Keeping in touch with customers is one thing, but what about liaising with your own team? Charlotte Cullinan speaks to agencies that have overhauled their in-house communications
The adage “it’s good to talk” could have been created for the travel industry. But while connecting with clients is key for agents, communications within a team are equally important.
An internal communications strategy can help teams to maximise efficiency, answer questions quickly and keep everyone informed. Here, four businesses discuss the tools that keep their teams in touch.
With nearly 100 staff spread across 13 branches and a homeworking division, Spear Travels has been on a mission to create an efficient internal communications system.
The team used to rely on emails, but marketing manager Ben Farbrother explains: “The downside is that messages can get lost, and threads have a habit of getting split up. It isn’t the best tool for collaborative working.”
Private Facebook groups were unveiled at the business’s annual conference in December. “We pitched them as an advice channel, and it’s like a mini Travel Gossip just for the Spear Travels Group. They can ask any question or share content,” Farbrother explains.
When staff need advice or help with an enquiry instantly, they can also use a chat feature built into the agency’s CRM system, which all the sales team use constantly.
The number of emails being sent from head office was slashed 18 months ago to avoid bombarding staff, with a commercial email on a Monday and a marketing- themed missive each Friday.
Agents can also access intranet, which has been in place for two years. It acts as a digital library, with folders for each operator housing digital brochures and information. Farbrother says the multiple communications channels work exceptionally well for the agency.
“It may seem like we have a lot going on, but we wanted to have a tool for every situation, and now the team can get what they need, when they need it. If someone is dealing with a client, we give them the tools to be able to instantly answer any query while the customer is sitting there,” Farbrother says.
A new internal communications set-up has also streamlined the workflow of the team at Atlantic Travel in Donegal. They used to note phone enquiries on paper, but as calls and sales soared, it became more difficult for the team to find information quickly and monitor sales conversions effectively.
In May, manager Emma McHugh introduced Workplace by Facebook, which was designed to help colleagues to collaborate. Atlantic Travel is now one of 30,000 companies around the world using the platform, and McHugh opted for the free plan.
The seven-strong team now use Workplace to log calls, responses and outcomes, leaving it open on their screen throughout the day. They can keep track of enquiries belonging to agents who are out of the office and see details of any out-of-hours calls received by McHugh, who is the agency’s emergency contact.
It also enables McHugh to track who is dealing with each enquiry and how long responses take. She says: “Each team member will post to advise if they are looking after a particular enquiry and whether they called the client back, emailed them or left a message on their voicemail.”
McHugh also uses Workplace to store staff bulletins and details of current campaigns and the team save photos from trips to show clients.
McHugh says it has been a resounding success. “In the short time we have been using Workplace it has made taking phone enquiries more streamlined, and we no longer have a paper trail,” she says.
For the Abbotts Travel team in South Woodford, messaging service WhatsApp has improved the way information is shared.
The team of nine used to send group emails to update each other, but managing director Julian Abbott wanted a solution that was more convenient when agents were away at events or fam trips and didn’t have access to email.
After discussing it with everyone, Abbott introduced the tool three months ago, and agents use it on their phones.
“We can all check it easily, and it is strictly for business, so it enables us to keep everything tidy,” Abbott explains. “It’s a great way to keep people updated without imposing if they are on a day off, as they can check it in their own time.”
WhatsApp has proved particularly useful when someone is abroad, as Abbott explains. “It’s really easy to share photos with everyone else. If one of us is staying somewhere and we have a customer due to visit, we’ll take a photo of a room and send it over to the office to share with the client.”
The initiative has also been warmly welcomed by the agency’s business development manager Danny Sperling, who collates its newsletter and Facebook posts. Abbott explains: “He’s based from home, so WhatsApp keeps him in touch. He thrives on content, so this is a great way to keep him in the loop.”
The platform is also proving increasingly popular among big brands for customer service communications.
Last September, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines became one of the first companies to gain a verified WhatsApp business account, enabling clients to receive flight information and ask questions at any time of day.
And since July, Etihad Airways’ premium guests have been able to chat with the airline’s customer service agents via WhatsApp while in Abu Dhabi International airport.
A user-friendly intranet helps the Freedom Travel Group update its 159 Freedom members and 150 Freedom Personal Travel Advisors.
The intranet was relaunched in 2016. Kelly Cookes, head of Freedom and the homeworking division, explains: “Our old intranet wasn’t fit for purpose. We held focus groups to get a user perspective on what information needed to be on it, and our management teams also worked on it.”
The result was a new system known simply as “the intranet”, which was created with the group’s IT partner Net Effect, and is run by the member support team.
Separate homepages for Freedom members and homeworkers each display six tiles focusing on the current most important topics, and range from commercial information to compliance and product launches.
Cookes explains: “You can see everything very quickly and the tiles are always relevant when you log on. It’s updated daily and we advise agents to leave it open on screen.”
It is designed to house all the information members may need, ranging from league tables to a marketing toolkit – and live chat functionality is planned.
“The intranet is the best way of communicating,” Cookes explains. “We do use email, but the intranet is the main source of information, and it’s a quick and easy way to find out head office and industry news.”
Freedom members and homeworkers can also interact in two closed Facebook groups, with a third focused on special offers.