Cloud-Based CRM System Helps REI Plan Adventures

By Ariella Brown Print this article Print
Cloud-Based CRM

A company that plans adventure trips turns to a cloud-based CRM system to eliminate paper, improve customer satisfaction, save money and increase business.

Adventure travel expanded at a rate of 65 percent year-over-year between 2009 and 2013, making it a $263 billion industry in the United States and Europe, according to the Adventure Travel Trade Association.

One of the players in this highly competitive market is REI Adventures, the trip planning division of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), which sells outdoor clothing and gear in its stores around the country. REI Adventures explains its services this way: "Getting people outdoors is our mission, our goal and our passion."

Kristen Lund, business systems specialist at REI Adventures, explains that the trip planning component of the business was born as a result of the growing demand of the stores' customers to travel to specific destinations with others who shared their interests. But those customers needed some help to arrange their trips.

So, in 1987, the company started organizing trips and taking care of all the planning and arrangements. It puts together groups that want—and can handle—the same level of physical activity. All that planning used to involve a lot of documents, mailings and faxes.

Though REI Adventures had turned to computers to help streamline the process, Lund says that the solution they had in place "was very basic and very reliant on paper." In fact, the company had to maintain seven full-time and two part-time employees devoted solely to data entry and mailing.

In the past, when the firm's customers were participating in a trip, they received paper packets in the mail, which they had to fill out by hand and mail back to REI. On top of the time that took, the packets were sometimes missing information, and the staff had to mail the papers back to the customer.

In addition to the high cost of purchasing, mailing and storing all those paper documents—75,000 pieces—this approach took a lot of time. The data intake alone took about 3,000 hours a year. REI Adventures had gotten to the point at which the computer system was preventing it from expanding the business. That's when the company decided on a fully computerized solution.

Turning to a Cloud-Based System

In February 2014, REI Adventures decided to install the Salesforce Sales Cloud solution. Management brought in consultants to develop the code and set up the system, which took about six months. In August of 2014, the company began using the system.

As this is a cloud-based system, the company did not have to invest in hardware and was able to work with its existing computer equipment. The system is made up of two parts: an internal-facing one for the firm's employees and another one for its customers.

For employees, the change entailed multiple hours of training at the beginning and one-off trainings as needed. But they were excited to learn something new and were happy with the platform's ease of use. They also appreciated the fact that the Salesforce Sales Cloud enables them to know their customer in much more depth than was possible before.

That's important to the business because management wants to deliver adventures that are customized to groups and individuals. Though the employees already knew the statistics of frequent travelers, the system gives the staff a much more comprehensive picture that allows them to personalize the service with customized tweaks.

For example, if a customer expresses interest in a trip that is not suitable for his or her level of fitness, they can find an alternative that is appropriate. "This is making a huge difference in our company," Lund reports.

Customers' responses to the system have been very favorable because it makes their experience more immediate and personal. Travelers get the thrill of instant gratification when they get confirmation of their trips on the spot, rather than having to wait for the information to arrive in the mail. The interface also shows them iconic images of where they're going, a countdown to departure, the face of the person in the office who is helping them out, and information that is specific to their trip: when they will arrive and depart, etc.

By using the Salesforce Sales Cloud platform, REI Adventures has realized substantial savings in operating costs and has been able to grow much more quickly than it could previously. Lund reports that the service has added more new itineraries and trips in the last two years than it had in many prior years combined.

Unencumbered by paper, REI Adventures is now able to serve and satisfy more customers. That means more people are likely to discover adventure vacations, which will bring in more revenue for the company. That's definitely a win-win.

This article was originally published on 2016-02-24

Ariella Brown, a Baseline contributor, has covered many enterprise technologies, including 3D printing, analytics, big data, digital currency, cloud computing, green technology, marketing and social media.

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