Alaskan Kayak Co. Exceeds Customer Service Expectations
Everyone knew that Alison Dunlap felt most at home in the outdoors. From her days as an outdoor recreation major to her role as a high school wilderness instructor, the southeast Alaskan landscape was the constant thread interweaving Alison’s story.
Starting an ocean kayaking company was the natural next chapter for Alison. “As a wilderness coach, I was always out on the water,” she explains, “and this opportunity just kind of fell in my lap.”
Alison loved every minute of getting her company, Sitka Sound Ocean Adventures, off the ground, especially when it meant interfacing with customers. She ran Sitka Sound with extreme attention to detail and individualized care for every guest that came her way.
“I would spend 20-30 minutes per phone call talking to people about what we do,” she remembers.
Most tour operators want to minimize phone calls, but as Sitka Sound was just starting, chatting with customers was Alison’s favorite part. “I actually enjoyed that because they would ask me all about Alaska and I could really have a conversation with them,” she adds.
Yet, Alison discovered that there can be too much of a good thing. As her popularity expanded, it was harder to spend so much individualized time on each phone call.
“There were not enough hours in the day,” she recalls, “I would get phone calls at 2am from people on the East Coast…as my company grew, it was not going to be plausible to continue this way.”
With more demand for her tours, Alison realized that the longer she spent on the phone with one customer, the more she missed out on serving others.
“I would get phone calls at 2am from people on the East Coast…as my company grew, it was not going to be plausible to continue this way.”
The bigger picture
After her first couple seasons with Sitka Sound, Alison knew she was at a crossroads. As much as she enjoyed intimately attending to every customer, she needed to stay in the black. “I couldn’t just be working with customers all day for one kayak rental a week,” she explains.
But she had built her business from the ground up based on a deep commitment to her guest. “I didn’t want it to become a ‘Buy Now! Buy Now!’ company,” Alison asserts, “I wanted it to be specific to what people wanted.”
For Alison, there was nothing more valuable than spending those 20 or 30 extra minutes with a customer to establish a genuine connection. And although she knew she couldn’t keep growing and maintain these high standards, it was emotionally difficult for her to let them go.
“The hardest thing for me was that people really liked the phone calls, they really liked what I was doing,” she says.
A new way
But growing Sitka Sound didn’t mean sacrificing her customer service. At least, not if Alison had the right help.
After two seasons with no booking system, she realized that her business could use a hand.
Being in Alaska meant that her business days were severed. As people in New York were getting off of work, Alison was just getting back from her lunch break. If she was going to grow her business, she needed to capture reservations at all hours of the day.
More than the booking system’s features, however, Alison had to trust that it would take care of her customers just as well as she would. Her ideal solution would let her scale excellent customer service, not compromise it.
Success with Xola
When Alison found Xola, it was like looking in the mirror. She saw a company that cared about her just as much as she cared about her own customers.
“Xola exceeded my expectations,” Alison says, “They spent a lot of time training me and trying to get to know me and my company.”
She adds, “No matter what your business is, Xola will try to figure out what your needs are and help you customize what you’re doing to maximize your business.”
Now, Alison is spending less time in her office and is getting three times as many bookings. While it’s nice to see Sitka grow, what really matters is that she trusts Xola. It’s not just a booking system, it’s a lifeline for when she needs help the most.
“One day, my Internet wasn’t working and I needed a question answered right away,” Alison remembers, “I was able to get a hold of the Xola team, who was able to get a hold of someone else, and we all solved the problem before the guest even arrived.”
“That guest had no idea that there was a kerfuffle within the business because by the time they came, everything was running smoothly.”
The move to Xola has been so seamless that customers can’t even tell when Xola is helping behind the scenes. As a result, Xola has helped strengthen Alison’s commitment to customer service, even as her business grows.
“Having a confirmation email with all the information my customers need has been great,” she notes, “not having to make those up myself is thrilling, and they look really nice and professional.”
Moving forward, Alison is excited to be a part of Xola. “I love your energy,” she says in reference to Xola’s dedicated team. “I love that [the team] is willing to ask me what’s a problem and what works, and [it] uses that to try to grow the company.”