Bremen-based Flyline can look back on two decades of success and expansion. The wholly owned subsidiary of British Airways (BA) started out as a call centre with 30 employees. The company chose Bremen as its base because the clearest German is spoken here, managing director Michael Spring says with a chuckle. In the beginning, Flyline was the result of a restructuring process through which BA aimed to modernise and increase efficiency. Before long, Bremeninvest was lending a hand. The economic development agency helped the company to merge its original sites near the university and in the Vahr district of Bremen. From the outset, the plan was to establish a large BA contact centre at Airport-Stadt Bremen. Today, Flyline Tele Sales & Services GmbH employs 400 permanent staff at the Bremen airport business park. In this interview, managing director Michael Spring outlines the company’s history and the challenges it is currently facing.
What did Flyline do in the beginning?
Michael Spring: We started out working exclusively in the telesales sector for BA. It soon became clear that our parent company was looking to establish a new pillar outside of its core business, for example for other airlines that were working with BA.
What were the key milestones for Flyline in Bremen?
Michael Spring: Our first milestone right at the beginning was establishing ourselves internationally. A total of 80 BA booking centres were merged into six, and at that time call centres were also being consolidated in the USA. We had to organise a night shift during this phase, partly due to the time difference. That was back in 2001/2002. The rapid development of the internet brought us to our second milestone. Since then, we have established ourselves as BA’s language hub, and we have also made inroads into other markets. In 2017, we added Russia and parts of Eastern Europe to our business in Bremen – that was the third milestone and the icing on the cake.
Do you rely on native speakers?
Michael Spring: We provide services in nine languages, and the customer expects communication to run smoothly.
On which areas of business do you focus and what are your main sources of revenue?
Michael Spring: 80 per cent of our business is with our parent company, BA, and we also do some work for Iberia, the airline that merged with BA. We handle their entire European travel agent business. Non-conventional airline business accounts for 15 per cent of our activities, which includes working with companies in the tourism sector. Their customers include airlines, airports, hotel chains, logistics companies and hospitals, with activities covering everything from telesales, sales and campaign support, help desk functions and complaints management to social media monitoring and analysis of business processes. How do your employees gain their expertise? Michael Spring: For a start, I have a background in the tourism industry. And our broad experience in a range of sectors has contributed to a pool of knowledge that we can draw on to equip employees with the skills they need. In some areas, we also work very closely with our customers, so that we are able to build up knowledge here too.
Does Flyline have specific working time models for its 400 employees?
Michael Spring: All employees are on permanent contracts. We do not have any temporary staff or workers paid by the hour. And with good reason – given the complexity of our business, our employees have to spend a lot of time in training. But we do have part-time staff, many of whom are mothers returning to work. We are also flexible when it comes to remote working. We currently have 80 employees who work from home or alternate between working at the office and from home. This is really easy to implement and integrate into operational procedures thanks to the latest technology. For us, it makes little difference whether an employee is located in Munich, say, or at our headquarters in Bremen. We even have a member of staff who works for us from the Netherlands.
What communications technology do you use in the Flyline contact centre?
Michael Spring: Everything runs via IP telephony. But we are also opening up new communication channels and are currently in a transitional phase. There is a lot of talk about the lack of skilled workers. Is that a problem for you too? Michael Spring: So far, we have always managed to hire the staff we need for our multilingual communications right here in Bremen. The university is a great help with this, and some of our employees also study part time. We can also take advantage of our links to the international companies that operate here in Bremen. The city has a good reputation among young people, who are happy to come here from abroad. What’s more, our offices are really easy to get to on public transport, especially as the tram stops right in front of our building. We also offer our employees a free pass for Bremen’s tram network.
Do your language requirements mean you employ people from non-EU countries?
Michael Spring: Yes, we do. Sometimes there are problems with residency permits, but these problems are not specific to Bremen. Bremeninvest has helped us to resolve such issues many times, for example through contacts at the relevant authorities or job centres. We offer German courses to employees from non-EU countries to make it easier for them to find their feet here. This is a scheme that we believe will help us to attract employees from abroad, and we would like to see stronger government support for it. What are Flyline’s plans in Bremen over the coming years? Michael Spring: Our aim is to remain BA’s top contact centre in terms of quality. We also want to build on our position in the BA world and stand out by continually improving our processes. We are a creative team that is constantly coming up with new ideas.
Mr Spring, thank you for talking with us.
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