Having access to customer data is a luxury, not a right, and being able to organize big data is hardly a easy experience. Magellan Vacations, an online travel agency specializing in luxury hotels, learned the importance of having the right technology to manage data and make it accessible across the organization when it implemented a new business intelligence software.
A few reservations about an old solution
When Andrew Vignuzzi joined Magellan as chief operating officer in 2011, the online travel agency was already using a business intelligence tool; however, the company had to rely on its IT department and programmers for any internal reporting—preventing sales agents from getting the timely data that they needed to convert customers over the phone. Vignuzzi, now CEO of Magellan, wanted to find a solution that would allow him to mine Magellan’s database faster and without the help of IT. Ryan Cheung, who joined in Magellan in 2014 as a business analyst, says Vignuzzi also wanted a solution that was user friendly.
“Not every single person in Magellan is going to be comfortable with a database or with understanding some of the accounting figures and complex formulas,” he explains.
So after reviewing a few platforms, Vignuzzi decided to implement business intelligence software Sisense.
A cross-company collaboration
By using Sisense, Magellan’s sales agents can aggregate data from disparate sources and track performance via dashboards. For instance, Cheung says the software is integrated into Magellan’s internal phone system to allow sales agents to track how many incoming phone calls they get, how many calls they answer, and how many calls are abandoned. He also says it connects to Magellan’s point-of-sales system, which helps them track everything from guests’ check-in and check-out dates to their destinations and hotels of interest. Google Analytics is another key source.
But the technology doesn’t just benefit sales; it helps marketing, too. For example, like many marketers, Magellan’s marketers use Google AdWords to bid on key search words and drive customers to the website. Because some keywords drive conversion better than other, Magellan can identify those high-performing terms and optimize accordingly. Cheung says Sisense also helped Magellan identify when it should dial its AdWords spend back. He recalled a time when Magellan was receiving more incoming calls than its staff could handle. So, the company temporarily turned off its AdWords to decrease the number of calls until it was ready to accept more.
“Sisense allows us to be efficient in that way to make sure [that] we’re not wasting our marketing dollars, to make sure that we’re matching our marketing spend with the call center, [and] to make sure that we’re not overspending and losing out on phone calls, dropping phone calls, and having people on hold hang up,” he says. “It’s not just that you’re losing money from marketing, it’s detrimental to your customer service and your brand, as well.”
A solution to an online-offline problem
Still, Magellan’s sales representatives face a challenge when it comes to tracking customers’ Web behavior. The online travel agency has an agreement with its hotel partners that it will not publish their discounted rates on its website. So if a customer calls Magellan to learn a hotel rate, the sales agent has no idea what research the customer has done or what channel he or she came from that drove that call.
“If you want to have these really great rates for these luxury hotels, we [have to] keep them opaque,” Cheung says. “You can call in and at that point you can receive the rate. It’s a way of protecting both us and the hotel’s brand.”
To help bridge this gap, Magellan uses promotional codes. A person who visits Magellan’s website will see one code, for instance, while a person who receives a Magellan email will see another. Magellan sends two emails out weekly: one promoting hotels and destinations and one promoting weekly sales picks. Leveraging this kind of tracking, Cheung says, helps Magellan’s marketers identify which emails convert the best and adjust their content accordingly.
“If we don’t get great results from a particular newsletter, we’ll go back, have a look, see why that one didn’t turn out well for us and make changes from there,” he says. “We can do that within a couple days.”
Room to grow
Since implementing the solution, Magellan has increased its efficiency and avoided potential marketing overspend, Cheung says. He also says the technology has caused more “cross pollination” across departments.
“It’s not a perfect symphony—I don’t think anyone can really achieve that,” he says, “but there’s a lot of people looking at the same metrics across different departments on a regular basis.”
Magellan has continued to update its technology stack, too. For instance, Cheung says the company implemented a new POS system over the summer and late fall. This change, he notes, lets Magellan “streamline” the volume of reports built in Sisense by maximizing usage and minimizing the number of dashboards and reports on file. The company also integrated a new CRM software called SugarCRM to manage client, hotel, and reservation data, he adds.
In addition, Magellan is finding new ways to use Sisense. For example, Cheung says the company is now using it to manage hotel rates that are being loaded into its global distribution system (GDS) by different hotel partners. He explains that this allows the online travel agency to combine the different data sources and create a standard KPI that will prioritize which hotels Magellan should get in contact with first to lock in discounted rates. The result, he notes, is increased GDS rate availability and a more targeted focus on which hotels Magellan should home in on.
“We do see that week over week hotel rate availability and compliance are increasing,” he says.
Plus, the company introduced a client-tiered system this past fall. Using Sisense, Magellan is able to monitor its Gold-tiered members’ reservations and follow up with their hotels to ensure that everything is in order before they arrive—resulting in higher customer satisfaction and fewer errors, Cheung says.
Of course, dealing with this vast amount of data is still a challenge. For Cheung, the biggest hurdle is ensuring that he and his colleagues don’t go off the data deep end and that they stay focused on solving the business problem at hand.
“We really focus on making sure that any requests have an end result that we’re trying to find, and, usually, we find it in the data,” he says. “But starting with the end in mind allows it be a really smooth process.”
But at the end of the day, it’s having access to big data that keeps marketers on their toes. As Cheung puts it, “When data is very accessible, it just means that you have to move just as fast as the market is moving.”