What if buying a plane ticket came with a trusted service to accompany you every step of the way, from the ticket purchase to the doors of the plane?
This is the challenge set by Axel Guidicelli, co-founder and CEO of Ulysse. After touring the world, Axel identified a real problem with reservation systems, which one company was already solving in the rail transport sector.
"The story was born out of a round-the-world trip I took 5 years ago, when I was a student; I booked around 30 flights and visited over 30 countries. It was an incredible experience in human terms, but every time I booked a flight, it was a real hassle. And yet, I don't think I'm an Internet ninny. At the time, Capitaine Train was starting to revolutionize the way train tickets were booked in France, notably through customer service, which worked very well. I loved what they were doing, and thought it was crazy that I couldn't find an equivalent for booking airline tickets. So I kept the idea in mind during my trip."
Since then, Ulysse has gone from strength to strength, and customer feedback is unanimous (a 4.9/5 rating on Trustpilot), with support being the key element of the service offered by Ulysse.
"What sets us apart from other online travel agencies - which today are akin to simple ticket offices - is that we offer a real escort service, usually reserved for the more affluent. For part of the affluent population, booking a ticket is just a phone call away, just as Uber has made it possible for everyone to have a private driver.
Nowadays, for you or me, booking a plane ticket is often a difficult moment, where you feel like you're being taken for a ride: too much information, prices that sometimes change even at the moment of payment... And once you've bought your ticket, there's more to come! You still need to know how to check in, find the right boarding gate, sort out your baggage... and Covid has not simplified all this, adding a great deal of uncertainty.
Our core business is to ensure that these issues don't affect our customers. When they use Ulysse, all they think about is their trip. We accompany them from the moment they make their purchase to the moment they step on the plane."
Ulysse aims to stand out from the crowd and offer everyone a total experience, notably by offering insurance that guarantees a refund of 70% of the ticket price in the event of cancellation, without having to provide a reason, and there are no exceptions as can often be the case.
"Our target has evolved with us: initially, it all started with our network, so it was more people between 18 and 25 who used Ulysse. We quickly realized that the issue wasn't so much ticket prices as the quality of the experience - everyone has the same suppliers for tickets, so rates are often quite similar. We're looking to develop a product for people for whom buying a ticket is also part of the trip, and who don't want to spend hours finding out about cancellation conditions.
Today, in our customer base, we are surprised to have as many people in their thirties as in their fifties. But first and foremost, customers who come back to Ulysse after their first purchase."
The current health crisis has changed travellers' priorities and enabled Ulysse to demonstrate the quality of their service, while failing to increase the number of tickets sold.
"The core of our business came to a standstill or was severely impacted. We had the opportunity to demonstrate the quality of our service in a context that was out of the ordinary in terms of the number of situations to be resolved. Under normal circumstances, many customers have no contact with customer service, and therefore don't realize how important it can be.\ For example, we have seen people once again become concerned about insurance: before the crisis, one in five customers chose to insure their ticket. Today, we're more like 3.5/5. Price is no longer the only factor in purchasing decisions; people want to know if they can easily cancel, be reimbursed,...
During the lockdown, we also launched the Coron'news page to provide real-time information on flight conditions in different countries".
Thanks to its tech tools, Ulysse has been able to respond to this evolution in consumer habits in particular.
"Daniel Beutler, one of our investors and a former member of Trainline (the structure that bought Capitaine Train), had told me that his main problem was to maintain customer service quality without increasing his workforce by a factor of 10. From day one, our tech teams worked on building the customer service tools. Our entire back office is in-house, almost like tools we could sell. This enabled us to manage our customer service perfectly with our own staff, even though we were receiving 5 times more messages than normal. During the first lockdown, as we were no longer selling tickets, we had no other priority than to support our panicking customers. The tech investment combined with the mobilization of our teams are undoubtedly what enabled us to hold out."
Ulysse is also the creation of a community of travelers committed to improving the product, encouraged by the Ulysse teams to provide feedback and a public roadmap for implementing original functionalities.
"Right from the start, we contacted our customers, directly or on facebook, just about everywhere, to build our product. Customer feedback is not only relevant because it's direct, it's also external to our internal operations.
Today, when a Ulysse account is created, traveler profiles can be saved, which can be practical for a family, for example, who won't have to re-enter all their passport numbers... On the public roadmap, one customer even suggested setting up a reminder for expiry dates three months before the fateful date. This functionality, now available, is far from being a gadget, making it easier to manage administrative documents. It's the kind of reminder that, as a customer, I find very relevant".
When we're ready to travel again, Axel particularly recommends Sri-Lanka, both for the diversity of its landscapes and the warmth of its people, so don't wait any longer (at least until the borders reopen) and discover Ulysse for your next flight.