Managing Customer Data

The first General Session of ExecConnect 2012 focused on the best way to use tools to mine data By: Kenneth Shapiro

The Details

For more stories about ExecConnect 2012, visit TravelAgeWest.com/ExecConnect

General Session 1 of ExecConnect, led by moderator Monica Poling, the Online Editor of TravelAge West, was focused on database management. Here is some of what was covered.

In a pre-event survey, agents reported that more than 50 percent use some form of paper file or rolodex and 15 percent said they rely solely on paper files or business cards. In fact organizing paper files and business cards has become a separate industry all its own.

While some agents may feel most comfortable with old-school paper files, this type of system has several drawbacks. For instance, a paper filing system can’t:

• Tell you which clients are having a birthday this month
• Give you a list of which clients might be interested in a Hawaii promotion
• Flag your most-valued clients
• Provide intel to your colleagues, should they need to access it

The process of analyzing data from different angles and summarizing it into useful information is called data mining. 

Data mining can involve simple analysis, such as making a list of all clients who live in Hawaii, or complex questions, including “what are top travel destinations for clients spending more than $10,000 and traveling in September or October?”

“The more you know about your clients, the easier it is to give them the information they want,” Poling said. 

Building a Database

Poling continued by explaining the process of building a successful database, including these steps:

• Analyze business needs
• Draft a database outline
• Check system requirements
• Load test data
• Define calculations
• Define reports
• Verify with users
• Repeat process as needed

Some of the main fields agents should be using for their database include:

• First Name
• Last Name
• Address
• Phone
• Email
• Birthday
• Recent Travel Information

Other fields an agent might want to use include:

• Children’s birthdays
• Passport expiration
• Client photo
• Name of spouse
• Hobbies
• Notes / phone conversations
• Date / location of first meeting
• Frequent flyer numbers

Next Poling led the audience through a listening exercise. She played a recording of a conversation between an agent and a client regarding a recent trip to Oahu. Afterward, the audience came up with some of the key database information that was mentioned on the call.

Poling then continued with some database best practices. These tips included:

• Only put one piece of data in each field
• When entering numeric information, use numbers, not a range like $10,000 - $15,000.
• Have your organization create a rule sheet for consistency in data entry. 
• Enter information in the proper field.
• Set a routine. Don’t wait to do data entry, do a little bit every day/week/month.
• Input the most important clients/data first

Customer Relationship Management

General Session 1 moved on to a look at specific Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools. Popular CRMs include Outlook and ClientBase, among others. Poling stated, however, that the best CRM is “the one that you are actually going to use.” She encouraged the agents to pick the CRM that fits them best.

Poling continued by giving some tips agents can use when working with Outlook. Tips included how to use the Notes, Rules, Categories and RSS Reader features. Poling also suggested that agents: 

• Set up a and use signature file: different signatures for different emails — one for reply; another for new email
• Sync Outlook with Google Calendars, iPhone Calendars, etc.
• Specify a delivery time for your messages
• Set Outlook to manage multiple accounts
• Drag and drop an email into tasks/calendar to set a “to do” reminder

Poling mentioned a company called ShoeBoxed.com, which can help agents convert paper resources to digital files. This includes uploading scans and converting to data and scanning actual business cards and receipts. 

Managing Multiple Databases

The next topic of General Session 1 was working with multiple databases. Poling began this section by mentioning Comma Separated Value (CSV) files, which are text files that can then be read by almost every database system.

Poling then called up a panel of agents to have a live discussion and share tips about database management. The agents on the panel included Eric Maryanov of All-Travel.com, Scott Koepf of Avoya Travel, Robin Yap of Northridge Travel and Nathan DePetris of Pride Travel.

After the panel, Poling interviewed Scott Ahlsmith, of 23 Touchpoints, to discuss the company’s data collection process, goals and tips.

Ahlsmith described the mission of 23 Touchpoints by saying, “We capture information, shape it into knowledge and semantically deliver it, just-in-time, to our clients, helping them achieve profitable sales.”

In conclusion, Poling offered several action steps that agents can use right away in order to get started on successful database management:

• Define the fields you plan to use 
• Select your primary CRM tool
• Use it regularly
• Keep the data clean
• Set goals
• Continuously assess what you’d like the tool to be doing

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