Introducing the BEC partners: speaking with Kiwi.com

David Reid, originally from Birmingham, UK, is the Chief Customer Officer at Kiwi.com. In his spare time he enjoys fitness including boxing and exploring new culinary delights. His biggest passion, however, is travel, which is probably why he ended up at this fast-growing startup in Brno. The company has employed more than 300 newbies so far this year.

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How would you describe the business Kiwi.com, previously known as Skypicker, does to someone without a clue?

We are an online travel agency where you can book flights. What makes us different from everyone else is the algorithm we have in place. We describe it as “virtual interlining”.

The technology allows travellers to create itineraries from almost a limitless amount of flight combinations, as the algorithm finds connecting flights even among un-cooperating airlines in its own database, the largest one of its kind, and creates completely new routes. Which allows us to offer up to 80 percent discount on the prices. Our turnover is around 1,1 million a day.

Kiwi.com has gone through a growth spurt since its origin in 2012. Do you have any branches outside of Brno now?

Everything is centralized in Brno – booking, customer service, product and technology, data team, and HR. We outsource some of the customer service to Kiev, Ukraine, and starting in October we’ll be outsourcing some to Fiji – it is a native English-speaking country and the hours they can work suit us. Potentially the next one for us will be China to cover the Asian Pacific languages. For our customer service and back office teams we plan to hire an additional 60 people by the end of 2016.

If I worked in customer service what would my day look like?

You’d be working on a selection of contacts via calls, chats and emails from customers, on average 25 a day. It could be anything from customers asking to doublecheck where their boarding pass is or wanting to update their passport details, add luggage, or even stuck at an airport due to some delays. We have our Kiwi guarantee: if you buy your ticket with us we guarantee you will get to your end destination or we’ll refund your money back. There is a team of specially trained people who look into these issues and try to find the ideal solution, this could also be supporting with a hotel or even providing a different method of transport like a coach or taxi to an airport in a different city for a different route connection.

About 70 percent of the customer service requests are done in English. Other than that we have several mainstream European languages and we also service Korean, Japanese and Arabic from Brno at the moment.

How many of your employees are expats?

When I joined Kiwi.com in July 2015 there were 7 people in the customer service team. Now there is roughly 600 people within the back office and customer services teams globally. Here in Brno we have around 670 employees across all departments, 770 globally.  Excluding Slovaks there are 23 percent of foreigners, with roughly 55 different nationalities. And the average age of 27 years.

How easy is it to attract foreigners to work for you? 

Within our industry of service a lot of people move accross different companies. Once Kiwi.com become more visible in the media it wasn’t a real challenge. Also we knew there was a niche market for part-time employees, and there’s a lot of students in Brno. We have a 24/7 operation and students can fulfill hours that full-time employees cannot, so it’s a win-win situation.

And what do you think draws expats to Brno?

Brno is a very central place, it is easy to travel to other countries from here, you can be in Venice in 7,5 hours for example. It’s not as busy as Prague. Brno has beautiful surroundings. It is more international than it was 9 years ago when I first came here, and a lot more English-speaking. Unfortunately the service in the Czech Republic hasn’t changed as much.

There is a big-company presence and good cost of living. If you go looking for it, you’ll find a lot of friends here as well as a lot of things to do.

Also, the Czech Republic has a culture that is very family-orientated, and that is something you won’t find in every other European location. Stability is the key word, and you can see with the Czech and Slovak employees as well – they’re looking for stability within their roles and not necessarily job-hopping. Expats job-hop a little bit more.

What do your foreign employees usually miss in Brno?

Me being English, it is bacon and sausage. But for all employees I would say food and creature comforts that are local to their culture. What could be improved in the Czech Republic is the customer service. But with time it’ll get better, the younger generation is already moving in that direction.

Is there anything the city municipality could do to improve the life of foreigners in multinational companies?

A larger number of airport connections would be great. From my perspective we don’t travel from Brno unless we are travelling to the UK. For other flights we go to Prague, which means horrible roads, or Vienna – whichever is cheaper and more convenient.

Are there any places you like to recommend to foreigners in Brno?

I always like to pop in Potrefená husa for their beer and both Czech and international cuisine. I enjoyed the underground beneath Zelný try when visiting. If you go further out, in north of Brno there are some beautiful places to go for walks, for example Blansko, Šebrov or Moravský kras with its caves. Towards the south of Brno you can do a lot of cycling and sample some great wine.

The Immigrant and East Village are obvisouly the go-to places when you’re first coming over. But you don’t always want to be around expats, it’s nice to be part of the Czech culture. I should have put more interest and time into learning Czech, even after 9 years I still don’t speak fluently but my bar Czech is super!

What skills are you looking for at Kiwi.com when hiring right now?

People with English that are innovative, quick to learn, and really understand service – it is something we’re trying to embed as company culture. We’re mainly looking for IT professionals, travel consultants and booking agents. Don’t hesitate to send us a CV!

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