How Flight Centre used Workplace to save a man’s life

Not too many companies can claim they saved a life using their Workplace network. Global travel agency Flight Centre can.

An Australian customer was honeymooning with his new wife in Arequipa, in southern Peru, when he became suddenly and gravely ill. The 32-year-old man was in a critical condition in intensive care, he needed two emergency surgeries and was about to die unless he could get a life-saving blood transfusion.

The hospital where the newly-wed man was being treated had a finite blood supply per patient and local laws meant they accepted blood donations only from Arequipa locals. The man’s family desperately reached out for help for blood donations. They contacted their Flight Centre travel agent back in Australia, pleading for any assistance.

Donna Hanson’s initial Workplace post asking for life-saving help.

The agent contacted Sue Henderson, Flight Centre’s retail product manager in Australia, asking if there was anything she could do to help get blood donations in Arequipa to save the man’s life.

At the time, only Flight Centre in the US and Canada were using Workplace so Sue wrote an email and sent it to a crisis distribution list.

“Sue wrote; ‘Please, please, I need help! If you know anybody in Peru, or if you know anyone traveling in Peru, or you have relatives in Peru, please help save this man’s life’,” said Donna Hanson, Flight Centre’s Director Transformational Change.

When Donna received the email, she immediately wrote a post on Flight Centre’s Workplace network asking if anyone could help. Despite it being a Friday night, staff began responding in droves.

Flight Centre Americas President, Dean Smith, shared the post on his “Prez’s Page”, a Workplace group every employee across the continent is a member of. Gavin Miller, the Vice President of Leisure at Flight Centre Canada, shared the story on Workplace and explained how desperate the situation was.

Some of the comments in response to Donna’s post.

The response was immediate and overwhelming. Donna explains.

“It was like wildfire, it was like a California wildfire,” she said.

“Everybody started jumping on saying; ‘I have a cousin who lives there’, ‘I have a customer who is down there for six months’, ‘I’m calling the airline and asking for help’. People were sharing it on their private social media.”

The next morning, there were lines of people, blocks long, queuing to donate blood.

“I am telling you, it was crazy,” Donna said. “There were so many people waiting in line, they had a blood supply for a very long time.”

The Australian tourist was saved. He spent months in hospital in Peru but during that time there was enough blood to save him and the blood centre was filled to capacity with donations.

“He was going to die. It was a very, very serious situation,” Donna said.

By the following Tuesday, Sue said the hospital had reported back to her that they had been inundated with blood donations specifically for the Australian man. His family had traveled from Australia to be with him and his new wife.

Thanks to the story being shared around the world, the man’s family was kindly offered accommodation, meals, translation services and even money by the generous locals, who were complete strangers.

“We will never know who the donors were … but we do know that many named Flight Centre as the reason they were there,” Sue said.

“I have no doubt that the Workplace messages and the subsequent actions of the FCTG (Flight Centre Travel Group) employees in the USA and Canada definitely spread the word.”

This whole incident occurred over a weekend. Donna said Flight Centre employees saw the posts either on their mobile devices or on their laptops.

“This was an incredible situation,” she said. “It was like wildfire the way people were commenting, it was crazy.”

Flight Centre retail product manager, Australia, Sue Henderson.

With so many people invested in the Australian man’s situation, Sue and Donna continued to keep Flight Centre employees up to date. Eventually, the sick man came home to Australia and his family used Workplace to thank everyone for their help.

“It really showed you the power of Workplace and the way the whole community came together,” Donna said.

“Without Workplace, it never would have happened to that level because maybe Sue Henderson would have reached out to Dean and people in South America but you wouldn’t be able to touch as many people as quickly as the way everybody was able to just get on board.”

Changing company culture with Workplace

The fact this network saved a life is also a reflection of the culture of communication at Flight Centre, a company with 24,580 Workplace users. Unsurprisingly, Flight Centre was the top performer for large-size organisations in SWOOP’s 2019 Benchmarking Report of Workplace networks.

Donna said it’s taken work and time to achieve such a collaborative and open culture with Workplace across the enterprise. Workplace was introduced as a trial to Flight Centre Canada in 2016. It was getting a lot of engagement but was more social than business oriented.

Americas President, Dean, soon got wind of what was happening in Canada and asked Donna to find out more, because he could see Workplace was attracting a lot of engagement. Donna reported back, Dean liked what he saw and later in 2016 he implemented Workplace in the US, which in February 2017 became the global Workplace instance for Flight Centre.

