Being recognised by an Industry body for game changing innovation is something I am very proud of. From concept through to delivery, a great team helped put together a solution which forms a new paradigm in Travel Sales.
Travel is something that I am passionate about. Therefore when the opportunity to “transform” a major player in the Travel Industry came knocking, I was genuinely excited. However, when I then learnt that it was in the Timeshare industry, for some reason, that excitement suddenly became muted. A bit of research revealed explained my reaction:
Timeshare is a concept that many are aware of but often the perception of what timeshare is can be very far from the reality. In its purest and original form, buyers purchase a share of a hotel room/apartment in a managed holiday resort. This share equates to a percentage of a year, usually a week. Historically, the purchase of this week bound the owners to holiday at the same resort at the same week year after year. It was a hard sell and became a haven for unscrupulous salespersons, developers and dubious incentive programs. This helped explain my initial cynicism.
Over the years, the concept has grown and evolved into a multi billion dollar industry which even includes household brands such as Disney, Ramada (as part of Wyndham ) and Accor. Some schemes offer points, some varied resorts and others have evolved into travel clubs. There are now timeshare companies offering yachts, RV’s or even private homes as alternate travel options.
Therefore, in early 2014, I became involved with Australia’s largest Timeshare Operator, Classic Holidays, who operate over 60 resorts in Australia and New Zealand. Its members have varied membership types representing the changes in the industry over the last 20 years and more.
Despite the modernity of the new Timeshare programs, I was surprised to see that much of the technology used within the industry was very verticalised with few specialist providers. Those that did exist appeared to focus upon the property reservation and management aspect of the process rather than enabling a member centric perspective. Classic Holidays were using a myriad of Microsoft Access/Google Docs and paper driven processes to attract, recruit and create new Members. Once I understood the core business processes involved, I suggested that a Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) CRM software tool could easily replace the tools being used and become the hub for Member Centric processes in the future.
This met with some resistance as the commonly held perception was that the industry was so specialised that there was nothing that would meet the “unique” idiosyncrasies of the Timeshare industry. Therefore, after some product evaluations, I managed to persuade the Classic Holidays Leadership that SugarCRM seemed a good fit based upon functionality, price, usability, “openness” and being a SaaS based product.
In August 2014, I was asked to create and then deliver a project for a new “end to end” Sales and Marketing solution as the first phase in transforming the (prospective) Member experience. We called it Project CHARM (Classic Holidays Advanced Relationship Management). I will explain how CRM was used to address and provide solutions in some of the unique Timeshare industry processes.
The process of selling in Timeshare usually starts with Lead Generation with Off Premise Canvassers (OPC) representatives.
The OPC role at Classic Holidays was primarily to generate leads by enticing prospects to attend a presentation through the use of scratch cards which offered guests the chance to win prizes. Those with winning tickets were invited to a presentation (tour) to collect the prize upon condition of attending a 90 minute sales presentation. OPC’s used their own phones to look up a shared Google Sheet to check availability at a given wave. The prospect would then be given a slip of paper confirming the date, time and location. To try to guarantee attendance, prospects were asked for a deposit (cash) and were given a paper receipt. Often, the prospect would change their mind and “no show”. Whilst the prospect might lose their deposit, the impact on the company was costly as the cost of holding Waves (a number of tours all starting simultaneously) was a fixed cost. I found it a very amateurish process for such a quality product and thought that if I was approached by an OPC, there was no way I would trust them enough to pay a deposit and give up 90 minutes of my time for something seemingly shrouded in mystery. Again, I was told that this was just “how it worked” but I felt that better tools, processes and empowered people could bring about significant transformational change.
- The OPC Portal
An application was created that acted as a “portal” for the OPC’s in the field.
Each OPC was given an iPad with a direct link to the Portal. An OPC would log in to a personalised Dashboard. From here, they could review the status of previous bookings and add new bookings, thereby replacing the paper forms and Google sheets.
We were also able to include a digitised version of the “pitch book”, a leaflet based piece of collateral that was often used by OPC’s to show imagery of the Classic Holidays resorts. Since OPC’s only had a very short space of time to make the booking and collect the deposit, the User Experience was a vital part of the design, ensuring it was quick to use, well laid out and met the User Stories that were developed in our Agile Project. A key function was a real time look up of availability of each wave at any location. This ensured that Prospects were booked to waves which had availability.
When an OPC made a booking, it was previously hoped that the Prospect would turn up. CHARM introduced additional communications with the Prospect which consisted of a SMS and/or eMail confirmation, a link to a new landing page on a new CMS (Kentico) where they could confirm their attendance whilst also learning more about Classic Holidays (rather than keep it a secret).
This allowed better planning because a trigger was built in that sent an optional reminder SMS should they not have confirmed within a predetermined timeframe. By using sophisticated web tracking tools (Woopra), we were also able to see whether the prospect had visited the site and analyse what information they had accessed. This gave insight into the reasons why people might “no show” and allow Classic to change their future messaging accordingly. We did not have the capacity to undertake AB testing but this would have been a benefit to learn and adapt the landing pages more quickly. However, the insight gained was a real game changer and has seen Classic become better placed to increase Sales.
- Guest confirmation
When a guest clicked on either the SMS or email call to action, they were taken to a personalised landing page which congratulated them on winning a prize and gave them further information on the presentation and more reasons to confirm their attendance. Once they confirmed, the status of their booking was updated in Sugar to reflect their intentions. This enabled the Sales team to have greater confidence in the likely attendance and ensured that Sales Managers could have the right number of Sales Representatives available for each Wave.
