Air France-KLM: Wall displays exist for employees, not for managers

At Cygnific – the contact center that serves Air France KLM’s customers, among many other things – real-time information provision is part of the transition to a Lean Six Sigma organization. In this context, Cygnific considers both customer-related and process-related information. Wall displays exist for employees, not for managers.

KLM operates in a complex setting. To realize a flawless customer journey, thousands of processes need to be attuned to each other. Usually, this goes well, but sometimes, it goes wrong. On the day of our conversation with Ramón Delima (CEO) and Han Thomassen (IT project manager), the queue of contact center Cygnific is full of red. The day before, there were major problems with the supply of kerosine to the Schiphol platform. Incoming flights were diverted, departing flights were canceled.

Lean Six Sigma helps with empowerment

Delima admits that Cygnific is a well-kept secret in the world of customer contact. “Even KLM employees don’t always know we exist and communicate with passengers, travel agents, corporate customers, and Air France KLM’s frequent flyers. We also work for Delta Airlines, Air France KLM Cargo, and brands such as Adidas and Hudson’s Bay. We will also start our collaboration with Rituals shortly.”
This expansion with new customers – as well as the fact that AIS, a KLM subsidiary focused on customer service, has joined us – shows that Cygnific is gradually changing from a ‘captive’ to a technical support contact center. It’s not the only change Cygnific has undergone, Delima explains.
“Seven years ago, the transformation of this organization to a Lean Six Sigma organization was initiated. The starting point is to fully trust and empower contact center agents to do what’s best for the customer. Part of Lean Six Sigma is continuous improvement. Of course, we’re not the only company that applies Lean principles, but Lean is now thoroughly anchored in Cygnific’s DNA. When I take a Gemba walk – which means I watch how employees go about things on the work floor – I observe a genuine interest in the person on the other end of the line.”
“We provide proper training, and we neither work with scripts nor with approval or escalation levels. If you’re a customer talking to our employee, it is their task to solve your problem. Seven years ago, we often said ‘No’ to customers in a very friendly way. Now, employees can make an exception to the rules if they deem it necessary. Later, during an evaluation, it’s possible to discuss whether it was the best solution. The introduction of Lean Six Sigma has helped tremendously in implementing empowerment. We don’t make less mistakes than we used to, but our focus on the customer has increased significantly. This contributes to a high customer rating.”

From cost savings to a larger share of wallet

Although the aim of continuous improvement really fits the Perform 2020 program of client KLM (which represents the ambition to become the most customer-oriented, innovative, and efficient European airline), Cygnific doesn’t free ride on it. Delima explains, “The Lean Six Sigma program really comes from within our organization. We were a classic cost-driven contact center. Offshore outsourcing and steering on call duration would be the cheapest solution for our client, but in our view, that’s a race to the bottom. The price per call has not decreased. But if you look at the cost of doing business, realizing savings is what our clients profit from – through a call volume reduction and higher customer satisfaction, for example.”
“We do expect our clients to do something with our suggestions, because otherwise, we will get frustrated and our employee satisfaction will decrease,” says Delima. “Examples include recommendations for improving information provision on the website: are you allowed to bring a surfboard on one of Delta’s domestic flights or not? In addition, we contribute to the top line – Cygnific also does sales – as well as an increase in customer satisfaction. Cygnific is a profit center with its own P&L – the profit goes to KLM.”
Thomassen summarizes, “Realized cost savings are converted into time to ensure processes go better and more efficiently. Within KLM, we also have many different types of clients, and we fully participate in their customer journeys. If our suggestions result in less customer contact and therefore revenue loss, our share of wallet will increase in another area.”

