SituationGiven the business model of Travel Dynamics International (TDI), it seems fitting that two brothers from the Greek island of Rhodes—site of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world—came together to form the company. Founded in 1969, the Manhattan, New York–based company pioneered the fusion of luxury cruise travel and theme-based education covering a range of topics, including ancient and medieval civilizations and the voyages of modern explorers.
TDI has a fleet of three small to midsize cruise ships with occupancy ranging from 34 to 114 passengers. The 40-person company sells an average of 60 trips a year—serving approximately 4,000 passengers annually—mainly through its partnerships with nonprofit-sponsoring organizations, such as the Association of Yale Alumni and the Smithsonian Institute.
From its inception, TDI has earned a reputation for its personalized service and exquisite attention to detail. The company provides elaborate catering and amenities, such as spas, exercise facilities, and private butler services.
To meet its sophisticated passenger reservation and program-planning needs, TDI engaged an independent software firm to develop a proprietary reservation system. Although this system, which TDI relied on for 10 years, met basic requirements for storing passenger and trip information, it did not include marketing, sales, or customer service modules. The lack of support for these functions hampered efficiency, limited visibility into customer and sales data, and introduced opportunities for error. Specifically:
- Sales staff only sporadically tracked leads, using stand-alone
spreadsheets, which prevented real-time visibility of prospects and
analysis of conversion rates; this practice also meant that sales staff
spent up to an hour each week compiling and rekeying data to create
TDI operates cruises to exotic locations worldwide.
- Accounting staff needed to manually reenter data from the reservation system into the company’s Sage Accpac accounting system.
- Customer service staff relied on a paper-based system for generating and distributing precruise mailings to travelers, which occasionally led to delays and missed deadlines.
- Marketing coordinators often had to sort through dozens of records retrieved from multiple, nonintegrated systems to find the information they needed, complicating the process of building targeted campaigns.
Company leaders knew that TDI had outgrown its custom reservation system. But, they were initially skeptical that anything but a custom-built solution could serve its specialized business model. Also, the company hesitated to abandon a decade’s worth of investment in its former system. After several months of deliberation, the company ultimately considered the option of a packaged customer relationship management solution.
SolutionTDI evaluated customer relationship management solutions from Microsoft, Sage, Salesforce.com, and Oracle. The company ultimately chose Microsoft Dynamics® CRM based on a number of factors, including ease of use and integration with the desktop productivity and communication applications that TDI staff use each day, including Microsoft® Office Word and Microsoft Office Outlook®.
Another key decision driver for TDI was the extensibility offered through xRM, the flexible application development framework of Microsoft Dynamics CRM. With its deep expertise in tailoring Microsoft Dynamics CRM to fit a variety of unique business models, Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Infinity Info Systems effectively demonstrated this capability to managers at TDI. “The ability to quickly build new line-of-business applications through xRM was something the other customer relationship management solutions couldn’t match,” says Papagapitos.
Managing Reservations Infinity Info Systems helped TDI make changes to the database and user interface components of Microsoft Dynamics CRM to optimize its reservation-booking process.
The team modified the data model to support a passenger-centric approach to handling reservations, a change that TDI deemed too difficult and costly to complete in its former system. Now, customer profile data is automatically associated with tour package information in a single database, enabling TDI agents to complete and update bookings more quickly. This change also enables the company to track shared data across its customer base on a number of specified dimensions, such as a passenger’s connection to a particular travel agent or sponsoring organization. In addition, TDI can now track passenger transaction history data to more precisely market tour packages based on individual preferences.
“xRM simplifies access to powerful application development resources, such as Microsoft SQL Server® and the Microsoft .NET Framework. So, we were able to help TDI build its reservation management application on Microsoft Dynamics CRM much more quickly than if we tried to custom build it ourselves,” says Infinity Info Systems’s Matthew Bogan, who oversaw the TDI engagement.
Tracking Ship Inventory and Tour Program Details
TDI uses Microsoft Dynamics CRM to track cabin inventory across its fleet. This information, which is automatically updated each time an agent completes a reservation, is instantly available to employees throughout the organization:
- Company managers can log on to the system to obtain a snapshot of inventory utilization.
