Back in the days when I was working and living in Madrid (not really that long ago at all), I was involved in one part of a larger deal with Saudi Arabian Airlines, with my part primarily being selling the suite of tools to automate website bookings post PNR creation. I remember when working on that deal thinking how much potential there was to increase automation to improve customer service in so many areas of the airline, but in most cases I tend not to write about clients here unless I see something elsewhere making it very clear that what I am writing is close to material already in the public domain.

With that in mind, I saw a story recently on changes taking place in the Saudia call centre, and I read the following quote:

“At present only three percent of sales are done through the website,”…“We expect that 25 percent of sales would take place through the website by the year 2013,” he said, adding that the increase in website use would also reduce pressure on the call center. He said most calls received by the center were unrelated to bookings or cancellations… “Our website is much developed now and you can do your booking, get your ticket and your boarding pass within five minutes, especially for domestic flights,” Jan said. People can also check seat availability through the website. “They need not call us if there are no seats available on the website.” By the end of May, 1.89 million reservations were made through the website.

That article is choc full of good information and statistics, and remember that Saudia is around 17.5 million schedule pax per year (last time I looked), so it is far from being a small airline.

I’ve been reading other material recently around some of the latest technology in speech recognition for call centres, and it was only the other day that I mentioned what Varolii is doing with airlines such as Alaska and United to reduce cost in their call centres. It is still hard to imagine an airline with only 3% direct online penetration, especially now that I’m living in the US where numbers of 40% and above are more common, but on the other hand, it is great to read that Saudia are really starting to take advantage of some of tools that have proven so effective for airlines and their direct sales channels elsewhere.