Tomislav Tepes is a person I’ve known for almost five years, but we would be lucky to speak to each other once a year, usually when I see him at a conference. He has a reputation for being someone willing to lead from the front and try new things online, so I decided to ask him to do an interview with the Shearwater Blog – fortunately he said yes. Read below to see some of his good in-depth answers regarding Croatia Airlines and some of the interesting things they are doing online.

Martin: Tomislav, I’m looking forward to seeing you again next week, but instead of talking about the conference [#1AeCom2010] could we commence with a brief background on Croatia Airlines in general, and your role there. In addition, could you please give an overview of some of the key functionalities you have launched on the website in the past 12 months, and where you see the focus for the immediate future.

Tomislav Tepes of Croatia Airlines

Tomislav: I’m currently employed as an Airline Information Manager within Croatia Airlines IT Department. I joined Croatia Airlines in 2000. In 2008 I acquired a degree from Faculty of Transport and Traffic Sciences (M.Sc.), University of Zagreb. For the past 6 years I have also been eCommerce project manager, in charge of planning and implementing online and mobile company strategy and initiatives.

In the last 12 months we had around 20 implementations of new on-line and mobile services. We build mobile service infrastructure that allows us to develop new services for our passengers. New infrastructure gives us ability to send SMS/MMS messages to our customers worldwide. We developed Schedule Change SMS notification. We are sending PNRInfo messages to users who booked via our contact center. Users no longer need to write reservation details on a piece of paper. Now they simply receive SMS with reservation code, price, reservation time limit and ATM code.

Passengers can also send free SMS messages from our web site. During the internet booking process – FlyOnLine, passengers can agree to receive our SMS promotional messages. If they agree, we award them with some free SMS messages that they can send from our web page. And of course our Marketing department loves new possibility of sending promotional bulk SMS.

We redesigned our mobile site and added some new services like flight status, sending e-mails or ATM locations in Croatia where you can pay for your reservation.

On the web site, we introduced Flight Planner using Amadeus Affinity Shopper. It is a new search engine that targets leisure travelers by allowing them new and innovative way to search for flights. Now, we offer our customers the ability to explore our network by searching not by dates but by their preferences and possible budget – and we display this to them in an interactive route map rather than a calendar display.

We were active also in Social media. We started a Facebook Croatia Airlines page.

The latest new service on our web site is the possibility to chat with FlyOnLine staff. Now if the passenger has a question or problem, they can easily ask the question via chat service and receive on-line instant help. No more mails or telephone calls. Just click on chat icon and ask for help or clarification.

In 2005 when we started our e-commerce project we created the Croatia Airlines eVision:

Build a service that would be simple and adjusted to passengers’ needs.

Now, for 6 years we have been building our e-commerce Internet and mobile services around it and we will continue to do so. We have firm directions of our development and point of interests:

  • Contact center services over the telephone
  • FlyOnLine service over the Internet
  • mobile services
  • Distribution of our services via distribution channels of our non airline partners
  • New payment methods
  • Ancillary services

Martin: Great summary Tomislav, so many topics I could explore further, but a few in particular I’d like to focus on. Firstly, it sounds like you have a good view of the importance of working closely with the contact centre on joint cost saving and servicing initiatives. Where have the biggest benefits come from in this area, and is there anything that maybe in hindsight you would have done differently? Further to that, are the social initatives you mention driven more by cost saving objectives via new forms of disseminating information to customers, or driven by the marketing benefits you see? What is your view on social as a scalable servicing model?

Tomislav: I think that all initiatives on all distribution channels, especially direct ones, are more than welcome. If you don’t adjust and evolve your service you can’t succeed. As society grows so should your service. In my opinion an airline should have answers and strategy regarding direct distribution channel and passengers:

  • How to attract passenger?
  • How to keep and steer passengers needs and behavior?

