January 2007

Innovative Operator Profile: Customer Satisfaction is Paramount

by Alfonso Jimenez

In order to satisfy customer needs, a motorcoach operator must wear many hats. David Beagle, vice president of transportation at Holland America Tours, knows firsthand what it means to wear many hats with regard to customer needs. He began his career with the operation as a seasonal driver-guide in 1974 while still in college. The company, however, has changed tremendously since those days. “When I started we only had 38 motorcoaches,” he says. Today, the company has built up a fleet of nearly 400 coaches. “Because our operation is now so complex, we have thousands of touch points with our guests. As a result, there are thousands of opportunities to make a mistake and thousands of opportunities to make a positive impression.”

Founded in 1909, Holland America Tours is a subsidiary of Holland America Line, the venerable globe-spanning cruise ship line. “We’re the ground side of the cruise ship company,” explains Beagle. “We take the guests from the ship’s gangway to wherever they want to go. Once their foot hits the solid ground, then they’re our responsibility.” Holland America Tours provides a diversity of charter and tour options made possible by a range of vehicles, from motorcoaches to railcars to jeeps.

Based in Seattle, the company conducts tours throughout Alaska, the Yukon and the Pacific Northwest, including Vancouver. In the Yukon, it recently introduced river rafting in the Klondike River, hiking and other motorcoach programs in Tombstone Territorial Park and jeep tours in Dawson City and Denali.

To provide its customers with the most enjoyable tour experience, the company implemented an innovative GPS-triggered narration system in its “U-drive” jeep programs and railcar tours, as well as its shorter, high-volume motorcoach routes. The new technology operates by triggering audio narration when a GPS-enabled vehicle comes within proximity of a tour “hot spot.” But GPS-triggered narration is not designed to replace the human component of a guided tour. The system is being utilized primarily to train new driver-guides and give railcar managers more flexibility in fulfilling their duties. “If the car manager needs to address a problem downstairs in the dining room, they can turn on the next five narration segments so that they narrate while he or she is downstairs,” says Beagle. Automated safety announcements recorded on the system also give guests a full and accurate description of the coach’s safety features and procedures.

Genuine concern for customer satisfaction is also what leads Holland America Tours to engage in rigorous self-scrutiny every year. As a seasonal operation, the company is in the unique position of being able to improve its services in the offseason by conducting customer satisfaction inquiries. “We try to identify what our weaknesses are, whether they are knowledge-based or hospitality-based, and then find solutions that support the customer-oriented culture we want to instill in our seasonal staff,” Beagle says. Every year, the company launches new operation enhancement projects based on the previous season’s customer ratings to anticipate and exceed future customer expectations. “We have 64 improvement projects underway for the coming season.”

AT A GLANCE

Motorcoaches: 414

Fleet mix: MCI, Prevost

Employees: 1,100

Drivers: 435

Year started: 1909

Service area: Northwest, Vancouver, Alaska and the Yukon

Services offered: Charter, tour

Average annual mileage: 5.2 million

Annual ridership: 3 million

VP of transportation: David Beagle (pictured)


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