posted by Paul Pitman on October 23, 2014
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Real Gap Experience are the UK’s leading gap year and student travel adventure specialists and have sent over 50,000 people on adventures abroad. They offer over 200 trips around the world including volunteer work abroad, work experience, teaching abroad and adventure travel. Real Gap Experience is part of Travelopia (Formerly TUI Travel Plc), one of the largest travel organisations in the world.

Real Gap Experience have been pioneers of gap year travel since 2004, so they know a thing or two about adventures overseas. Since starting out, they have grown to offer over 200 projects and travel options in over 35 countries across 6 continents. They pride themselves on not doing “average travel” and are among the world’s leading experts in providing exciting adventures and volunteering opportunities that are beyond the ordinary. They have a team of experts have been everywhere and anywhere across the globe and can help adventurers find the perfect trip.

In 2011 a challenge to their market leadership, came not from other gap year providers, but from the internet. Travellers were attempting to unbundle gap year breaks and build their own itineraries. Whilst trips built in this way lacked the security that came from Real Gap being a part of TUI Travel Plc, potential travellers were enjoying researching options online. General Manager Nicola MacFarlane, and the CRM team at TUI knew then needed to react, and react fast.

Real Gap Experience and CRM

“The challenge was to provide web content 24 hours a day 7 days a week.”

CRM as a part of a complete solution

Meeting the challenge posed by self-service gap year trips, was not just a question of implementing a CRM solution. What Nicky and the marketing team at TUI identified was a new type of client. Analytics from their site showed that increasingly visitors made multiple trips to the site before engaging with a travel advisor. It looked as if the potential travellers were using the Real Gap web site as another source of information in designing their ideal experience. What the old site was not doing was converting that research into bookings.

Nicky MacFarlane explains. “We lead the market in proving opportunities to speak to someone who’s been there and done it – 5 days a week. Web visitors just didn’t keep to office hours. The challenge was to provide web content 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Content that made it more likely visitors would leave the website and call us when they were ready to book. For those that didn’t call us, we wanted a way of selecting those who were closest to booking, and getting an advisor to contact them.”

In October 2012 Real Gap appointed Collier Pickard, the supplier of CRM systems to Tui specialist and activity sector as their CRM implementation partner. The selection of Collier Pickard was based on their ability to provide a fully hosted CRM system within days. The CRM system was Maximizer which was widely used across Tui. This would reduce the long term cost of ownership, and ensured that there was a pool of in house resource available to help move the project forward.

Pulling the levers

It was decided early on that the CRM platform would be linked to the new Real Gap Experiences website, and to the MSO booking system. This integration needed deliver a seamless enquiry to post trip survey customer journey. Just as the advisors at Real Gap were able to combine many different elements from different sources to create the ultimate experience for a traveller, so CRM would bring together all the data those advisors relied on.

The first step was the integration with the new web site. This had been designed from the ground up to reflect changes in how prospects informed themselves prior to booking a trip. The new site “traded” content for information. On an initial visit to the website very little data was collected. On every subsequent visit the visitor was asked for more information. Every item of data was passed back to Maximizer to create a complete view of the visitor’s journey through the site. Typical visitors to the site would cast their net wide, and consider many different destinations. As they consumed the content they would narrow their research to fewer and fewer locations, until a primary destination emerged. At that point the visitor may move from the web content to a web chat with an advisor or enter into an email dialog. All this inter action was recorded and tracked within Maximizer.

Where the system excelled was in ranking the content a visitor consumed. As they visited pages that dealt with increasingly narrow topics, so Maximizer updated their “likelihood to book” rating. For example, visitors on the site viewing Thailand content scored lower than those looking at specific Trips such as “Swimming with Elephants in Bangkok”. Not only did this indicate a visitor researching in more detail and therefore closer to booking, it also highlighted up sell and cross sell opportunities.

