Remote Access Service Case Study
Carlson Wagonlit's Remote Connections Make for Satisfied Employees and Customers (Cont'd)
We want to be an employer of choice. So we started to ask, ‘what can we do to offer this type of work from home?’”
Mohamed Bargha, Director of Network Architecture, Carlson Wagonlit Travel
About Carlson Wagonlit
Carlson Wagonlit Facts
Improve customer and employee experience while reducing costs
AT&T remote access service connects home-based travel counselors to the CWT global network
Reliable connections enable cost-effective, customer-pleasing home-based work while handling traffic spike
Business Travel Management, Meetings and Events
Present in 153 countries and territories; 19,000 employees
CWT is a global leader specialized in managing business travel and meetings and events. CWT serves companies, government institutions and non-governmental organizations of all sizes. By leveraging both the expertise of its people and leading-edge technology, CWT helps clients derive the greatest value from their travel program in terms of savings, service, security and sustainability. The company is also committed to providing best-in-class service and assistance to travelers. CWT services and solutions are comprised of Traveler & Transaction Services, Program Optimization, Safety & Security, Meetings & Events and Energy Services.
Changing customer needs and increasing volatility in business travel requirements made it increasingly important that CWT boost its operational flexibility. The company’s operating model, based on call centers staffed with full-time travel counselors, created a challenge when responding to significant spikes in call volumes. To address this, CWT restructured its call center organization to allow more agents to be based at home and in small offices. This not only allowed new work options, but also provided greater flexibility for both travel counselors and the company in dealing with the variations in call volumes.
CWT chose AT&T Network-Based IP VPN Remote Access (ANIRA) service to connect agents based in homes and small offices with travelers and the CWT information system. The service allows CWT to easily connect any remote office through the global AT&T network for consistent, high-quality voice and data communication. Home-based travel counselors can work flexible schedules that improve their work-life balance, while they remain available for work on short notice. CWT can now rapidly scale up to help customers deal with unexpected events, such as adverse weather. The solution also assists with the company’s goal of enhancing sustainability.
Being Everywhere At Once
For today’s corporations, global travel can be as important—and nearly as frequent—as the daily commute. Carlson Wagonlit Travel supports not only Fortune 500 companies, but organizations of all sizes with business-critical travel management services. With complex travel requirements, CWT’s larger customers require full-time management of multi-faceted, fast-paced travel schedules. From booking and cost analysis to travel alerts and 24/7 call support, CWT’s services optimize company travel programs and improve individual travel experiences.
When you connect the device, it creates a secure tunnel over the public Internet back to our network. It’s consistent, it’s global and it’s flexible."
Mohamed Bargha, Director of Network Architecture, Carlson Wagonlit Travel
CWT supports travel through local offices and partnerships in more than 153 countries. From call centers in the United States, Canada, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA), CWT travel counselors work with travelers down the street and around the world. “We service our customers globally,” said Mohamed Bargha, Director of Network Architecture. “There's no such thing for us as, ‘sorry sir, your booking was made in Latin America and I'm based in EMEA, therefore I cannot help you.’" CWT call centers range from four to hundreds of travel counselors. The company also has customer-specialist counselors working in call centers and offices on customer sites.
CWT provides customized services that airlines, booking sites and other travel service providers can’t match. “There is a difference between just making a booking and issuing a ticket versus having 24-hour support,” said Bargha. “It’s a real add-on.” The company provides emergency assistance and mobile alerts, and even helps with visas and passports. Knowing a customer’s preferences and travel history translates to better service. CWT has built personalization into its support technology that allows the travel counselor to recognize customers and their travel related details when they call. This capability reduces call times and improves the customer experience.
A Blow-up . . . and a New Model
While much global travel is routine, the unexpected does happen. In 2010, when an Icelandic volcano spewed a flight-grounding ash cloud over Western Europe, CWT’s incoming calls increased 1,000 percent. Call centers could not keep pace with the unforeseen increase, and off-duty travel counselors were challenged to respond in time. And that wasn’t the end of the problems. “With the ash cloud, the economic situation and terrorist attacks, we had quite a challenging period,” said Bargha. “These external market influences are why we started to think about creating a flexible network.”
Adding more call centers was not the answer. It was time for CWT to implement a new service structure that would better meet global needs and maintain leadership in the field. Cost was a deciding factor. “It’s challenging to provide the best service at a low cost,” Bargha said. With space to rent, operate and maintain, office-based call centers presented a significant expense. While CWT is moving many services to web portals, travel management requires phone contact between travel counselors, customers and third-party partners. CWT’s international business rendered phone costs high.