- Booking agents can see current inventory by ship and easily access details about available suites, such as square footage and whether or not the cabin offers a private balcony.
- Sales associates and managers can access up-to-the-minute sales figures to determine what packages need to be further promoted.
Providing a Hub to Connect Business ActivitiesFor TDI, the solution serves as a hub to link all of its core business processes:
- Sales associates use the lead-tracking tools to record detailed information about prospects and to organize and prioritize follow-up activities for each new opportunity.
- Customer service and tour program teams rely on automated workflows to guide the creation, review and approval, and distribution of precruise mailings to booked passengers.
- Marketing coordinators use the system to drill down into customer profiles, examining transaction and correspondence histories and identifying key relationships among its customer base to create targeted campaigns.
Benefits“Since deploying Microsoft Dynamics CRM, our people can complete tasks up to four times faster than before. And we’re projecting a 10 percent year-over-year gain in sales volume through improved sales lead–tracking and marketing capabilities,” says Papagapitos. In addition, TDI can now provide more responsive and consistent customer service because its people share access to current, accurate information stored in a centralized database. And, with the ability to quickly modify and extend Microsoft Dynamics CRM, the company has dramatically reduced its IT maintenance costs and is better able to adapt to changing business needs.
Increased Productivity by Up to 400 PercentThrough streamlined reporting, the elimination of numerous manual workflows, and seamless integration between Microsoft Dynamics CRM and applications in the Microsoft Office system, TDI has boosted productivity across its operations by up to 400 percent.
- Agents can book reservations up to four times faster because customer information is automatically linked in the system with tour package details.
- Sales associates can create a weekly sales summary report in a matter of minutes, which previously took up to an hour to complete.
- Customer service personnel have cut the amount of time needed to complete delivery of customer mailings by 50 percent by relying on automated workflows and the ability to quickly merge mailing lists with documents.
- Marketing coordinators can now search a single database to create targeted campaigns, saving an average of 10 hours of development time for each initiative.
- Accounting staff avoid hours of duplicate data entry each week through the connection between Microsoft Dynamics CRM and the company’s Sage Accpac system.
TDI projects a 10 percent year-over-year increase in the number of tour packages it sells based on several factors. Lead-tracking tools in the system provide a way for sales people to track and prioritize opportunities in a more systematic way. Moreover, company leaders now benefit from real-time visibility into all leads contained in the system. They can contribute their own contacts and advise sales associates to follow up on an emerging opportunity based on new information. “We’ve already improved our conversion rate on new leads based on the ability to track them in a centralized database, and we expect this trend to continue,” says Papagapitos.
In addition, the company’s marketing team uses the system to identify shared relationships, buying trends, and key referral sources to build more sophisticated and effective direct-mail campaigns. “With Microsoft Dynamics CRM, we can ensure that no leads fall through the cracks,” says Papagapitos. “And with more efficient and more targeted marketing, we’re better equipped to turn leads into loyal, long-term customers.”
Improved Customer Service
Because sales associates, tour program managers, and customer service staff all work in the same system, TDI provides high-quality and thoroughly consistent service at every touch point with its customers. The company processes and confirms reservations more quickly, delivers its precruise information packets on schedule, immediately provides itinerary updates to passengers, and avoids sending contacts duplicate marketing materials. “Because Microsoft Dynamics CRM helps us connect our people and our business in practically every way, we can provide the kind of outstanding service and attention to detail that our customers expect,” says Papagapitos.
Saved $50,000 a Year Through Greater IT Self-Sufficiency
By moving to Microsoft Dynamics CRM, TDI immediately eliminated the annual expense of maintaining and upgrading its former system, which totaled an average of $50,000 a year. This cost included regular system maintenance and a number of ongoing IT projects that outside consultants performed. In addition to removing this expense from its annual operating budget, TDI can now handle the majority of its IT needs with internal staffing resources. Papagapitos attributes this in large part to his team’s familiarity with the technologies exposed through the xRM application development framework alongside training and support from the Infinity Info Systems team. “The ability to take advantage of xRM to quickly build out new applications makes us more agile as a company,” he says. “And because we don’t have to outsource these projects, we can retain complete control of our data. That’s a huge win for us.”