Which backend did Airbnb use

360 ° view of customers on Airbnb

On the other side of the world is a place waiting for you. At least for a weekend.

Your host might surprise you with a bottle of wine in the fridge or reveal his favorite restaurant to you. Or you have your own place to stay and you sit in a sunny living room with a cup of coffee and think, "I could take it here" - be it Copenhagen, Miami, Amsterdam, London or Tokyo ... or one of the 65,000 cities in 191 Countries where Airbnb has a presence.

In the 10 years since it was founded, Airbnb has created a new economy for thousands of people who share their homes with travelers, and completely new ways for travelers to explore other cities and countries. For Airbnb, everyone belongs wherever they are.

The Airbnb story began in 2008 when the company's founders offered to sublet a room in their San Francisco apartment. That's when they came up with the idea of ​​a new, uncomplicated form of travel where inclusion and hospitality are high on the list. And this idea has paid off massively in the meantime. Airbnb was already recording three million guests a year in 2012 - significantly more than established hotel chains. In 2017 there were already more than 100 million guests worldwide, and according to Morgan Stanley Research, 25 percent of all holiday travelers plan to book a place to stay on Airbnb.

The Airbnb business model is an interesting challenge: The thousands of customer service agents working in more than 20 locations around the world serve both hosts and guests. The Global Customer Experience Team wants to provide a positive customer experience that is built on the Airbnb platform and lasts as long as the stay.

This requires a live, real-time support channel - the phone. But e-mail, social media as well as SMS and messaging channels are also available. Calls make up around 60 percent of the millions of tickets Airbnb receives annually. Most of them are answered within minutes at peak times - often in less than 60 seconds. The remaining 40 percent are received by email and are usually answered within 24 hours.

These millions of contacts are recorded in Zendesk Support, even though Airbnb also uses its own telephone system. Customer service agents log calls in Zendesk and link each call to the associated ticket - via an integration between their own telephone system, Zendesk Support and the Airbnb data warehouse.

Airbnb started working with Zendesk Support to provide consistent, high-quality customer service right from the start. Zendesk Guide is used for the knowledge base. Given Airbnb's global reach, a solution was needed that could easily keep pace with the company's phenomenal growth.

"Scalability, reliability and availability around the clock were important factors for us," said Shirley Lin, Product Lead of the Support Products Group, about Airbnb's early decision to choose Zendesk. “Zendesk has been a good partner to us ever since. Working closely together ensures that Zendesk scales hand in hand with Airbnb - not an easy thing to do. "

Lin's product team works closely with the Global Customer Experience team. The Support Products team is responsible for the end-to-end customer service experience for Airbnb hosts and travelers. Part of this workstream is called “Self Solve”.

“When people are on vacation, they don't like talking to a customer service agent,” explains Lin. And when it comes to simple things like rebooking accommodation, you shouldn't have to either. But in order to understand what a particular customer wants and offer them an intuitive approach, context is required. How urgent is his problem? Is he currently traveling? Or is he preparing for a coming trip? Who is the customer? Has he ever booked through Airbnb?

To create data models that support personalized workflows, the data scientists in the Support Products Group pull the information they need from the Zendesk system. While Zendesk provides customer data and insights in the backend, Airbnb uses the Zendesk API to offer its customer service agents a customized UI that integrates a number of internal agent tools.

Zendesk's integration with Airbnb's tools is an example of how Zendesk always goes one step further for Airbnb. "Our customers not only book accommodation, they also reserve experiences and restaurant visits," says Lin. The interaction between the tools from Airbnb and Zendesk provides a 360-degree view of the customer and his previous interactions and enables Airbnb to implement its own front-end design.

"Zendesk gives us fantastic back-end features that we can make even more powerful with our bespoke UI," continues Lin. This hybrid solution requires a close and cooperative partnership between the engineers in both companies.

The productivity of the combined teams is one of the reasons Airbnb continues to work so closely with Zendesk. “Not all companies would be ready for such an unusual partnership,” says Lin.

When she joined Airbnb in 2015, the overall digital experience wasn't just a priority, it was a real investment. In 18 months, Lin's team of product managers, designers, data scientists, and engineers quadrupled, based in San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.

A key initiative of the group is a new in-house messaging product that will allow customers to run messaging threads with customer service agents on the Airbnb platform. This new product is based on the infrastructure of Zendesk Support and enables personal communication between customers and agents.

“The benefits are immense,” says Lin. “Customers and agents can, for example, send photos directly from their cell phones. We can add read receipts. And there are tons of cool features like real-time notifications when an agent has updated the support case. "

Aisling Hassell heads the Global Customer Experience team, which closely monitors how the new tools are impacting agent productivity and tracks metrics that feed into Airbnb's NET PROMOTER SCORE℠ (NPS). Between 2016 and 2017, Airbnb focused on improving the pace of phone and email support. The team was able to exceed the set goals in every single case. "On top of that! We were also able to achieve an overall improvement of almost 2 percent when it comes to helping customers, ”added Hassell. "So that was a double win."

Like Lin, Hassell values ​​Zendesk's ability to scale with Airbnb. “Zendesk has grown hand in hand with us over the years,” she says. “In the early years, our support operations were a mess. But we have learned a lot. With Zendesk we have made a number of optimizations over time and are now really mature. "

Example: When the Airbnb Customer Experience team started working, there was only support in English. Today, the Hassell team uses Zendesk's multilingual capabilities to provide text-based support in 20 languages. Phone-based support is available in 11 languages, and there is even 24/7 support for English and Chinese.

Hassell and Lin believe that Zendesk's strength lies in providing personal support, which creates mutual trust. As an example, Lin cites a hypothetical dispute between host and guest that lasts for a long time. "For a rigid enterprise product, such a support case would be a challenge that could hardly be overcome," she says. While other enterprise solutions offer comparable functions and scaling options, Zendesk is specially designed to resolve interpersonal conflicts quickly and unbureaucratically through complete insight into the customer's history and all previous contacts.

NET PROMOTER and NPS are registered trademarks and NET PROMOTER SCORE and NET PROMOTER SYSTEM are service marks of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.

"Having a partner who fully understands our business and knows how ambitious we are - that is invaluable to us, because customer service has to be synchronized with all other work processes at Airbnb."

- Shirley Lin Product Lead of the Support Products Group