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As it takes on Paytm, BookMyShow is betting big on an in-house team to be their Weapon X

Harshith Mallya & Sindhu Kashyap
28th Aug 2017
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Today, while a bot is possibly answering most of your queries, BookMyShow still has a 200-people strong in-house contact centre team, and believes it to be the secret sauce for superior quality customer service. YourStory recently visited the BookMyShow office, and here is what we learned. 

It is 11 in the morning and monsoon has begun to make its presence felt in Mumbai. Braving our way through traffic and slush-filled streets, we reach the BookMyShow office at Supreme Chambers at Andheri West.

A plush office complex, the Supreme Chambers is also home to the office of Dharma Productions. A BookMyShow employee whispers, “Those who work here have spotted Shah Rukh Khan, Karan Johar, and the who’s who of Bollywood.”

The building is also home to BookMyShow’s contact centre, which has a team size of over 200. The office this morning, like most days, is bustling with activity. We are shown rooms that work as ‘nap spaces,’ the coffee lounge, the ticketing centres, and most importantly, we are introduced to the main purpose of our visit – the ever vigilant ‘Contact Centre’ team.

The BookMyShow office.

BookMyShow’s nerve centre

It is rather unusual to have an in-house call centre or a ‘contact centre’ team in this age of chatbots, when artificial intelligence and automation is estimated to wipe out a lot of mid-level jobs in the next decade. Global technological leaders though seem to be divided on the potential long-term impact of AI.

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, sees a potentially apocalyptic future reigned by AI and has asked for proactive regulations on it. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, on the other hand, has called Musk a naysayer and accused his doomsday fears of unnecessary negativity.

But the core team at BookMyShow thinks a little differently. They already are plugged into their systems and are busy talking to customers.

The Contact Centre at BookMyShow.

Komal Chainani, DGM, Contact Centre and Operations, and Anil Makhija, VP, Service Delivery, give us a rundown of why BookMyShow thinks it is important to have an in-house contact centre — there are emotions involved in the purchase of a product, and it is important to have an understanding of those emotions.

“We essentially deal with the emotions of the user. Going for a movie or booking for an event has several emotions attached. When a transaction cancels out and if the money is debited, the customer wants to know what happened immediately and that makes them pick up the phone and call us,” Komal explains.

The contact centre is the most important part of BookMyShow. Every employee who joins the company, irrespective of their designation, has to spend a few hours understanding the workings of its contact centre and learning how to talk to the customer. It is in fact a part of their induction.

What do the numbers say?

Today, with Paytm entering the movie-ticketing business, having a Contact Centre seems to provide BookMyShow with a competitive edge.

“I did use Paytm once or twice because of the discounts. But I went back to BookMyShow because it was easier and something that I am used to,” explains 32-year-old Arun M. A report by Kalagato also suggests that BookMyShow still retains 78 percent of the market share. It also stated that BookMyShow had a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 0.52 and an average order value of Rs 446.9 between January and March 2017. Paytm, however, had a higher order value of Rs 468.4.

Besides, the report quoted:

“Despite all the noise around Paytm’s recent entry into this space; BookMyShow will be a difficult adversary to take on. They understand their users beyond cashbacks and incentives that could skew the market. Of course, one could argue that so does Paytm, after all: they know how and where consumers spend their money. Consumers tend to assign one use case for one app and the multiplicity of solutions is confusing rather than empowering.”

Beginning with people who were already a part of the team to new joiners, everyone has had a taste of customer conversations. In fact, they have even gone on ground during events, like the Ed Sheeran and dealt with everyday struggles. “It helps build a better product. The ground realities are otherwise hidden,” explains Anil.

Building everything from scratch

Komal joined Big Tree Entertainment as a fresher when the company was yet to conceptualise BookMyShow as an online platform. Sitting in the IMAX Adlabs, she would help customers book their tickets.

Komal Chainani, has been with BookMyShow for 14 years now

When Big Tree decided to build the platform, the team at BookMyShow thought of building the in-house contact centre, with close to 30 people purely for sales, and five to resolve customer issues.

“But we soon realised that people needed more support. Selling of tickets via calls had started to drop,” says Komal. Today, the bookings have moved from the website to the app. Now 75 percent of the bookings happen on the app.

When you have it in-house, you can easily find a solution to a customer’s problem – either give an immediate refund or book the ticket for him or her. “There means a complete control over the user experience, which an outsourced call centre cannot provide,” explains Anil.

But having over 200 people in-house working as a contact centre doesn’t seem cost-efficient. Wouldn’t it be simpler to outsource it? Anil doesn’t believe so. When he joined BookMyShow four years back, the contact centre was a team of over 50-60 people — if anything, today, the team has grown.

Inexpensive in the long run

Anil tells us that earlier the team had experimented with outsourcing a portion of their contact centre in South India. “For a team of 200, it isn’t much cost cutting,” explains Anil. There are too many variants at play when it comes to understanding the need of an in-house call centre.

One of the most important factor being the ability to control the end experience. For this, it is important that the person manning the contact centre is able to seamlessly interact with the customer, empathise with them, and resolve their query.

Therefore, the hiring process for the contact centre is equally intense. Komal adds that the interviewees are given several scenarios, and on the basis their responses to these scenarios, their ability to deal with situations is ascertained.

“Most of our call centre executives need to make snap judgement of the customer’s mood and give a solution accordingly. For that you need to be in touch with empathy and understand human emotions,” explains Anil.

Also, with the outsourcing, the team realised that the customer service executive doesn’t have the same kind of commitment. Because the average price of the movie tickets is Rs 200, BookMyShow found that the outsourced team didn’t see the same value in selling them as they did in selling much higher priced cars or refrigerators. Anil remarked,

“Also, ours is a dynamic product that keeps changing every week. And for that, it is important that the individual dealing with the end customer can take legitimate actions,” says Anil.

The customer experience is important at the end of the day

Citing an example of the recent Rajinikanth blockbuster, Kaabali, Komal explains that a theatre had cancelled the very first show, which was a midnight show. When the team called the customer, who happened to be a big Rajini fan, he was adamant on purchasing the midnight show tickets.

“In such a scenario, you simply cannot tell them that the money will be refunded. We had to look at different options and tell him that we could provide him a ticket in another theatre. That kind of authority comes with a knowledge of the product and not when you are externally operating from a call centre,” explains Komal.

A future where humans and machines work in tandem?

 In a recent TED Talk, Tom Gruber, who co-founded Siri (which was later acquired by Apple), spoke about how ‘humanistic AI,’ where humans and AI work together, can actually accomplish more than what either could achieve independently. He shared an example of how an AI classifier and human pathologists working together were able to achieve an accuracy rate of 99.5 percent.

Anil Makhija

BookMyShow seems to be going down this road by relying on automated systems, chatbots and humans working in tandem to ensure that the customers have a good experience, as more of India makes bookings online.

Today, the BookMyShow team wants to move from calls to a more chat focussed approach. Anil adds that instead of one person handling one call, it will be one person handling five chats. However, the team still wants to maintain a balance.

“The bot will be used mostly for frequently used queries and not for everything as we still operate with an action-oriented approach. A generic answer isn’t going to help with the customer experience,” explains Komal.

Also, several unanticipated shifts happen: political issues, not getting the reel on time, adverse weather conditions. The team works out an automated message generation system to ensure that people are informed in advance.

“When there is an anticipated push, we have everybody contributing for it. And nobody has ever felt that it isn’t their job. That is what gives it all the difference,” signs off Komal.

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