The integration of data was only a part of the story. The second stage in the development of the CRM platform was converting this intelligence into repeatable business processes. In such a competitive market it was essential that the Real Gap travel advisors didn’t let a potential traveller slip through the net. The challenge was to get CRM to inform and drive the actions that those advisors took. CRM needed to show them, who to call, when to call, and what to sell. However these were not call centre operators who could just read a script. Travel advisors need a wealth of product knowledge, experience of destinations, and in house systems to function well. The CRM system needed to become a destination in its own right. A place that the advisors wanted to visit.

Maximizer CRM and Real Gap Experience

Destination CRM

The choice of Maximizer CRM for the project was ideal as it provided a highly flexible web interface. Users could configure much of the look and feel to meet their specific needs. In addition Maximizer provided task automation tools that would allow for the development of “Alerts” telling advisors who to call. With such a great tool kit it seemed that CRM success was assured.

But great tools alone do not make a successful CRM system – those Alerts would all require configuring for example. Whilst this was not an impossible task, the rate at which content was being added to the Real Gap web site would have necessitated almost full time alert writing. Additionally, the expertise as to “who to call” and “when to call” was in the heads of the travel advisors. And they were too busy talking to prospects and clients to define the rules.

With the requirement for alerts growing daily, and the lack of definition of the rules behind those alerts for a moment it looked as if the project might falter. Never ones to admit defeat, the team at Collier Pickard regrouped and reconsidered their options. What was needed was a way of grouping together and prioritising visitor requests. Alerting the advisor in broad terms so they could use their expertise to work out the details. A configuration of the system to present this level of information with access to the tools and detail required by the advisor was what was needed. In effect a “Dashboard” of top level information, with a “drill down” to the underlying data.

Dashboards are inbuilt within Maximizer. Configuration of the first dashboards was completed in an afternoon. The tools to create dashboards in Maximizer are so well designed that Real Gap appointed their own design wizard to meet the need for new dashboards. A solution that exceeded the users’ expectations was delivered at a fraction of the cost of continued alert development.

Real Gap Experience Logo

Learning points

  • The challenges from the web and “self-service clients” had to be met before they damaged the business.
  • Becoming a part of a global company like Tui offered access to tools, expertise and infrastructure that would have been beyond their means a few years ago.
  • Attempting to define every business process and write alerts for it almost stalled the project.
  • Providing the right data in a format the users understand encourages user adoption.
  • Delivering personal productivity tools to those same users cements adoption.
  • Pragmatic integration CAN beat total integration.

Effectiveness and Efficiency

A combination of Maximizer and the new web site quickly started to deliver results for Real Gap. Increased bookings, improved lead conversion rates, increased up selling of in trip excursions. The CRM project team refused to rest on their laurels. Improving sales effectiveness is only one of the areas where CRM can deliver results. The area more commonly targeted in CRM projects is improving efficiency. The Maximizer system had started well by bringing together web site visitor data and details of the interactions between the prospect and advisor. Template emails had made enquiry follow up significantly more efficient. The final barrier to efficiency was the booking system.

Real Gap were using a specialist booking system called MSO. Initial investigations quickly identified that replacing MSO functionality with Maximizer was impractical. What was needed was a way of linking the 2 systems and allowing key data to synchronise between them. This should allow changes to a travellers email address to update their CRM record. Prospects in CRM that converted to clients should create the record in MSO, and so on.

Understanding the requirements was only a part of the challenge. Maximizer and MSO had never been integrated before. Indeed the market for MSO is relatively small and specialist, so no CRM vendor had built integration. The integration between the 2 systems was to be developed using Web Services. The key to the eventual success of the integration was in the design philosophy.

Right at the beginning of the project the Real Gap team had met with their peers and Collier Pickard at a Tui CRM workshop. It was here that the idea of “customer journeys” had been launched.

What Tui was keen to do was to ensure that they communicated with their clients’ pre trip, on trip, and post trip. They believed that this level of communication would strengthen the relationship with the traveller. One of the guiding principles of the approach is to use the right tools for a job. By adopting this best practice and the Tui infrastructure that supports it, Real Gap and Collier Pickard were able to reduce the volume of data that had to pass between Maximizer and MSO. Just enough data is moved between applications. For the complete picture Business Intelligence tools provide the answers.


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