Avoya Travel is investing heavily in technology to enable its agents to spend less time managing the administrative burden of their roles so that they can spend more time personalizing customer service and selling travel.
During a general session at the Avoya Travel Conference in San Diego this week, executive vice president Jeff Anderson said Avoya has increased its 2017 technology budget by 70% over last year.
Key to Avoya’s investment, Anderson said, is building out the artificial intelligence capabilities in products like Agent Power, a portal for agents to work from one website, and the company’s consumer website.
A dashboard of an agent’s most important daily tasks will be featured prominently in the updated version, as will a notification center that will push important information like calendar appointments, due dates for traveler deposits and other information, out to agents. Push notifications will include whether clients have visited Avoya’s consumer website, and what those clients have looked at.
“It will pop out, and these notifications will become part of your workflow, asking you to think of things like, ‘What is the activity for this lead that I am working?’” said Mike Anderson, executive vice president. “When you don’t see a red circle in your notification bar, you will know you have nothing to immediately act on.”
The enhancements will “allow your workflow to be faster and more productive. How can a computer come along side you and say, ‘Have you considered this? Should this be done today?’”
Avoya is tapping into 15 years of travel data in its computer warehouse to help it predict consumer travel purchasing behaviors. ”At times it’s an overwhelming amount of data, but it can power us to create some cool new stuff,” Jeff Anderson said.
“AI is absolutely the hot topic right now. It gets us thinking all day long to what machines can do for us to make us more efficient. What will a machine help us do, smarter, faster.”
Jeff Anderson proposed though that not all agents might be comfortable with the introduction of technology enhancements. “Some things will absolutely terrify you because they are different. But different is not bad,” Anderson said.
Selling should be travel agents' focus
At a press briefing, Jeff Anderson elaborated on how travel agents need to focus more on selling and less on the mundane day-to-day functions of being a travel agent.
“As we look to the next six, 12, 18 months, it’s about how can we leverage new technology to make agencies even more effective than they have been in the past. We have simplified marketing to about as simple as they can get,” he said, with the company’s Live Leads program that draws in potential clients through a consumer website.
The process of converting those live leads to new clients, and then mining those clients for repeat business can be more effective and efficient through technology.
“Now they need to know, 'If I have a 100 relationships, which ones do I need to know about today? Which ones do I need to act on today? Does someone have a birthday? If they were on the [consumer] site last week, what were they interested in?’ The challenge for [our] network will be how good are you at building relationships,” Jeff Anderson said.
During the press briefing, vice president of marketing Sam McCully talked about how technology products like Vacation Countdown (introduced at the Avoya 2016 conference) enable travel agents to deliver superior customer service without taking time away from tasks that require an agent’s more direct involvement and selling skills.
Vacation Countdown delivers automated clients e-mail reminders leading to the date of departure. “It saves the agent from having to collect all of that information and write it themselves,” McCully noted. “We slowly rolled it out. People absolutely love it now. They are seeing the power of automation.”
Technology could help fill agent labor shortage
Avoya co-founder Van Anderson believes that the benefits of new technology will also make travel agent careers a more lucrative path for new agents.
He compared today’s environment with 20-25 years ago, when the time and investment a new agent needed to open their doors could have been six months or more, and cost them tens of thousands of dollars. Technology, Van Anderson proposed, could help recruit younger professionals looking for a career as a travel seller because they will need less money up front, and will be able to leverage that technology to build their business faster.
“We have the possibility of helping [Millennials] be professional travel sellers years before they typically would have become successful previously,” he said. “With the right technology, you can be a pro in a relatively short period of time.”