How Ramblers is using technology to keep staff and service on track
Process automation technology can boost travel companies’ production capacity and increase employee efficiency, writes Tim Wacker
While the world may be waiting in anticipation of Elon Musk’s futuristic high-speed train Hyperloop, Ramblers Worldwide Holidays is sticking to the tagline that ‘The world’s more beautiful on foot’. It must be doing something right as the company that operates out of Lemsford Village, England is now into its 70th year of business.
However, by contrast to its tour experiences, which offer customers the chance to unplug and escape from the fast-paced modern world, today Ramblers’ staff must rely on the latest technology for streamlined and efficient operations. Like many travel companies, Ramblers’ goals include enabling growth and increasing production capacity and it has found that technology solutions such as enterprise content management (ECM) software and business process automation are helping it to maintain a competitive edge.
“Ramblers was struggling to enable growth in some product areas due to a shortage of staff,” says Richard Clowser, the company’s IT and business systems manager. “We had to find ways to increase capacity from a very small team—of just over 50 employees—without adding human resources.”
To maximise staff efficiency without making employees work longer hours, Clowser knew that the company needed to update its core technology systems.
To maximise staff efficiency without making employees work longer hours… the company needed to update its core technology systems.
“Many of the staff had been working with the same procedures for over 30 years,” he explains. “We did a lot of checking in with people to get things approved. … and soon realised that operations could benefit from the use of electronic forms and an enterprise content management (ECM) system that could automate processes.”
Using technology drives creativity
ECM systems, which include names like Laserfiche, Lexmark,Sharepoint from Microsoft and Onbase by Hyland help firms to organise, manage and distribute unstructured content such as documents or images, account records, surveys, product information email, web pages and so on.
Ramblers went for Laserfiche for its needs, which include the automation of daily common processes such as filing documents to running statistical reports.
“These are small tasks that would have taken one person a long time,” says Clowser, who continues: “If you add up all the hours we’ve saved as a result, you’d probably find that amounts to about three salaries.”
…first-time customers are more likely to go on multiple vacations with the company if they book their next trip soon after returning from the first
The staff got creative and went beyond everyday processes by automating some of the company’s sales activities. From internal research, Clowser knew that first-time customers are more likely to go on multiple vacations with the company if they book their next trip soon after returning from the first.
Using Ramblers’ ECM system, the IT team built an automated workflow that identifies first-time customers who are returning from a trip and creates a custom promotional code offering a discount on their next Ramblers vacation. Six months after the end of a customer’s first trip, they receive the voucher—complete with customer information, the custom code and date—via email.
“Typically a group of five staff members were needed manage this secondary sales initiative, but as we starting automating process, we realised we only needed a single employee to handle the approval stage and the rest would be fully automated,” Clowser explains.
By automating such tasks Ramblers employees have been freed up to provide personalised customer service, to help plan extraordinary trips and other tasks that require deep focus. Ramblers has also increased its capacity in smaller products by 80% without having to staff.
The 70-year-old walking holiday company continues to thrive, finding new ways to update its business and improve operational efficiency. Clowser explains that they are also working to implement electronic forms that would gather feedback from the company’s 200 tour leaders across the globe. Currently the process involves Word documents that tour leaders must download, complete and upload to a website for submission. But problems arise, however, when documents are downloaded on different systems and applications.
“We get people trying to open Word files on a Mac or an Office equivalent and often we find we have to fix the file or go back and have them resend the file,” he says.
Using configurable electronic forms would eliminate the need for the tour leader to download anything; all that is needed is for them to fill out the form, even offline, and submit directly in a web browser when they have Internet access.
That’s our goal—to allow our staff to focus on what they do best and not spend their days shuffling paper
“As a travel company, one of the biggest challenges is keeping abreast of travel technology solutions and making sure we’ve got the right products in place, and that those products fit their purpose,” explains Clowser, adding that the company is also looking at data analytics solutions and other tools that they can leverage for future growth.
Clearly the business is always evolving and today Ramblers has three different brands, and although there are clear guidelines for how those are implemented, it solutions that are agile, but also deliver a return on investment. So far, return on technology investment has been an increase in manpower.
“There are so many projects that we’re working on at the moment that will each save almost a full-time staff member per year. That’s our goal—to allow our staff to focus on what they do best and not spend their days shuffling paper.”
Photography by Chris Jagan