Wallboards for employees

Back to the work floor. You can only give people responsibilities and authorize them if they have correct, current, and reliable steering information. This kind of information shows expectations and results.
Delima says, “In many contact centers, you see wall displays or wallboards on the work floor that are really intended for the manager. Cygnific has consciously opted for screens that show employees where the team stands.”
“The Lean idea is that employees connect with what they do as well as the quality thereof in the primary process,” Thomassen says. “Not only should they be able to provide feeback on these processes – they also need to be capable of making improvements. In addition to screens, which provide real-time information on relevant processes, each department also has ‘improvement boards.’ Here, employees hold Kaizen sessions – sometimes in collaboration with the client’s representatives – which lead to short-cycle improvement actions. In other words, it’s not merely about screens – just like empowerment is not merely about authorizations in systems.”
Delima adds, “Everyone is introduced to the Lean Six Sigma method upon starting their job. From day one, employees are asked to be critical and come up with ideas – briefly put, to participate in the process. This approach is successful and is now rooted in employees’ DNA. If visitors want to know the purpose of the screens, I let one of the employees explain it – after all, they are the ones who have figured out what information they wish to work with.”

Making independent decisions based on real-time information

When implementing the wallboards, it turned out that employees mainly needed an overview, says Thomassen. “They want to see what’s going at a glance and without giving any effort. This may be a combination of information from BI systems and real-time status updates. Depending on the department, you see information regarding sales or the quality of services. Usually, it’s basic information: how many customers are on hold, how many agents are available. Every team decides independently which information is relevant to them. It’s important that the employee can make their own decisions based on the information provided. For example, they should indepedently determine whether it’s possible to take on another task, such as an improvement process, or to ‘empty’ the queue, like yesterday, or to lengthen a conversation and give the customer a few suitable, extra tips on a destination. In doing the latter, the agent can draw from their own travel and life experience.”
None of the departments show the AHT on the performance board, Thomassen explains. “If you manage a contact center based on AHT, every employee will think twice before they add something extra to a conversation. After all, the manager will mainly focus on outliers. However, employees do want to see an indication of the occupancy rate, which gives them the opportunity to tell the scheduler they want to take the afternoon off at the last minute.”

What information do you use?

In terms of ergonomics, the amount of content per screen was taken into account. Thomassen says, “In any case, the information provided should not distract. For example, one department uses a ticker tape that regularly displays current information – on visitors, among other things. In the case of webcare, a benchmark of several locations is also shown in consultation with KLM Digital. The wallboards are not used as message boards for birthdays – other channels are already deployed for this purpose. Furthermore, wallboard information is not static. We regularly check with the teams whether the compilation of the information provided still meets their needs. How do you use the information? What do you use and what do you discard? What would you prefer to see? The answers are included in the improvement cycle.”

20-25% turnover works well

Delima says, “My predecessor Ton Ridder was pretty clear: it doesn’t make any sense to transform a large contact center if you’re not willing to take everything into consideration. Therefore, information provision on the work floor has been an integral part of the Lean Six Sigma project. All this has led to more customers as well as higher customer and employee satisfaction.”
Yet when it comes to the change process, Cygnific is far from finished. On the contrary, Delima explains. “Our employee is able to make decisions that have a major impact on the customer. But if the same employee has a question for or request of the internal organization, we turn out to be a very traditional organization. A rising turnover showed that the internal customer focus should be much better. Some contact centers don’t see any harm in a 35-percent turnover rate or even deem it rather low, but to us, it’s an issue. Cygnific really wants to keep its people on board for a few years – that’s also a prerequisite considering the nature of our activities. However, a 20-25-percent turnover rate works well for us. All support departments are currently part of a program: the same revolution my predecessor has implemented in the front office will now take place in the internal organization.”

Cygnific – founded in 1998, based in Amsterdam and Enschede in the Netherlands – employs more than 1,000 people. Customers of Air France KLM and Delta Airlines, among others, are helped in more than 18 languages. The company operates 24/7/365 and has worked with Lean Six Sigma for several years. The company also has offices in Wembley, Tirana, Delhi, and Manila, employing yet another 500 people. Recently, Cygnific acquired AIS, a service provider in the maritime and offshore sector with 400 employees. Cygnific’s webcare has been awarded several times; dialogues regularly go viral.

Author & Images: Erik Bouwer. Published: July 31, 2019 –

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