The network took off after Dean saw the interactions and connections between employees, the engagement from posts and the fact he was getting much more response on Workplace than he would ever receive in emails.

Before Workplace, there was an email distribution list called “Everybody, Everywhere” that went to more than 2,000 employees across the US. If there was a “reply all” to the email, more than 2,000 inboxes began filling up.

“Dean said; ‘This is it, this is the last email you’re ever going to see from me. Goodbye Everybody, Everywhere. If you want to see anything I ever have to say, you’re going to have to make sure you’re on Workplace and in my group’,” Donna said.

In Canada, Gavin followed suit. Donna says that was the start of Workplace becoming Flight Centre’s communication hub.

“Now we have better overall communication. People don’t need to email something for information, they know they’ll likely find it on Workplace,” Donna said.

“And we have faster responses and better collaboration.”

Give a new network time

Donna said even with two top executives leading the charge, Workplace adoption didn’t happen overnight but she credits the network’s strength to Dean’s engagement.

“100 per cent. Dean really set that example and raised that bar and Dean kept pushing,” she said.

“Dean staying very true and not budging, it is 100 per cent the reason that it came off as well as it did.

“It still took a while. It’s not like this happened overnight but it definitely was the driving force.”

Flight Centre Americas President, Dean Smith.

SWOOP data shows Dean is the most influential person on Flight Centre’s Workplace network of 24,580 users across the globe. Gavin is also among the most influential people. He regularly posts live videos where staff can ask him questions. Dean also does a monthly live video.

Donna says it took a good six months to get Workplace off the ground, with Dean’s leadership, and another six months before it really become part of the company culture. Part of the reason for the 12 month time frame was businesses within the company were using different communication tools, and some still do for different purposes.

For Australian employees, Workplace is now part of a single sign on, something that has been a challenge globally due to address book integration.

Communicating exclusively on Workplace

At Flight Centre, if you want to find out about company benefits such as Healthwise or Moneywise, learn how to get trips consultants can take advantage of or airline deals for staff, you do so exclusively on Workplace.

“At the end of the day, we’re at a point where the only place you’re going to find information, like benefits, is on Workplace so if you’re not active, you’re going to miss out on a lot of things,” Donna said.

With such a large network, there are also an enormous number of groups – almost 5,000. However, Donna said the way Flight Centre manages it is to keep all but about five all-company groups closed. All groups are dedicated towards countries, so it is easy to find the relevant groups for your country and then there are the five global groups.

“It’s not like there are 5,000 groups and everyone needs to search for 5,000 groups. It makes sense if you know what you’re looking for,” Donna said.

She said for most employees there are about 20 groups they should join to stay ahead of what’s happening. The end goal for many groups is to gear them towards getting information shared that will enhance customers’ travel experiences.

The power of social

Flight Centre boasts some impressive social groups. With 24,000+ plus employees scattered across the globe, and many traveling to all corners of the world, the photos and restaurant reviews are among the best in the world. There is a waitlist to have your restaurant review, with photo or video, shared in the worldwide group and the Flightie Life group is limited to one “epic” photo a day. The photos are so impressive, many have been used for marketing or travel brochures.

“We have some insane pictures from all over the world,” Donna said.

Another group is called Travel Brains where anyone can ask questions to the global community. For example, if a customer is traveling from the US to New Zealand and you want travel tips, you would reach out to a consultant in New Zealand. Anyone from around the world can jump in with information so it can be immediately delivered to the customer.

Donna said Flight Centre staff are also great at @ mentioning people to find answers.

There was an example when someone left a piece of art at a hotel in Mexico and by asking on Workplace, an employee was able to collect the art and return it to its owner in the US.

“The social groups keep everybody engaged,” Donna said.

“It might seem social to other people but it’s really our business, so you really do need that conversation happening and that’s what makes it very engaging.

“It’s more fun than sending an email back and forth and we get instant feedback.”

Connecting across the globe

While Flight Centre shop fronts are prolific across many countries, in the US they are called Liberty Travel or GOGO Vacations. Donna said prior to Workplace being implemented, it was hard for US employees to feel part of the global Flight Centre group because they were operating under a different banner.

“In the US, they never felt that connection to really being part of Flight Centre, it’s like you knew it but you didn’t feel that connection and I really feel that Workplace has made a tremendous difference in that connection with everybody,” she said.

“It’s definitely in our DNA at this point.”

To learn more about how SWOOP Analytics can help your company become better and faster at collaborating, please contact us here.

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