Travelpayouts Blog

Let’s get personal: Vilyen Salmanov, senior support agent

Reading time:  10  min.

Vilyen brings balance to the team, distributes the workload among support agents, and improves various processes. Vilyen created a Facebook chatbot and introduced an internal ticket tagging system. In addition to helping Travelpayouts’ partners and his team, Vilyen releases music albums, plays the drums, helps glaciologists explore the Elbrus region, and, of course, travels a lot in his free time. Below, he discusses his most frequent and funniest requests, dealing with negativity, services used by the support team, and how to achieve a high satisfaction rate among customers.

My role at Travelpayouts

  • The support team is very important at Travelpayouts. It helps partners and webmasters to properly utilize the tools, such as the API (Application Programming Interface), widgets, and links, as well as efficiently troubleshoot any issues.
  • Our staff has grown to seven people in two years and is headed by Anna Kalinichenko, our supervisor. I am a senior agent and I help my colleagues with all incoming requests. I monitor quality control and ensure that the workload is in balance, so that all deadlines are met, efficiency is not reduced, and my teammates are not under pressure to complete too many tasks.
  • I use SLA (Service Level Agreement) to assess the various workloads of my team members. There is a certain amount of time in which the agent has to fulfill the ticket (request or appeal). If the ticket is not closed on time, I try to determine the reason. If the agent has too many tickets, I reduce their workload by redistributing those tickets among other agents on my team. Alternatively, I increase the workload if I see that a specific employee is highly efficient.
  • In addition, I improve and simplify certain processes. For example, recently, I’ve introduced a chatbot for Facebook. We often get more or less the same type of questions on Facebook, which affiliates can solve on their own. At first, we had the idea to release automatic replies, but I decided to make a chatbot. This new feature has already lifted a significant burden from our team. Now, we get far fewer tickets from Facebook.
  • I also included auto-tagging in our system by setting up triggers that analyze the request’s content and automatically assign certain tags to the ticket. This way, in just a few clicks, we can see how many and what kind of requests we received in a certain time period (day or month). This helped us tremendously. Now, we can collect statistics for ourselves and other teams, plus this system helps us produce reports much faster.
  • To handle more requests, we also tried to make an online chat for questions. We used the Zendesk chat application. I was put in charge of the chat since I was the fastest at answering tickets at the time. It was quite good at first, but over time, people stopped writing there. A big challenge for us was that we could not predict our workload, as one day, there would be a request from only one person and, another day, there would be requests from 10 different people all at the same time! In addition, some questions in the chat room were difficult to solve because of the specifics of the system itself, especially the ones that required the involvement of other teams.

About the support team

  • Our main tool is Zendesk, which is our system for collecting requests. Its interface shows all the necessary information: the time during which you need to respond to the ticket, who received the ticket, when the ticket was last responded to, and so on. We also built our internal analytics and reporting, which includes the information about each agent and their completed tasks each day.
  • Besides the main channel in Zendesk, we also use the Github service, where our partners can ask us any questions related to mobile applications.
  • Our agent, Alima, is responsible for answering all the questions in our Facebook group (Travel Affiliate Club). Essentially, our team is responsible for all inquiries through various channels, including handling comments on Facebook and Instagram.
  • For a couple of months now, we’ve been testing a new Zendesk application, Playlist, which automatically appoints new tickets to agents. The agent with the least amount of tickets will receive a new ticket via Playlist.
  • On average, each agent has to send four replies per hour. This is a rather gentle KPI, as due to the pandemic, there are fewer tickets in general. However, because of the growing interest in tourism, the figures are returning to pre-COVID levels. In addition, each agent has a different work style. Some spend a lot of time on a single ticket and provide an excessive amount of information, while others immediately jump into a dialogue and resolve the issue along the way. Currently, we are developing a universal workflow for agents that will help us respond to requests more effectively.
  • In addition to answering tickets, we also have different internal tasks that some agents help us perform. This is all taken into account in KPIs. For example, Igor Barkovsky now automates reminders for traffic source requests from travel brands.
  • There are many tickets that can be solved by a single message. Last month, these accounted for 46% of our total tickets. But still, most requests cannot be solved with only one message. For example, if a partner can’t figure out the API on their own, we try to solve the problem together with the developers. There are problems with mobile applications that take a long time to solve. Sometimes, we have to wait for a new version of the application from the developers in order to solve the problem completely.
  • We often ask developers to help us solve certain types of problems. But lately, we’ve gained enough experience and can manage on our own most of the time. Some agents know more about some things than others, so we help each other out. For example, Sergey Trofimov is great at solving problems regarding API and mobile applications, while Vasya Kostrakov is adept at dealing with CSS issues. 
  • Sometimes, you can get an answer directly from our head manager, Ivan Baidin. We have a channel in Slack where all the tickets are stored. Ivan periodically monitors this channel.

Work schedule

  • I have a rather weird schedule: I work at night between 0am and 2am and during the day from 11am to 17pm. Since we work from different time zones, everyone has his/her own work schedule. At this moment, our support team is based out of Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Samara, and Northern Germany.
  • To avoid confusion about whose shift it is, we use Google Calendar, which is easy to sync with Slack and can display the schedule in our chat room.
  • In general, our schedule is rather constant, but we can also fill in for each other whenever necessary. Employees from other departments can check who is not in today via the Bamboohr service. In the team, we also have people on-call who are always available for answering questions from the Travelpayouts team or advertisers. For the convenience of other teams, I’ve added a bot in Slack that helps colleagues directly reach out to people on-call.