Another issue also called for a reassessment of CWT’s business structure: high employee turn-over rates. Employee retention is an industry-wide issue and the company found it was losing valuable employees, and with that, continuity of client relationships.
“They would always tell us the same thing: ‘If we could improve our work-life balance, we would stay with the company,’” Bargha explained. The majority of travel counselors are women, and they often would leave their jobs to have a family. Hiring and training new employees is costly, and important customer relationships had to be developed all over again. “We want to be an employer of choice,” said Bargha. “So we started to ask, ‘what can we do to offer this type of work from home?’”
Changes at Home Ensure Consistency Abroad
CWT implemented AT&T Network-Based IP VPN Remote Access (ANIRA) service
to connect home-based and small-office travel counselors to its global network.
ANIRA uses an AT&T NetGateTM device at the remote location to
make the connection to CWT’s Virtual
Private Network (VPN) provided by AT&T. The device works across service
providers, allowing home-based travel counselors to use local DSL connections.
“When you connect the device, it creates a secure tunnel over the public
Internet back to our network,” said Bargha. “It’s consistent, it’s global and
it’s flexible.” No matter where they are or what Internet provider they use,
home-based travel counselors have the same systems access as call
CWT completes millions of transactions annually, and the company’s global operations require travel counselors to organize, track and access massive amounts of diverse information. ANIRA gives remote agents access to this data. “We have more than 200 different applications running on our network,” Bargha said. Using class of service (CoS) coding, the network prioritizes information, parceling out capacity as needed to ensure optimal performance.
The ANIRA solution improves quality of service across work sites by separating voice and data through two distinct tunnels. Phone calls are vital to CWT’s business. For travelers needing support, voice communication is irreplaceable, and service can be compromised by a bad connection. “Telephone calls have a different characteristic than sending an e-mail or transaction,” Bargha said. “You can lose or not understand what the customer is saying over the phone.” Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), separated from data, ensures clear, reliable voice communication. Even if a data screen takes a second longer to load, the voice connection will be there. And, with VoIP, CWT saves significantly on long-distance phone charges.
CWT had acquired a company with a majority of travel counselors already working from home, so it made sense to initiate the new model with these employees. And quickly, “everybody wanted to work from home,” said Bargha. The company employs a vast network of home-based counselors in the United States and EMEA.
Making Convenience Productive
Home-based travel counselors like their new workplace. “They feel much more relaxed,” Bargha said. “They are flexible in organizing their day because it’s not a fixed time period where they have to be at work.” Counselors jump on and off the system as they want, becoming available to take calls when they log in. They can schedule work times around kids, household chores and other activities.
The work-at-home style has other benefits for CWT. The company is seeing an increase in productivity, with home-based counselors handling a higher percentage of calls and emails. They don’t waste time traveling to work—their work day starts right when they want it to. In addition, the problem a potential illness raises - go to work with a cold, or stay at home and report in sick - is gone. CWT has already seen a reduction in sick leave.
The home-office model benefits CWT’s customers by promoting dedicated customer service. Setting your own work schedule is a privilege and a responsibility. That sense of ownership has carried over into the counselor-customer relationships. “Typically people start around 8:00 or 9:00 a.m., but now we’ve seen people even starting work earlier to support the customers,” said Bargha.
Its home-based workforce also helps CWT respond to unexpected events. Home-based counselors can easily adapt work hours when additional on-duty representatives are needed. “We are able to scale instantly,” Bargha explained. “People who are not scheduled are able to log on the system and start working when we need them.” There is no need to staff and pay for an entire call center during off-hours, just in case of an unexpected spike in calls.
Another winner is the environment. The company’s home-based model decreases commuter traffic. “We don’t have people in traffic jams all day,” said Bargha. With increasing numbers of work-at-home agents, the company is reducing its carbon footprint. Some offices even give home-based employees payments for cutting emissions. “They give an allowance for working at home because of the contribution to being green,” explained Bargha. CWT is creating a sustainable model for its employees and its environment.
The home-based employment model appeals to a range of ages, from older workers to young people just out of college, whom CWT terms “YOPO’s”- young potentials. “They like to work different hours and they’re not tied up to a location,” Bargha said. The appeal of this model bodes well for the future, as the company creates a diverse, adaptable workforce. With the ANIRA service, training home-based employees is easy, with an innovative mentorship strategy that pairs senior counselors with new counselors, either in-person or through remote communication.
Now CWT is expanding the reach of the ANIRA solution. The service enables fast, flexible, and cost effective growth. “We have a design that is able to be applied everywhere,” said Bargha. ANIRA has already reduced the time it takes to connect a new office from three months to just weeks. Implementation of the home-based model is now planned for Latin American and Asia-Pacific countries.