Two-thirds of Travel and Transport’s client bookings go through self-booking tools. Why, then, did the travel management company spend time and money building out technology at the travel agent point of sale? It’s because the rest often are the most important or tricky bookings. Better-informed and more efficient agents make for better customer service.
Travel and Transport has been considering a new agent desktop for a few years. Ultimately it decided to do something a little different. A new system replete with timely and relevant information serves as a companion to traditional agent desktops. Think of it as a CRM tool. After beta tests that began last summer, all Travel and Transport agents (including those who are home-based) got it in December.
“We have sat on the sidelines and watched everybody try to build a GDS desktop,” said Mike Kubasik, the travel management company’s CIO. “We watched $10 million go down the tubes. $15 million.”
While newer point-of-sale systems from GDSs themselves — Travelport Smartpoint and Sabre Red, for example — “finally have turned the corner,” Kubasik said, developing them wasn’t easy. “We didn’t feel that’s the right play for us.”
Called BARTT (for Booking Agent Reservation Technology Toolbox), the new system is designed to anticipate the information an agent needs. “Agents need to be consultative,” said vice president of customer solutions Joel Bailey. “They need to be experts in what travelers cannot do themselves online.”
Travel and Transport this week demoed the application for The Company Dime. It sits next to the Sabre or Travelport desktop in a standard dual-screen agent setup. Integration with Amadeus is expected later this year.
When a call comes in, Travel and Transport’s phone system tells BARTT from which account the traveler is calling. The screen then displays the account’s policies, destination risk alerts and the traveler’s preference and status details.
By ingesting a year’s worth of an account’s booking data and other information, agents can see what a caller’s peers have been doing — where they stay in a particular location, popular modes of ground transport, where they eat and so on. “These are things that really make a difference when you travel and things that a lot of time you won’t get from an online transaction or from a generic call center environment,” Kubasik said.
Account managers and clients can have the system message agents about policy changes or trips requiring special handling. Agents can be instructed on how to handle disruption from an airline IT issue or bad weather.
Travel and Transport a few weeks ago added a “waiver wizard” to the system. If an agent is booking an itinerary for which the airline has issued a weather waiver, a bright red warning appears. Similarly, if the booking already happened and a traveler calls in to cancel or make a change, all waiver info already is at the agent’s fingertips.
A quality-control component helps agents fix errors or add missing info. “We don’t want to stop the natural dialogue between the traveler and the agent but we want the agent to know that something is wrong before they get too much further or before they hang up,” Bailey explained. “Let’s make sure it’s right the first time.”
Perhaps a reason code isn’t valid or a required data field for reporting isn’t filled in. Attached to a configurable rules engine, the system informs agents when, for example, a booking brings too many employees onto the same flight, violating company risk policies.
The QC component sounds like what a few others are trying to do. Travel tech start-up Fociss intends to offer a system using a rules engine that helps agents finish PNRs at the point of sale.
Concur also is looking to bring mid-office functions forward, though to its self-booking tool. The objective is to enable travelers to resolve service and ticketing issues themselves at the point of sale.
Unlike its approach to business intelligence, for which Travel and Transport created a subsidiary and is selling to others, the TMC isn’t planning to sell BARTT. For one thing, Kubasik said, it’s hard to make a profit on something that’s so operations-oriented. The agency also views it as a competitive advantage.