Our wins

  • Our support team has quite a positive rating. Our CSI (Customer Satisfaction Index) marker, which demonstrates our partner satisfaction, has consistently held steady with 97% positive feedback and only 3% negative feedback. As a rule, the instant there is a misunderstanding, we quickly work together with the partner to resolve the issue.
  • How did you achieve this CSI? After each ticket is completed, an email is sent to the affiliate with a request to rate the work or leave a comment. As a rule, we resolve issues quickly and clearly, so we mostly receive positive feedback.
  • Negative feedback is typically associated with fraud. When we block scammers’ payouts and ask for traffic sources (which, of course, they cannot provide), they go to third-party services like Trustpilot and try to ruin our reputation with angry reviews.

About the content of requests

  • Compared to 2019, the ticket flow is rather small, but is gradually increasing. There are 5% more tickets now compared to March of last year. The travel industry is waking up worldwide and is in full blast in Russia, which is why we are happy that the requests are coming in.
  • Thanks to ticket tagging, you can see the most popular requests in just one click. For example, in March, the most frequent queries were about the status of reservations on users’ personal accounts, such as “why was the booking canceled?” or “why is it still being processed?” The next most popular request is about payments, followed by booking statistics.
  • To improve communication and receive a quick response, you need to immediately give a bit more detail about the problem. Very often, people write “I lost my reservation”. It is better to send the itinerary receipt or information about the reservation along with the request, such as which agency the reservation was made at, the date the reservation was made, and the reservation number. If there’s a problem with our tools, it’s advisable to send the URL of the page where the problem occurred. This can significantly speed up the process of resolving your request.
  • We have funny incidents at work. Often, support requests are sent by experienced webmasters who already know how certain tools work. But there are people who write strange things to us on Facebook. For example, one Pakistani boy has been asking for a long time to be hired as a designer. As proof of his skills, he sent us a Google map on which he made a beautiful colored circle out of dots.
  • Foreigners are more likely to ask about the API and want to work with it. However, we have strict conditions for API provision and we always try to make sure that a person really needs an API for their project. If not, we offer other options to implement their project. API is not so popular among Russian-speaking partners.

About the plans

  • We switched to a new glossary for affiliates. We had to drop certain terms because many people, for example, did not understand the meaning of the word “affiliate”. We changed that term to “partner” and our advertisers are now called “travel brands”. Because of this, we did a lot of work on rewriting the knowledge base, which is now called the “help center“, and we are still working on this process.
  • We also work with Worksection, as we want to keep all tasks in one place.
  • To optimize our workflow, we made notifications from Zendesk flow directly into Slack. This is especially useful in cases where an agent has a ticket that hasn’t been answered for a long time.

About my colleagues

  • When I was looking for a job, I was choosing between Yandex and Travelpayouts, but chose the latter without even knowing the salary, as I immediately liked the process of communication and the questions I was asked. There were also minimum formalities and corporate rules.
  • Within the team, I am most inspired by our supervisor, Anna, who greatly helps me with my personal growth, assigns interesting tasks, and offers constructive feedback about matters that I sometimes miss myself. Ivan Baidin also motivates me with his energy and I am not the only one who feels this way.
  • I constantly learn new things. I never get bored or feel like I am stuck in one place. I think my job is really exciting and I still have a lot to discover.
  • I would love to further develop my “soft skills”, which have definitely improved. Before, I used to be very direct and could not point out a mistake to my colleagues in a calm manner. We have a QA system, where I can see random tickets within a week, see how these tickets were solved, and give my grade. We used to have micro-conflicts with some of the agents, but now I’ve learned how to minimize them.

Regarding the pandemic

  • I was really saddened by the pandemic and concerned about job cuts. However, I was happy to hear that our supervisor had a plan on how to handle the situation, although many people within the company were just as worried, as we are related to the travel industry, which has been dealing with major losses. During the pandemic, we introduced a new tradition called “all hands”, which is a company-wide call, during which top management shares plans and answers questions from employees. After the first call, I felt much more relaxed and motivated to work even more effectively.
  • I’ve been working remotely for quite some time now and not much has changed during the pandemic. Everyone has their own working rhythm. For me, it’s easier to start working in bed as soon as I wake up. This means that between my alarm going off and the start of my working day, there is hardly a minute.

Let’s get personal

  • My main hobby is music. I have two main musical projects: the trip-hop project Vilyen, which managed to release a single, and the noise-punk band NBIP, in which I play the drums. I have a studio where I write music for other people and for myself. I also play in other bands from time to time.
  • My other hobby is travel. For as long as I can remember, I dreamed about owning a campervan. Recently, my dream came true and I finally bought one. Soon, I’ll be going on my first independent tour around Kyrgyzstan.
  • If there was no pandemic, I would go to Georgia first thing. I am absolutely in love with this country!
  • My top three places to visit in Georgia are: (1) Svaneti, which offers hiking on various trails. I would love to reach the highest point at the Hatsvali ski resort and enjoy its breathtaking views. (2) Dinner at the “Funikuliori” restaurant in Tbilisi. The food there is really delicious, especially their homemade wine and legendary donuts. You can also appreciate stunning views of the city in the evening. (3) The ancient city of Uplistsikhe. This magical place is about 4,000 years old and perfectly preserved. You can even see that Georgia had storm drains 4,000 years ago and we still don’t have them in Moscow!
  • My favorite tracks that I would love to play for company off-site:
    – Death Grips — I’ve Seen Footage
    – Viagra Boys — Sports
    – Slowthai — Doorman
  • 10 years from now, I see myself being a young-at-heart rock star 

Short quiz

Working from home or from the office?

  • From home

Being left to your own devices or working together in a team?

  • Together in a team.

Mountains or sea?

  • Mountains

A glass of wine or a cup of tea/coffee?

  • Difficult choice, but I would go for a cup of coffee.

Netflix and chill or a night-long party?

  • Netflix

Stability or freedom?

  • Freedom