Adaptable travel companies kept up with planning and process improvement throughout the pandemic. According to Danny Eldridge, CEO of software integration firm ServeVita, they’re the ones best positioned for travel recovery. For the others, it’s not too late to assess resources and develop strategies to emerge better. He’s got questions for those in both camps.
While we are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel and travel sales are recovering, the questions about readiness abound after most of the industry reduced staff. TMCs, car rental firms, hotels and others are challenged to determine whether they can do more with less. Here are five questions we should ask about our companies to help evaluate whether we’re ready. There are no right or wrong answers; the situation is unique at each company. It is not too late to prepare.
1. Have you carefully tracked the key statistic(s) for each one of your business processes before and during the pandemic?
For each process, determine the ratio of transactions to the number of staff. For example, the number of transactions each agent processed per hour, how many people it took to process settlement through ARC/BSP and make any needed adjustments or how many to reconcile billing each month versus generated invoices.
These stats will be critical when planning how to bring people back on board. Key performance indicators gauge the direction of our businesses. If you measured your performance before and during the pandemic, you’ll have insights into what the next couple of years are going to look like.
If you didn’t, start now. You can watch the average time spent by agents per transaction and how it trends as business returns. In some cases, that average may be increasing. This may indicate that you will need more agents to service the transaction volume. That number may decrease over time, along with the average call time, but to survive the next phase you will need to adapt.
Perhaps other processes that you streamlined to require fewer resources could be shifted to help front-line agents and other customer-facing services.
2. Did you have much “slack,” or is now the time to right-size?
Achieving the right balance of capacity against demand can be tricky. If you had slack, build that into your planning. For most, though, slack is all but gone and this is a time to right-size your team. Bringing back people will be an art, not a science. There is no easy formula for when and how many. You will need to monitor your team’s burnout limit. Watch to see if team members disengage or withdraw, appear demoralized or stressed, perpetuate a negative workplace culture, take frequent absences, become sick often or leave your company for another opportunity. We must ensure our team members are excited and engaged as they return to work.
3. What improvements did you make in business processes to boost productivity?
What changes did you make in your front-office to help agents process more transactions per hour? What changes did you make in your billing process to allow for more invoices with less staff? If you didn’t make improvements, you have not capitalized on the opportunity to support customers and claw back lost revenue, but it’s never too late to start.
A lot of your answers on how to improve your processes are right in front of you. When I started in the consulting business, a mentor said something that stuck with me for years: “Ask the people who do the work what needs to be fixed; don’t think that you know more than them.” That advice provided insight into how to create solutions. It’s also the reason why I like to ask so many questions. Your team members have more answers on how to improve your business processes than you think.
Another suggestion is to start with a “why” question. There is a story about a mother who would cut off the ends of her ham before cooking it. One day, her kids asked why she did it. The response was that her mother taught her to do it. So they asked their grandmother and she responded that the ham was always too big for the pan.
Here are some questions that could help you answer “why” questions.
• What is the purpose of the process?
• Why do we do it this way?
• How can we do it better?
• Who uses the information or data?
• What value does it add internally and for external customers?
It is amazing how many people answer the why question with, “We have always done it this way.”
4. How will process changes affect the key statistics moving forward versus pre-Covid?
This will help you realize the impacts of staff reductions and help with rehiring plans. While you can’t completely pressure-test the changes, you should be able to see how much slack you have in your current transaction loads. Run those key statistics daily as your volume starts to creep up and analyze the information.
Some stability amid change is important, and we should not make too many changes at once. But that does not mean we should not make any changes now or plan for future changes. Process improvement should become a consistent practice in your organization.
5. What is your hiring and training plan?
During the pandemic you probably kept your key staff on board. They are the ones who carry the current workload. As you bring back others, they’ll need to get up to speed on any process and tech changes that occurred during their hiatus. Meanwhile, many of those who were furloughed should be in good positions as TMCs start back up and seek to hire people with experience. However, when you hire people who had worked at other organizations, you need to train them on new business processes and software.
Whether it’s training brand new workers or retraining returning employees, your current team may not be up to the task. This issue will create huge stress in the ecosystem and requires some time and planning.
There are many more questions you should ask. There is a proverb that states, “Where there is no vision, people perish.” This applies more today than at any other time in the past 10 years. I hope the questions above help provide a vision for you and your teams.
• Op Ed: Paul Tilstone On New TMC Needs In A New Era
• Op Ed: Sam Hilgendorf On Travel Management Company Business Model Resiliency
• Industry Vets And A Newbie Muse On Travel Management Metrics That Matter
• Experts Warn About Hotel Security Job Cuts, Offer Risk Advice
• Op Ed: Louise Miller On TMC Innovation Coming Back Into View