Long before the language of digital disruption entered the business lexicon, Andy Groves, the then CEO of Intel famously observed: “He who commoditizes last, wins.” That is a lesson not lost on participants in the global travel industry who have already experienced multiple waves of disruption since the advent of the commercial internet in the mid 1990s.
The travel agents felt it first with the emergence of online agencies and the shift to direct ticket sales by airlines. More recently the global hotel industry has been under full throttled assault from AirBnB.
But even within the travel industry, smart operators can still find niches where product complexity operates as a bulwark against commoditization.
Take the cruise ship business for instance. A typical cruise ship might have 2500 passengers with 40 different cabin types across 12 different decks . All of this adds up to a lot of product complexity says Stuart Allison, Vice President, Princess Cruises Australia. “That complexity allows the travel agents to intervene and add real value.”
“In the travel industry hotels, air travel and car hire are all highly commoditized products. And while there is some commoditization in cruises – such as the US/ Caribbean Four Night cruising market – the Australian market is a long way short of maturity.”
Today around four per cent of Australians cruise each year. The industry has broken through the million passenger mark and is experiencing rapid growth with more ships now based the region.
There is also a shift in emphasis away from the fly in fly out North American trade to local passenger growth.
With the complexity of the packages on sale, agents typically still send prospects through to call centers, and use their web sites as a place for customers to research. Hopefully that turns into leads.
Despite this there are still huge gains to be made by aligning platforms and processes behind improved customer experiences.
Brisbane based GlobeNet, a major agency partner of Princess Cruises has spent three years re-equipping its platform and has been rewarded with strong above market growth.
More importantly it is now better placed to tap into the growing cruise market and more able to delight its customers throughout the buying journey as opposed to losing sight of them between product purchase and departure according to Dan Russell, GlobeNet CEO.
In the past customers might book their dream trip in January but not travel to December proving little opportunity for engagement during the lag. Now GlobeNet is better able to keep its connection with its customers active during that period, he says.
He told Which-50, “The systems we were using before we switched to Salesforce were quite antiquated and spread across a whole bunch of platforms. The enquiry management was handled on an old SQL database and our email on Outlook didn’t talk to anything else.”
The mid office system GlobeNet has been using since 2002 which took care of booking details and all the financials gave the company little insight into its customers and even less into their experiences.
“So we were not able to do much to improve the customer experience. Internally we lacked decent insight into how our teams productivity was going and that meant we weren’t able to make really strong and informed business decisions.”
This is an especially significant issue in the travel industry where margins are always under pressure and staff productivity is critical. “We knew if we didn’t fix it we would miss the opportunity to tap into a growing market place and really add value as a travel agency.”
GlobeNet engaged Sydney based Tquilla ANZ, a platinum Salesforce.com partner and together they have been reequipping the business over the last few years. The first phase of the project ran between 2012 and 2014. That saw lead management among other things migrated into Salesforce.
“For the first time we could track a prospect’s enquiries up right until they committed and decided to go ahead with the holiday. This phase really helped us start driving the business from the perspective of a lot of our KPIs, and really saw us improve the experience we were providing our customers.”
It also saved a huge amount of manual work by eliminating the need to rekey much of the information into disparate systems once the booking was done.
Previously when a customer deposited or paid for a holiday we had to rekey all the information as there was no connectivity between systems.
Phase two saw the remaining systems integrated into Salesforce and that was completed in May this year.
Single source of truth
“We can now import customer details, send booking confirmations and invoices. We take Bpay payments, issue receipts, trigger thank you emails, bon voyage and welcome home emails, and surveys. Everything is on the one platform end to end.”
Russell estimates that agent productivity is up 25 per cent in the six months since the completion of the project with the agents themselves registering a big win simply because they do not have to operate across so many platforms each day.
According to Ian Carpenter, founder Tquila ANZ, despite replacing many different systems, some of which were designed specifically for the travel industry, the Salesforce platform has provided GlobeNet with significant flexibility “Salesforce allows you to build whatever process you need and this has enabled GlobeNet to streamline and optimise internal processes.”
“Tquila ANZ’s approach around the user interface and the user experience is to minimize the time anyone needs to spend on a data screen and also to minimise the number of screens.”
Looking ahead GlobeNet is planning to deploy the Salesforce Communities Cloud and elements of the Marketing Cloud over the next 12 months.