The answer to first this question is a simple one. Offer them what they want. If they want to use on-line services offer them on-line services. If they want to create reservations over the telephone, provide them service over the telephone. I see it with our customers that if they are satisfied with the channel and with level of service they are using, they will continue to use it. In our eStrategy we created SPS business model. Secure+Profitable+Simple. Secure isn’t all about ICT security. Of course you will use all security procedures, protocols and parameters but secure is also about securing your business processes. You must assure your passenger that your business processes are correct, in place, and that they will get service that was paid for. OK, first goal is now accomplished. Now, you have satisfied customer and you can start to guide them to go on a different channel. Example: Passenger is always creating reservation over the telephone but paying for it at your office downtown. Simply offer them payment possibilities over the telephone. Not one but whole bunch. They can pay via credit card, pay via invoice, pay via ATM, installment payment. People like to have choice. Once paid some other way but directly in your ATO/CTO, and if the journey went well, because you have secure business process, they will stick with it. Now once they start paying over the telephone offer them to go on-line.

You need to explain to them that it is a similar booking process, same IT systems, and same secure business process behind it. If they feel insecure they will have all the help they need. They can phone on-line office or they can send mail that will be quickly replied or they can chat with staff. Once again you must offer them a choice and they will use the one that they want. Once they start using on-line services, a small number will go back to your contact center or office.

This is one of the main reasons why you should have initiatives in the contact center. I think this is one of the main steps if you want to steer your customers on-line.

Your question was about social media as a scalable servicing model? Social media marketing should not be the only tactic companies use, but it should be integrated in an overall marketing strategy. Social media and social initiatives are great and an economical way to start buzz word about your service. I don’t think that companies should start using social channels as a scalable servicing model, so they can answer customer’s posts, engage customer in discussions and try to change customer opinion. The company goal should be creating buzz about company, services that the company provides and gathering information about customer opinion and expectations regarding company’s future services. By applying correct knowledge management tools and other information analytical models on the gathered information, a company can greatly benefit from it. In my opinion this goal is easier to set then to achieve.

Martin: It looks like some of your thinking on social is along similar lines to my own opinion, but I’d say the jury is still out on what will work best when the dust settles as other airlines are using it for servicing and seem pretty happy with the results so far. Final question to wrap up the interview. In your first response you mentioned “Distribution of our services via distribution channels of our non airline partner. ” I was wondering if that was any reference to the digital TV initative I have heard about, and if not, then please tell me a bit more about what you are doing in this area and the impact or results you are seeing.

Tomislav: This initiative “Distribution of our services via distribution channels of our non airline partner” is relatively new one –  about 2 years ago. After we implemented electronic ticket, we realized that entire business process became virtual. We didn’t have any part of a process that required physical interaction, only what we had is electronic information about requested service.

As I’m working in the IT Department this was an exciting discovery for me because a whole new world of possibilities were in front of me. The limit was only our imagination.

Once we started analyzing this new environment we come up with the concept of using banks ATM network for distribution of our services. We contacted the bank with the largest ATM network in Croatia and we proposed the project: Payment and issuing of Croatia Airlines electronic tickets. It was the same bank that was our PSP for and contact center so we already had a good and long relationship with them.

The project was great because it could be implemented with minimal costs because our bank already had an ATM network in place, we had automatic process of payment and issuing of electronic tickets and we both could offer a new service for our customers in what was for them an already familiar and safe environment.

Plus, the new service was incorporated as an additional benefit for the passengers who don’t have a credit card or don’t want to pay over the telephone because they’re afraid that it isn’t safe. Also over the telephone you can’t charge debit cards and via ATM you can. This was a triple win project, win for bank, win for our company and win for our passengers who love this new service.

Once we reached agreement with the bank the implementation was over and service was up and running in less than 2 months. The new service was introduced to the public on 15th October 2008.

As this first project was a success, we had the green light from our e-commerce project board to continue with further explorations of this initiative and it was officially included in e-commerce project.

Our newest project is integration of our services on the largest IPTV platform in Croatia. The project is currently in final phase. This is all that I can say for now but I would be glad to send you some more details and video clips for your blog when we agree a launch date – I hope in a few weeks. Maybe it would be great topic for some future blog?

Martin: The readers here are always interested to hear of initatives other airlines are undertaking in their direct sales channel, so definitely let me know when you are ready to share more on what you are doing with IPTV. I appreciate the detail you’ve gone into in this interview, and no doubt others reading this will feel the same way. Listening to everything you are doing would challenge anyone who thinks innovation is only the domain of the major airline websites. Thanks again for your time, and I’ll see you in Cannes at the Amadeus Airline e-Commerce Conference on June 2nd.