The question isn’t whether or not your travel agency has workflow problems - because every agency has room for improvement in this area. The question addresses: what are your travel agency workflow problems; are they serious or minor; if serious, are they urgent or deferrable; if urgent, how are they impacting the organization – and how should they be prioritized and addressed?
Workflow vs. Business Process
A workflow problem is more complex than the issue of “things not getting done”. Many travel agencies have valuable employees known for missing important deadlines because they tripped up over small details; or causing other people to miss deadlines by failing to get back with them on requests for essential information.
These circumstances, certainly troubling for travel agency management, are typically business process bottlenecks caused by an employee’s work habits. Workflow problems, on the other hand, are enterprise-wide issues that can many people’s work regardless of their personal work styles and effectiveness. It’s important to recognize the distinction.
Business process: this is a series of related activities, the completion of which accomplishes a business objective.
Workflow: this is a rules-driven, fully or partially automated, means by which the information, documents and tasks moves from one activity to another. Workflow automation is typically achieved with travel agency software such as travel erp systems.
Within travel agencies information, documents and activities generally flow between three business areas: management; customer-facing and back office.
Customer-facing: these operations focus on such activities as: creating travel plans; bookings; itineraries; invoices; credit notes and vouchers.
Back Office: these activities include: Billing and Settlement Plan payments; invoicing; procurement, travel packaging & marketing; commissions.
Management: this area supports: employee accountability; reporting on performance & outcomes, profit & loss; customer issue escalation & resolution.
Recognizing Workflow Problems
It’s a challenge for a travel agency owner to recognize workflow problems. There are two reasons for this.
The first is that workflow problems are generally slow to develop. As defined earlier, workflows are full or partially automation means by which information, documents and tasks move through a company. Typically workflows are designed to meet current and foreseeable needs. However, most companies do not revisit their workflows to see if growth and industry change has outdated them.
The second is that the slow development of workflow problems enables company employees to gradually become accustomed to their symptoms and accept them as normal. Unless management has the foresight to develop and use workflow performance criteria, they are likely to fall into the same trap.
Here are symptomatic examples of workflow problems.
- Losses are experienced because travel services are sold with outdated prices or availability information.
- Price margins can’t be easily checked.
- Sales opportunities are difficult to share across the company.
- Capability to offer customers real-time tour/travel information across various media is limited and often uncompetitive.
- Personalized customer/client information is not readily available.
- Updates to travel services aren’t communicated across departments and/or branches.
- Supplier pricing and agency mark-ups are not kept in easily available, centralized, database.
- Important information is not easily shared across the company.
- Multiple payment types by customer difficult to reconcile and manage.
- Manual actions to check travel services pricing and details make overtime difficult to control and deadlines hard to meet.
- Late and/or inaccurate information makes employee accountability & performance measurement challenging.
- Delayed and/or inaccurate pricing & cost information makes decisions around profitability imprecise.
- Manual steps in the reporting process, particularly for KPIs such as operating profit and sales increases over prior periods, result in lagging month-end management decisions.
- Visibility into sales step-up performance within the sales funnel is delayed and/or inaccurate.
These examples also answer one of the questions posed at the beginning of this article: are your workflow problems serious or minor; are they urgent or deferrable and how should they be prioritized and addressed?
The answer is this – a workflow problem is never minor. Given the increasing competitiveness of the travel industry, workflow problems will always be costly in terms of: money; customer relationships; growth and employee resources. Only you can judge the severity of its impact on your own: financial strength; profitability; market position and growth trends.