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Crisis is the time of opportunities

The pandemic and economic crises are changing the business tourism industry, helping to find new areas of development and think about effective optimization of business processes. How the Vipservice corporate unit manages change and develops new services in difficult times, is said by Olga Dolgova, Executive Director of Vipservice corporate business.


What has COVID-19 changed in your company and what anti-crisis measures have you taken?

I suppose that the pandemic made us feel and realize the severity of the pinpoint industrial crisis, the importance of the company (as well as the country) having cohesion and stabilization fund, as well as the fact that life will never be the same.

For the business with 70 percent turnover — selling passenger traffic, self-isolation, country quarantines, and parked planes — death. But we were not going to give up easily and took the fight ... The Committee on Emergency Management of Top Managers and Analysts in no time created and implemented a plan to maintain business continuity and manage three main risks: employee morbidity, drop in turnover, reduction of external financial leverage . Including any of these risks was extremely detrimental to the most important thing we have - customer relations.

Risk No. 1 is incidence which would inevitably lead to a decrease in the quality of service.

We were one of the first Russian companies to impose a quarantine of employees and a travel ban in February. A month before the measures were implemented in the country. A week before the introduction of the self-isolation regime in Moscow, more than 700 employees of the central office in Moscow, 300 of which are corporate businesses, were already fully working from home office.

Remote work imposes its own rules. Self-organization and time management, the transformation of routine from chaos into a system are especially important here. We are actively using new tools for monitoring employees and working in groups - all meetings and conferences have been moved to Skype and Zoom. Colleagues are increasingly using task management tools like Trello and our internal corporate portal. Our main goal is to ensure that the customers do not feel a dramatic difference in service.

Compared to the closed offices of other market participants, we continue to provide full-fledged customer service 24 to 7. All our services ensured the continuity of processes - despite the days off announced by the authorities, we continued to work like a team as a whole, but, of course, observing self-isolation while outside the office on remote access, realizing how important it is now helping our customers. There are processes that cannot work completely remotely without human intervention, therefore, for example, a courier service delivered documents according to previously agreed and convenient schedules for each client and in compliance with all security measures for itself and the recipient.

Risk 2 and 3 is a sharp decrease in the number of client transactions, a rapid decrease in turnover and, as a result, a reduction in external financial leverage.

It is no secret that large corporate clients mean, first of all, deferred payments that require financing. The lack of a sufficient amount of funds - own or borrowed - leads to a cash gap in the “peacetime”, and to “death” in a pandemic. Active work with suppliers, efficient processes for collecting receivables help us comply with the terms of client agreements for provision of deferrals against the background of a decrease in credit volumes by all banks without exception.

Moreover, we continue to invest in projects that are designed to systematically improve the current standards of service. In mid-March, we launched the OKO predictive analytics platform, which helps the client formulate business travel strategies and manage the budget. In early May, we updated OBT for corporate customers of Portbilet TMC. Now there is a period of pilot testing.

Of course, we carried out optimization. But doing it, we remembered the main thing - the knowledge and skills accumulated over the years. The team of top managers has been completely preserved. None of them were fired or cut. This is important because it is they that help maintain process stability. The financing of the MBA program is not stopped; the program continues its work. The entire group recruited in September undergoes training according to the program and successfully passed the next exam (this time remotely). Of course, life has made its own adjustments. Now, leaders do not go to our classroom, but instead study and listen to lectures by HSE professors online.

We organized and now carry out 4 times a week online sports training for employees of the holding in order to diversify self-isolation and to help the team keep fit.

What are customer needs now? What is in demand?

- Of course, consulting

We see that the isolation mode freed up time to reassess processes and suppliers. Companies are looking for answers to questions that have been postponed until now: has the travel budget been effectively invested? Consulting is in great demand today because people are interested in maximum efficiency. And this is our important professional competency, which our customers are well aware of. To solve this problem, we have a strong team and technological tools.

- Safety

Customers are concerned about safe transportation. Some of our clients simply cannot stop their trips, even despite the pandemic, therefore, in such circumstances, the central question is how to make the trip as risk-free as possible for a passenger, firstly, and secondly. All this helps create a new business travel story.

Traffic, of course, decreased and is difficult to compare with that of the peacetime. However, domestic flights, private jet transport abroad, safe accommodation and the conversion of events from offline to online are in demand.

- Turnkey observation, including contact with regulatory organizations

Some clients have a need to accommodate large groups from 150 people in closed hotel facilities with catering in accordance with the quarantine security protocol.

Today, such placement is possible only by agreement with Rospotrebnadzor and representatives of regional administrations. We have worked out the necessary technology: obtaining approval, placement, contactless catering, virus testing. Now such requests are put on stream and find a big response. This is a continuous work that requires high involvement of employees working remotely, including on weekends. And, of course, here are individual words of gratitude to our team and everyone’s willingness to be in touch.

- Caring for top management

Another case is a flight abroad in a private jet with pre-flight express testing of the crew and passengers. We have several reliable partners who help us with this and an internal concierge service, which has significantly more non-trivial requests. During this time, we transported more than 2,000 people in this way.

What is especially important for business today?

It is important to be able to manage changes and be attentive to customers, to understand what they need and is useful in the new realities. This requires the business to be flexible in developing new services and very quickly adapt the strategy, that is, the ability to deviate from the originally set course under the influence of new information. This is how evolution occurs in nature; it is also productive in a business environment.

Now is the time for new formats, fast speeds and fine-tuning for changes in such a way as to use them to your advantage. Fast communications have also become especially popular. In other words, the whole process organization chain - as a supplier and partners, we were in touch around the clock and seven days a week. And if earlier the answers to complex questions could be processed up to a day, then now everyone has accelerated to 30 minutes.

The ability to maneuver and feel the needs of the market helps businesses become stronger and find their “anti-fragility”, which means becoming even better especially in stressful conditions.