Tech supplier Vertical Systems has used lockdown to develop a whole suite of new products for travel agents. Abra Dunsby speaks to managing director Chris North to find out more
While some travel and tech businesses have gone into a form of hibernation to try to survive the current crisis, tech supplier Vertical Systems has instead used the lockdown period as an opportunity to ramp up its services, development and innovation.
The company’s new suite of tools were all devised with travel professionals’ changing needs in mind, explains managing director Chris North. “We had discussions with key partners and asked them what they need in their businesses right now,” he says.
The results mark a “complete change in focus and energy for Vertical Systems”, a company that is traditionally known for its back office system, Tarsc.
“The new tools help agents to develop their front and middle office and create a more efficient back office,” North explains. He adds that a main USP is the ability for the new tools to offer “personalised automation”, which is now more important than ever for agents to utilise to stand out from the crowd and regain consumer trust.
Here we highlight some of the company’s new tools and explain how travel professionals can make the most of them.
VHub, which acts as “the gateway to Vertical’s product suite”, has had a refresh since lockdown to now include helpful user guides.
“Our agents were always asking for training manuals, so we’ve changed the whole look and feel of the system and created two- to three-minute videos that talk you through our key functionality,” North explains.
Also new is the ability for agents to send a digital business card to their clients, which North believes is particularly helpful in the current climate where some customers might be reluctant to visit a store.
The e-business card includes the agent’s logo, photo, short bio, contact details and social media handles.
North believes adding personal elements such as a photograph and bio allow agents to forge stronger relationships with their clients.
“The biggest thing for a customer booking a holiday right now is trust – if they don’t trust you, they won’t buy from you. Customers will buy from you over the phone, but if they can put a face to the voice, they’re more likely to do so,” he adds.
A focus on helping agents rebuild customer trust also inspired Vertical Systems to ensure its quote system is now personalised.
Quotes are created using the company’s Quote Builder and can be constructed manually by the agent or by using Dynamic Search functionality.
The quotes can be tailored to include images and videos of hotels as well as add-ons such as transfers and baggage. They also feature a hero image that can be customised to reflect the destination the customer is visiting.
The quote colours can be changed to match the agent logo, which is also featured, and the agent’s e-business card can also be incorporated. Agents can also include agency bios, any awards won and videos explaining their brand’s ethos and expertise.
“It means the customer is briefed on the agency’s brand equity and brand assurance, which is key right now,” says North. The personalised quote can then be shared with the customer by text or email.
Not only do content-rich quotes look more visually appealing to customers, but they’ll help agents clinch sales, North believes.
“If a quote is just an email filled with words, clients will focus more on the price – if the quote includes videos and imagery, they’re more likely to focus on the visuals and less on the price.”
New pay-by-link technology created during lockdown allows customers to pay deposits and balances quickly and seamlessly, with the agent receiving an alert once payment has been received.
This payment technology offers several practical advantages to agents, adds North. “If agents are taking payments from customers, they shouldn’t be writing down card numbers, as it’s illegal due to the data being confidential. Pay-by-link counts as a card-present transaction – this means it incurs a lower merchant fee than a card-not-present transaction as it is seen as less risky.”
Another payment advancement from Vertical Systems is VSL Pay, which allows agents to view transactions and verify monies due.
The technology can be used within Vertical Systems’ CRM or independently, with the company currently in discussion with several hoteliers about using it to generate a payment link for customers. “That would allow guests to pay for drinks and meals as they go, rather than having to pay a large lump sum at check-out,” explains North.
While Vertical Systems’ new technology suite is certainly worth shouting about, ultimately the goal is to help agents “push their own identity” rather than Vertical Systems’, says North.
“The tech makes agents work faster and smarter, and allows them to push their personal brand, not ours. Agents’ brand identity and equity is so important right now to help customers feel they’re in safe hands and encourage them to book holidays.”
Vertical Systems’ Chris North discusses another new tool
Vertical Systems’ new videophone platform VSL Call was launched in May. The technology, which is used internally and externally, has allowed the company to stay better connected with both colleagues and customers.
“The video aspect means meetings are so much more productive and friendly, as you can see each other,” says North. The system allows those on a call to share screens and files, and record meetings.
“If it’s a customer, agents can just upload the recording and use it as their notes,” explains North. Vertical Travel Group's 230 homeworkers use the phone system for meetings, while tour operators have utilised it to conduct talks and product training for agents.
Similarly, North has used the platform to undertake demonstrations with clients. “It’s been game-changing – we’re actually better connected since lockdown than ever before, and it’s reduced the need for face-to-face meetings,” he says.