneur, is a techie-turned -product-manager with around 7 years of experience in Indian consumer internet. Just after graduation, he started his journey with Headstrong capital markets and after a year he started his consumer internet journey with a startup on loyalty programs and has since helped prospective home-buyers find affordable properties, started his ventures to connect users with doctors and helped creating their real time medical history (got acqui-hired), connecting pet-parents with veterinary doctors ad creating their health records and is now striving to make the Indian bus journey predictable. In his current stint as Senior Product Manager at redBus, he leads Payments and Customer Experience products. Udit is a sports enthusiast. He has devoured the works of Sigmund Freud during his college days and these days reads about epic quests to solve some of the greatest mathematical problems. He also loves solving Samurai Sudokus and playing Tabla.

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