Along with the times. All of the time
If you have purchased an airBaltic plane ticket through the airBaltic.com website, then that is thanks to the work put in by Jolanta Rema and her team. In this interview Jolanta reveals how much effort is put into maintaining airBaltic’s web page and what she does to be full of energy during the work week.
What inspired you to work in e-commerce?
During the time that I was studying to become a teacher of economics and entrepreneurship, I had to attend computer science lectures, which I really hated. One day, the head of the computer science department invited me to work as an assistant in the computer room. I didn’t know anything about computer science and wasn’t interested in this field at all. Nevertheless, she encouraged me to take the position and said: “Come and try it out! If you don’t like it then you can always leave.” She knowingly gave me assignments that required a lot of research so that I could learn more about my job. The more I learned, the more I realised that this type of science really interests me! I worked as an assistant for two years, until an agency took me on as an Internet project manager.
How did your career begin at airBaltic?
Well, the agency that I was working for specialised in web design and airBaltic was our client. I worked out one of the first versions of the airBaltic Internet website. At that time, the company didn’t yet have people who could work exclusively on web projects. Then in 2004, airBaltic began to concentrate on selling tickets through the Internet and wanted to find somebody who could administer these sales. I didn’t hesitate to apply for the position. At first, the head of the personnel department wasn’t convinced that I was the right person for the job, because I would be moving down from a position of relatively high responsibility to the lower-ranking position of e-commerce administrator.
Why did you decide to quit a good position for a job at airBaltic?
I remember the moment when I realised that I wanted to work in aviation. That was long before I applied for the position with airBaltic. I had sent out my CV to other prospective employers such as the Riga airport, but nobody called me in for an interview. Nevertheless, the thought remained in my head. I didn’t move mountains to try to join the industry. Things just fell into place naturally. If you really want something badly enough, then somebody up there helps you to get it. This May, I will have spent 11 years working for the airline. After starting out as an e-commerce administrator, I assumed a management position and set up my own team when airBaltic expanded its operations. Now I am the vice president of e-commerce and have 10 people on my team.
What do you see as your main work accomplishment?
When I joined airBaltic in 2004, the airline had already begun to sell tickets through the Internet. At that time, things were still in a primitive state. The system was slow and didn’t work well. A great deal of time and resources were spent on fixing mistakes. The company with which we were working was very inflexible and so we had to create a new system and look for a new partner. Then we came upon our current partner, 2eSystems of Germany. Although the new project lasted about a year, the system was implemented very quickly, within three or four months. At that time, there were four members on our team and we worked much more than eight hours per day to get this done. We launched the system in January of 2007 and e-ticket sales rose very quickly after that. It was so satisfying to see that all of our efforts were paying off!
What is a typical work day like?
My work day already begins at about 5:30 in the morning, when I get up, turn on my smartphone and check the e-mail about the previous day’s sales results. My work mainly involves e-mail correspondence, meetings, data and information analysis, leading projects and generating new ideas. We sell about 40% of the airline’s plane tickets through the airBaltic website and are working hard to make this figure increase.
What are you working on now?
Currently we are working on the implementation of responsive design for the airBaltic.com website. We want the airBaltic web page to be even more easily understandable and usable from any device, be it a desktop, a smartphone, a laptop or a tablet computer. The new design will make the website automatically adapt itself to the device that the user is employing to access the airBaltic website. We plan to launch the responsive design page this autumn, followed next year by the applications. A large number of people use their smartphones to enter our website. We want to ensure that they can conveniently use the website, check our flight times and prices, and buy tickets. That is one of our priorities right now.
Last summer, social networks and news media widely reported on the fact that airBaltic became the first airline to accept Bitcoin as a form of payment. Was it easy to implement this option in the airline’s website?
It was not the most complex project that we have undertaken. If we talk about forms of payment as such, then of course they take up a large proportion of the work that we do in e-commerce. There are various means of payment that customers can use to purchase their plane tickets through our web page, including credit cards, bank links and, most recently, Paypal, which has a huge number of users all across the world. We are trying to offer a maximally large choice of payment options so that clients can choose the one that suits them best.
Are you looking forward to a time when the web page will be complete and no further changes will need to be made to it?
I’ve been dreaming about that for the past 11 years! [Laughs.] It hasn’t happened yet and most probably never will. A couple of years ago, we implemented the current design for our web page, but things didn’t end with that. We continued to make further changes and improvements. We have to ensure that the system always works, that the website is easy to use and that it creates a good customer experience. If something doesn’t work, then it has to be immediately changed and simplified. If we want to sell a maximum number of plane tickets on airBaltic.com, then the system has to be simple and easy to understand. We react immediately to any changes in our sales indicators, look for any problems and work to fix them. The process of change is going on all of the time, without interruption. It’s similar to the legend about Riga – neither the city nor the airBaltic web page will ever be complete! [Laughs.] Technology is continually changing and we have to move along with the times.
E-commerce has become an integral part of aviation. What changes do you see for this branch in the future?
From the point of sales, sudden and huge changes are not a positive thing. It takes time for people to get used to new things, and in the beginning there would probably be a drop in sales if a radical change was implemented too quickly. Changes have to be introduced prudently, and the way that clients react has to be analysed. That being said, I think that our web page and the process for buying plane tickets will continue to become more simple. I would be happy if customers could buy their tickets with just a couple of mouse clicks! I would be happy if choosing the flight destination was the hardest part of buying a ticket.
With such a large amount of work to do, it sounds like your team has to function like a well-oiled machine!
I have a very good team and can only say the best about my colleagues. I could not do anything alone and without a good team. E-commerce is a very broad field, starting with how to attract visitors to your web page, what content to put in so that your page is interesting, and how to present the content so that it is understandable and motivates customers to purchase flight tickets. Such a wide field requires specialists who master specific aspects of the work that needs to be done. In our web page we offer not only flights, but also hotel reservations, car rentals and travel insurance. Teamwork is essential for the mechanism to operate smoothly.
After a solid day’s work, you definitely need to take a well-deserved break! How do you spend your free time?
Most of my free time is taken up by the main joy in my life – my three-year-old daughter. Since I return home only at about 8:00 in the evening, because I live outside of Riga, this time belongs to my loved ones. I usually take winter vacations to go downhill skiing and recently I returned from a ski trip to Austria. Last summer I fell in love with Georgia. The country is so beautiful that I’m ready to sacrifice one skiing trip to go to Georgia again in May. My husband is a hunter and I used to accompany him before our daughter joined our family. I hope to do so again when our daughter gets bigger and can join us. I also like to cook. On weekends, I draw energy from the nature around our house in the countryside and enjoy cooking tasty meals for my loved ones.