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How to prepare for a travel peak!

By ajitks - August 4, 2020
 

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My role as the head of Customer Happiness in Pickyourtrail, India’s first DIY Travel planner, comes with quite a few challenges. And I have realized that planning a clear execution strategy in advance does a lot of good. My peaks of learning and managerial contribution come twice every year in May and December. In these two months, we have the highest India outbound travel. In May, it’s mostly to Europe. And in December, a majority of travelers choose New Zealand and Australia, followed by Europe.

Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, this year’s May travel season came to a complete halt. While that sucks, with travel restrictions easing slowly and the optimism from the Vaccine trials, there is hope that Indian travelers will be packing their bags soon.

I have personally led four of our travel peaks. And each time, the learnings have been phenomenal. My team has grown in size, the number of travelers has increased and I have evolved as a leader. But there’s always been one constant –

Proper planning and preparation leads to great execution!

So how did we plan and execute our December 2019 travel peak? Here’s my blueprint –

1. Data, Data, and some more… Data!

Being prepared is a must when handling something of this scale. Our peaks define how well Pickyourtrail can continue to stay nimble and offer a first-class experience to travelers. So, knowing what to expect early on would prevent shortcomings in providing a great customer experience.

We went back a few months, looked at the number of PAX, type and time of queries, filtered them by destinations and ran a projection model. After a couple of iterations, we were able to accurately project an almost 2x increase in the number of travelers and the types of queries we can expect. Having this information made it easy to plan shifts, who would be handling which customer or geography, which function would every manager run and execute, etc. Our Data models were improved half-way with changes, but we had a successful month, thanks to data that clearly called out what to expect early on.

2. Create a story

Cracking something so big needs the combined effort of several folks. My vision as a leader and my expectations need to be communicated to the rest of the team. They all need to believe in a common goal. And to achieve this, we had to create a great story around the entire peak. Something, they’d be proud to talk about later.

I reached out to Samudra, our former Head of Design. Our Peak execution needed a Project name. We narrowed down to Project Sahara and Project Firefly. Project Sahara spoke about vastness, challenges, difficulties, and yet it is still one of the greatest natural wonders in the world. The alternative was Project Firefly. It associated with light, optimism, and something that shows the way. A single firefly has a tiny shimmer of light. But together, they can brighten up a place. I am a strong advocate of teamwork and this name was apt. In about 45 minutes a logo was designed and we loved it!

With a Project name and a logo, we could solve three important things – repeatability, improve morale, and internal Org branding.

3. Achieve something more

It was clear that the objective of handling this peak would not just be providing support to 2x travelers. We needed qualifiers to keep in check that we were doing our job well, keeping customers happy. But then we thought, why not do a little extra given we have a peak. So, we picked up 120 – 150% of our initial goals, despite handling double the customer traffic with the same workforce, systems and processes.

Project Firefly needed goals that would echo in our workspace for 31 days. My managers and I got into a meeting room and discussed the broad metrics which we would track. They were a bit surprised by the numbers thrown at them but were more than ready to pick up a challenge. We laid out our goals. The team was run through their targets and we were ready for the peak. Again, the emphasis was on achieving these goals and not just handling a surge of travelers.

 

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4. Brainstorm – Prepare – Execute – Repeat

We changed our plans multiple times throughout the peak. It didn’t mean we did a poor job in planning. But, we realized something could be done better, faster or simply needed correction. No amount of planning would have prepared us for floods in New Zealand in the first week of December and protests in Paris due to Macron’s Pension reforms.

A well thought through plan was scrapped and my managers were quick to the drawing board. There was no feeling of effort going for waste. We were comfortable starting over and realized early on that we need to plan on the go.

Another conscious call we took as a team is to move away from an only Tech-led approach. I am a Pen and a Paper guy. I keep daily to-do lists and get a kick when I check off a box. We could share information online between teams and people across shifts. But it made it difficult to discuss and execute. So, we moved to a whiteboard. All our rooms had whiteboards full of to-do lists and customer handover information from one shift to another. We had a near-zero loss of information, thanks to this approach.

5. Keep your team’s morale high

Long hours, night shifts, working on Christmas – it’s not easy. As a leader, you can either expect people to do all this as it’s their job, or you can work alongside them and do everything in your capacity to keep their morale high.

We did everything we could to keep the work atmosphere great. And it was the team who did the rest. Standups were fun, goals were no longer numbers but challenges, reports weren’t boring excel sheets but critical data points everyone would try to achieve. Our two meetings – Sunrise (mornings) and Sunset (evenings) became great avenues to share learnings, the day’s progress, and plan for the next day. This kept the morale high at all times. And workspace has to be fun, right? Of course, it should!

6. Appreciate your team

Some of our best ideas have come from conversations in the Cheta tea kadai (a tea shop near our office). During one such conversation with Dhinakaran (one of my team managers), he asked how do we thank people for the work they have done? Before the final sip of tea, we had arrived at an idea. We collected the team’s addresses (coz the HR asked for it 😅 ), got some letters printed and mailed it to them.

It was a thank you note addressed to the families. Each one personalized with something unique written about each teammate. The timing was perfect, the peak had almost come to an end, it was new year’s eve. The letter was addressed to the family thanking them for the support and acknowledging the great work put in by their daughter, son, or spouse. The reaction was overwhelming. We had happy parents, grandparents, and a team which was super elated by the gesture and proud to reflect at a month well executed. It’s amazing how a casual conversation over tea can lead to so much happiness 🙂

7. Lead from the front

Be someone your team can look up to. When facing a challenge, a great team just needs a nudge in the right direction. They’ll pick up the rest.

Towards the end of December, we knew we were falling behind on one of our goals of collecting 250 5-star customer reviews. On 28th December at 8 pm, I asked the team what would it take to get 100 reviews on a single day. At first, what felt like an unimaginable feat fell in place by the next morning. Some planning and top class execution by the team, we closed the day at 112 genuine customer 5-star reviews, ever highest in Pickyourtrail history. This single-day catapulted us to achieve our goal. All that was needed was a nudge and some direction as a leader. They did the rest.

December 2019 was one of my professional highs. The lessons were phenomenal, the planning, execution, teamwork was all great. But the best part, creating more than a thousand happy customer memories. Nothing beats that feeling 😄

 

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