- Wave Management
A Wave is a scheduled set of concurrent one to one Sales Presentations (known as Tours) by a Timeshare Sales Rep to the prospective Members. It typically consisted of a PowerPoint style presentation which resulted in various membership options being offered to the Guest. The Waves therefore have a number of tours to be filled in order to keep the Sales Reps productive. These waves occur at the local Sales Office and can occur three or four times a day. Calendar management met this requirement perfectly and through the use of web services, a web front end was built which could allow these Waves to be exposed to OPC’s via the OPC Portal who could create Leads and assign them to Waves where there was availability. We were even able to create wait lists to ensure that each wave was well attended. The new solution allowed Sales Reps to know who was attending and, by capturing the lead within CRM, allowed downstream processing without the need to re-enter data or, even worse, asking the guest to complete more forms!
- Registration and Check-in
On the day of the Wave, often wary prospects would arrive not knowing quite what to expect. Despite friendly receptionists and a warm welcome, the prospect was given a pen, paper and clipboard and then asked to complete a paper registration form. Ironically, the details asked for were already known by the OPC but until CHARM, there was no sharing of data. Now, the experience was rather different: On arrival, they were asked their name which was already on the Manifest having been added by the OPC. The Status of the booking was determined by whether the Prospect had confirmed.
The Receptionist now was able to check them in “online” which generated a QR code on the screen. The Receptionist then scanned an iPad against the code which opened up an online survey on the iPad (replacing the paper form and clipboard). A digital signature was also captured to acknowledge refund of the deposit which was then emailed automatically to the Prospect as a PDF.
- The Tour
Once the survey was complete, the status in CRM was updated to reflect the transition in Sales Stage. The Sales Representative then took the Prospects through a “standalone” presentation. We identified that we could rebuild the presentation into Kentico and incorporate data from SugarCRM and, in turn, export the data captured. This became a secondary project (known as S2S) in itself which I will blog about separately. For the purpose of this initiative, the only direct intervention was for the Sales Representative to update SugarCRM with the outcome of the Tour. This translated the Sales Opportunity into either a Won or Lost state. For those declining to become Members, they were still awarded their prize which, in turn, generated a new Lead to reconnect with the Prospect whilst they enjoyed their gift. For those who decided to buy, the next stage was to create the paperwork necessary for them to become Members. This process was known as “The Button Up”.
- Button Up
The Button Up process is where once a Prospect agrees to purchase, the deal is finalised or “buttoned-up” with all the paperwork and, if required, finance organised. Prospects are entitled to a 7 day cooling off period. Many of the documents require signatures and the long standing process required much printing, manual entry, signing, scanning and photocopying of documents.
As SugarCRM already had a lot of the data required from earlier stages of the process (Guest Survey, Booking etc), we created digital images of all the documents which were populated with data already captured upon an opportunity moving to a relevant status. This was a big time saver. We also integrated Docusign, an electronic signature solution, which allowed quicker completion of the forms although the real benefit would come later when guests wished to buy additional products (i.e To upgrade their Membership) from home. The Button Up process could take up to 90 minutes. The CHARM solution dramatically reduced this and also allowed the downstream processing to be quicker (I.e Loan Approval) as the forms were now digitised.
- Loan Application
Memberships were bought for periods from 7 years up to lifetime (>60 years). The longer the Membership purchased, the more expensive it became despite offering better value. Classic Holidays were able to offer financing through an associated Financial company. Loan Applications can be typically arduous and although we digitised the application form, little benefit was seen until we were able to integrate to ARMNet, the Loan Management software solution used by the Finance company. This allowed real time decisioning and drastically reduced processing time as the staff no longer needed to re-key the application into the ARMNet solution. The data required for a Loan and Membership Application was captured in SugarCRM (see below) and interfaced to ARMNet as well as prepopulating the forms ready for signing.
- Cooling off
In the 7 days post Tour, many new prospective Members suffered from “buyers regret” and therefore the churn rate is often high. However, the CHARM solution now offered the potential to communicate digitally during the cooling off period with personalised offers and comms.
A legacy system, Viewpoint, written by a small software company, At Work International (recently acquired by Classic Holidays) was used to manage inventory (rooms) at resorts and bookings for members. It was not envisaged to replace this system but I proposed that in the future, Classic should use Sugar as the main interface for Members. SugarCRM could call web services to check inventory, make bookings etc. At the time of leaving, this had not been started but will further transform Classic Holidays once complete. Once linked to a Member, personalisation of the digital channel throughout the Membership lifecycle can occur with relevant offers and options being presented across multiple channels. Therefore the conversion of a Lead to an Opportunity to a Sale needed to go to the final step: A Member.
In conclusion, CHARM has opened a world of opportunity for both Classic Holidays whilst also improving the overall Customer Experience. What was a once amateurish, shady Sales process is now professional and transparent. Of course, Timeshare is not for everyone but given the high degree of customer loyalty experienced by Classic Holidays, this new process can only bring benefit through efficiency and reducing churn in the Lead to Sale process.
Massive kudos to the Classic Management and delivery team and the Project team (including the SugarCRM System Integrator, CRM Online ) that I put together. There are too many to mention but the recognition goes to them.