Taking Off on SMS




Mobility is beginning to catch up among Indian enterprises with companies
warming up to the concept of mobile applications. In certain sectors such as the
airlines industry, mobility, or more specifically, SMS as an enterprise platform
is already a given norm

You
were just about to leave office to catch the 13:35 hrs Spicejet flight from
Delhi to Bangalore and ‘beep…beep…’ goes the phone. You’ve got SMS.
The flight has been delayed by 45 minutes. You may not be very happy about it,
but at least you can attend to some pressing matters in the office rather than
wiling away time at the airport.

It’s
December and the upcoming fog season is going to be a tough time ahead. While
properly co-ordinating the back-end to manage constant delays and changes in
flight schedules is an operational must-have, interfacing with the customers is
an equally strong business must-have. A robust customer interface for delivering
more efficient services in the airlines industry is today not only restricted to
specific emergencies, but a given for all times. Hence, when Spicejet started
out its operations there were no two-ways about leveraging the mobile technology
to help improve customer satisfaction as well as drive operational efficiencies.

According
to Nisheeth Mishra, general manager-IT, Spicejet, once having set up the core
IT applications and infrastructure in May this year, the next step was to look
at ways of enhancing the features and customer experience.

The
company operates 40 flights a day with 150-160 passengers per flight, which
makes for an average of 3,000-3,500 customers on a daily basis. Delivering more
streamlined and timely communication to the customers ultimately aimed at
driving more customer satisfaction with the airline’s services.       

The
airlines industry has its own specific dynamics such as possible changes in
flight schedules, delays, itinerary, and PNR details (which is to be carried
along while checking in). These are some of the examples of the communication
that the airline needs to send to its customers besides promotional schemes,
etc. Spicejet recognized SMS as a viable platform to inform customers in a more
cost effective manner. 

The
process prior to the use of the SMS application was to individually call up the
customers (passengers) and inform them of any changes in the flight schedules,
plans, etc. Additionally, when the customer books a flight either through tele-booking
or online booking, an email is sent to him/her along with the confirmation
number, detailed itinerary, etc.

Core IT
Systems at Spicejet:
Reservations and Airports

  • Navitaire system
  • Telnet based airport application

Engineering and Flight Operations

  • Russel Adams–Maintenance and Operations
  • Navtech–Online flight planning

Finance and Human Resources

  • RAMCO ERP

While
these traditional processes were serving the purpose, they had their respective
shortcomings. For instance, when Spicejet call center calls up to inform the
passengers of some change in the flight schedule some people might not be able
to take the call or might not like to be disturbed. Furthermore, while
individually calling up the passengers required a one-to-one communication,
which was not very cost-effective. For people doing online and tele-booking,
when they receive an email with the itinerary they need to get it printed and
carry it along to the airport. For some people who are doing the booking from
home, they might not be able to take a print-out of the email.   

The
airlines realized that the traditional processes could be complimented with an
SMS system to make the entire communication process more optimal and cost
effective. According to Mishra, when the company was looking at enhancing the
systems and building value-add over the existing systems, the SMS application
came across as the only solution considering its unique features. One of the key
reasons for adopting the SMS application was the reachability factor considering
the growing mobile phone penetration. It also allowed for the company to
communicate the necessary information to the passengers without being intrusive. 

SMS Application
Spicejet has SMS-enabled its web-based applications and services using the
messaging platform from ValueFirst, called VelocityPlus. The SMS gateway has
been provided by Airtel and front-ended by ValueFirst. While at present it is
using only push-based applications, it will be extending the system to
pull-based applications as well in the next few months. Here are some of the
types of SMS services that Spicejet currently uses to improve business
performance. 

The
SMS system is linked with the airline’s booking system for the exchange of
relevant data. However, the system has not been provided a direct access to the
main server. While the main server hosting all the core applications of Spicejet
is located in London, various files are dumped at the HO in India as and when a
change occurs on a real-time basis. The SMS gateway inter-links with these files
to extract the relevant data required for sending the information out to the
customers.  

Push Information
The push-based applications largely comprises providing flight related
information to the passengers. Presently, this includes information such as
delay or change in the status of the flight schedules, in which case an
automated message goes out to all the passengers of the particular flight. As
part of the push-based services the airlines also provides the PNR number and
the flight details to its passengers over SMS when the booking is done. This
contains some of the basic details that are required and hence, the passenger
does not need to carry the itinerary along when travelling. According to Mishra,
this saves a lot of hassles for their customers as some of them are booking from
home and sometimes at home they don’t have access to the printer. However, the
email communication still continues. The customers are also sent a pre-flight
checklist couple of days before departure, which contains information on
itinerary, weather forecast as well as other useful information.

Key Benefits
In the proposed business case prepared for the adoption of SMS application, the
payback period was proposed at around seven months. The company is already right
on its way to achieve that successfully. In fact, the company expects the
payback period to reduce than the initially proposed seven months. According to
Mishra, this time period was derived, while taking into account the three
aircrafts that were being operated by the airlines at that time. With the
airlines recently adding another two aircrafts to its fleet, the payback period
is likely to reduce than the earlier estimated time frame. The SMS application
has also helped the airline in brining down its communication costs.

In
qualitative terms the application has already started showing results in terms
of improving internal efficiencies. While prior to the usage of SMS there was a
one-to-one communication going out from the agent to the customer, now it is
one-to-many communication. This has allowed reachability to a much wider
spectrum of audience in reduced time with lesser pressure on the resources.
Mishra explains that the number of agents is limited and a one-to-many
communication through SMS has freed up a lot of the agent time and resources to
handle the customer cell and do additional activities. Thereby, leading to more
optimal utilization of the agent resources. On the other hand, there has also
been an improvement in the success rate in terms of the information reaching out
to the customers as compared to calling up, wherein there were chances of the
user being busy and hence, the call not taken. 

Pull Information
After having stabilized on the push-based applications, Spicejet is now planning
to further enhance the SMS system to allow pull-based information services as
well to its customers over the SMS in the next one month. This essentially means
that apart from receiving specific modules of information, the customers can
also ask for specific information by sending requests through SMS. 
The passengers, customers or prospects will be able to use the pull
application for some of the flight information services like:

  • Check
    flight schedule: Passenger/customer can know flight schedule by sending an
    SMS to a pre-defined number.

  • Check
    Availability: A person who wishes to buy tickets will be able to know the
    availability between specified origin and destination over the SMS.

  • Check
    Flight Status: One can check the departure and arrival timings on real-time
    basis.

  • Set
    Alerts: One can set alerts for flight delays, diversions, and cancellations. 

  • Ask
    for any other information (helpdesk): Free text based query.

Future Spurt in SMS Traffic|
Starting with one lakh SMS per month, the SMS traffic has presently
reached to around five lakh per month. The airlines have added five stations to
its existing six in November this year and this will give a significant spurt to
the SMS traffic. Taking into account the expansion plans-the SMS volumes are
likely to double every three months. In terms of sheer volume, the push-based
applications will outnumber the pull-based applications.

Backed
by the SMS application, Spicejet has not only been able to improve internal
efficiencies, but has also been able to better position itself to help deliver
greater customer satisfaction through improved efficiencies. With the upcoming
foggy season, requiring frequent changes in flight schedules, the airlines will
be relying on simple tools such as SMS to ensure a robust and cost effective
communication link with the passengers.

 

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