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In downturn, KM uplifts travel industry

Faced with a deep recession, increased security concerns and a growing propensity by travelers to cut back on their vacation and other discretionary spending, firms in the travel industry have discovered knowledge management solutions help them handle the downturn while some of their competitors close their doors. Travel companies are using KM tools to improve call center performance, set pricing and make other strategic decisions.

Improving customer self-service

Avis Budget Group saw that its Web sites (avis.com and budget.com) were generating more calls than its contact center could handle efficiently, says John Peebles, VP for online marketing. People could book online, but if they had a question, they would phone because the Web sites’ search functions weren’t very intuitive. If there was too much delay in answering the call, the traveler would opt for a competing rental car company, says Peebles, pointing to a continuing decrease in online rental conversion rates and revenues.

“Eighty percent of the questions were not hard to answer,” adds Peebles. Yet the process of going to the phone to contact the call center and perhaps being put on hold was too much of a delay for a significant number of prospects. So conversion rates and closed sales were going down even though Web site hits were going up.

Avis Budget sought a knowledge solution that would enable customers to quickly and easily search the company’s Web site. The company chose InQuira for Web Self Service, which uses the InQuira Q8 platform for information retrieval, knowledge management and workflow.

For any question, the application prioritizes possible answers, highlighting critical text for each result. It includes natural language processing to handle misspellings and local jargon. In addition to enabling prospects and customers to quickly find answers to their questions, the solution also alerts Avis Budget if its Web site lacks an answer for a specific question, enabling the company to close any informational gaps. Another benefit is that the solution is hosted in the cloud, so Avis Budget doesn’t need to install monthly updates.

Better training

Other travel firms are using KM solutions to provide better in-house training, as is the case with Grand Circle Corp., according to John Utter, corporate administrator.

Grand Circle is the corporate parent of two travel companies, including Grand Circle Travel, that provide pre-bundled travel packages for destinations around the globe. The trips include transportation, accommodations and various entertainment packages. A critical element of Grand Circle’s success is smooth operation of the contact center, which handles the bookings.

“We have 120 call center agents, and our biggest issue was getting them off the phone long enough for training,” Utter explains. Pulling several agents off the phone at one time for traditional classroom training was impractical, even though thorough training of Grand Circle call center agents is critical. The more agents know about a travel package, the better they are at selling it to prospects.

So the company wanted an effective online training program that it could use to improve agent knowledge. “The big impetus was we hired a new vice president of sales in January who had used Brainshark at a previous job. He was very familiar with it,” Utter explains.

Brainshark, from the company of the same name, is an online presentation software for business communications and e-learning. The application enables the user to create, narrate, share and track multimedia presentations. Utter and other officials with Grand Circle use Brainshark to build educational modules covering the company’s different tour packages. They upload static content (such as PowerPoint presentations), and then use a phone or computer microphone to add voice. Grand Circle also includes quizzes to measure the agent’s mastery of each tour.

Analytics features

The software features analytics capabilities that make it easy to see who viewed presentations, when they were viewed, how much content was consumed, and how any survey/quiz questions were answered.

“The biggest step that we took is that we dedicated a position to Brainshark, someone who is dedicated to it 100 percent,” Utter says. Once one person learned Brainshark completely, he or she was able to teach others how to produce Brainshark modules.

Call center agents receive credit for each module they complete. According to Utter, there is an extremely close correlation between agent product knowledge and customer satisfaction. Customers fill out satisfaction surveys following each sale. Agent scores on the surveys figure into their reviews, raises and promotions. So agents are working hard on mastering the Brainshark modules, according to Utter. “Our abandonment rates have been significantly reduced,” he says.

Brainshark has worked so well in the Grand Circle’s call center that the company plans to expand the use of it to improve training throughout the enterprise.

Growing internal KM

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), which includes such well-known names as Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn Express, depended on its enterprise data warehouse for reservations, corporate information and other enterprise intelligence, but the system was nearing capacity and the company wanted to include more CRM and other functionality in the system, so an upgrade was imminent.

“We were creating a new campaign management system,” says Alex Grigorian, senior VP, enterprise technologies at IHG. The company looked at three different data warehouse vendors, finally choosing the Teradata data warehouse appliance in December 2008.

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