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How SAA’s back-office processes drive customer experience


  • Reduce credit card chargebacks and provide support for key back-office functions
  • Manage fraud and risk without associated rise in headcount
  • Provide consistent quality customer communication
  • Efficient processing of white paper-based documents


  • Offering interface between high value customers and logistics delivery
  • Working on queues in real time
  • Resolve white paper based delivery and process redesign and refine


  • 36% reduction in credit card chargebacks
  • Reduced credit card penalties related to fraud
  • Effective white paper-based processing services
  • 33% headcount reduction
  • Roll out of life and business communication training


South African Airways (SAA) is the country’s national airline carrier and services most major domestic and international routes. Like many airlines the world over, SAA operates under immense cost and operational pressures in the face of challenging economic conditions in a highly competitive industry. Though customer service levels have improved, back office processes were hindering effective service delivery. The organisation had a requirement to streamline these business processes to drive improved efficiencies across its contact centre and strengthen the brand nationally and internationally through consistent levels of service.


The airline operates a number of contact centres internationally, with the Reservations and Voyager (the airline’s frequent flyer program) centre generating the highest amount of client contact and contributing the highest operational costs.

SAA was chiefly concerned with utilising the strength of its partnership relationship with Merchants to identify opportunities for improvements to the customer experience and measurements from a global perspective. Representing a third of the entire operation, the back office function comprises a significant proportion of the workforce in supporting both business areas. ​

For reservations, back office functions include the fulfilment and processing of reservations, and responsibility for credit card authorisation and authentication, security validation, ticketing and liaison with banks. Within the Voyager loyalty division, consistent service delivery depends on effective white paper-based processing and consistent quality standards in customer correspondence.

SAA required a solution that would manage fraud and related chargebacks driven by the high proportion of business conducted through the website via third party transactions. It also required a solution that would address the consistent delivery of quality correspondence and provide consistent and efficient processing of white paper-based documents.

The overall aim would be to provide a consistent quality customer experience through more efficient back office processes, without any associated increases in cost.

Representing a third of the entire operation, the back-office function comprises a signifi cant proportion of the workforce in supporting both business areas.



Merchants deployed a team of eight people, including two fraud specialists, to conduct a thorough review of SAA’s ticketing web transactions business to assess the extent of chargebacks related to fraud via the website.

Working with Merchants’ local team, SAA has seen a 36% reduction in overall chargebacks without an associated increase in headcount. Merchants has extended the same service to the customer facing contact centre to enable further reductions in chargebacks and overall levels of risk.

Voyager Loyalty Programme

Representing a large proportion of Merchants outsourcing component, the 50-strong back-office team operates as an interface between high value passengers and logistics companies. It is responsible for managing various white paper documents and related workflows, queue management, member updates, mileage allocation and email correspondence. ​

Merchants consultants were able to offer insight into the airline’s unique challenges of managing white paper-based processes to ensure the effective management and organisation of submitted papers such as boarding passes through electronic and physical sorting, distribution and filing systems.

The team has also been able to address consistency issues related to business communication through the effective delivery of customer communication training, which includes the design of templates and provision of quality guidelines. In a recent survey, improved quality controls have resulted in 85% of customers reporting they are happy with the overall customer experience.


The Merchants team has been able to reduce chargebacks and penalties imposed by VISA and Mastercard, and has achieved this through a specialist team to manage fraud and risk across direct sales channels and the contact centre, with the same amount of staff. The team intends to extend this delivery to the front-end contact centre to reduce associated chargebacks.​

The Merchants team has addressed quality consistency issues through a series of training workshops that address life and business communication skills to enable upskilling and effective career development. By providing valuable insight into white paper-based delivery, Merchants has been able to enable effective electronic and physical filing processes while reducing headcount and related labour costs.

SAA intends to build on these strengths in partnership with Merchants to tap into new markets and a larger customer base through effective integration of its best practice standards across the globe. The airline has strengthened its commitment to the partnership and strategic vision through a management team restructuring exercise and key stakeholder contacts to ensure continued delivery of a quality customer experience.


Merchants’ true partnership working with SAA continues to enable future expansion opportunities for the business. The scalable hosted facility has the capacity to expand and share costs and skills across the globe through its South African centre of excellence. The added benefit of such operational savings is the provision of a consistent quality customer experience and service levels through effective workforce management, quality control, forecasting and improvements to analytics.​

Using our wide range of diverse skills and expert resources, we look forward to optimising the entire contact centre operating model in future phases to deliver against SAA’s current and future critical business objectives through adding strategic value and assisting with the organisation’s digital marketing strategy and plans for global expansion.

By providing valuable insight into white paper-based delivery, Merchants has been able to enable effective electronic and physical filing processes while reducing headcount and related labour costs. ​​​

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