Last year, 1,200 Xerox achievers visited France without even boarding a plane. That's because they were surfing the company's incentive travel Web site in anticipation of their 1998 trip to Paris.
Xerox Corp.'s incentive travel Intranet site has been a huge hit (no pun intended) since it was first introduced in the spring of 1996. In 1997, there were 24,000 hits, and when the 1999 trip to Hawaii was announced this past June, the site had more than 1,000 visits in just two months.
What makes it so popular? In one word: service. Not only did participants in the Paris program take virtual tours, but they also registered for the trip and got passport information right on the site.
"The Web is the fastest and most complete way to communicate with your eligible population to motivate them, and with your winners, to help them plan their trip," says site creator Donna Westin, manager for Xerox's United States Customer Operations (USCO) unit in Rochester, N.Y.
USCO's President's Club is Xerox's largest incentive travel program. More than 5,000 sales representatives who sell Xerox products to customers in the U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam are eligible to participate. The past two annual incentive trips have drawn about 1,200 qualifiers each, plus guests. Westin, who conceived the idea for the site and continues to oversee it, emphasizes that the winners are "the best of the best of the Xerox sales force, and they deserve the highest level of service."
How It Works The project began about three years ago when "I just sat down and looked at what my business needs were," Westin recalls. "How am I going to reach these people? What can I do to motivate them? What information do they need?" Then, she went to Xerox Information Systems to build the proprietary software to her specifications.
The unveiling of each year's incentive homepage is linked to the incentive program's life cycle. The USCO sales force is given targets on January 1st, and the reps are measured on their performance through December 31st. Those who attain their targets go on an incentive trip the following spring. As soon as the winners return from a trip, the following year's incentive homepage goes online.
Westin is able to easily change or expand any aspect of the site. For example, she adapts the Q&A section to answer questions specific to each trip. Qualifiers can also e-mail her their questions and requests, about everything from dietary requirements to airport preferences. During the registration period, she estimates that she gets about 90 messages a day.
Easy Registration The system has streamlined registration as well. To register, qualifiers click on the appropriate box and then type in their employee number. If they're on the winners' list, a registration form comes up, and a personalized banner runs along the bottom of the screen, reading "Congratulations. . . . You are a winner!" People then fill out their own information, which is downloaded immediately into the database of Xerox's travel agency, Northwestern Travel in Minneapolis. It is never keypunched again, and is used to print out address labels and rooming lists.
The process used in the pre-cyberspace era was cumbersome, slow, and offered more opportunities for glitches. "The agency used to put blank registration forms in envelopes and send them to each Xerox location, where they were distributed," says Westin. "The participant filled out the form by hand and faxed it to the agency. Someone then tried to read the faxed scribbles and type the information into the system. If data was missing, phone calls had to be made."
Money Saved In addition to the cost savings from the streamlined registration, the company estimates that it shaves $5,000 to $10,000 off mailing costs. Northwestern Incentive Services also saves time and money by communicating with incentive participants through e-mail.
Does Westin think companies will follow Xerox's lead and develop sites like this in the future? She admits she doesn't have a crystal ball, but says: "As far as I am concerned, this is the only way to go."
* Hotel info--connects to the hotel's Web page
* Trip dates--tells when each selling group will travel
* Rules--links to the USCO compensation manual, which explains the program regulations and sales targets
* Program events--lists activities with place and time, discusses weather, and offers packing tips
* Extension info--outlines options and costs for pre- and post-trips, and provides an e-mail address to the travel company for reservations or more information
* Feedback--provides a form to e-mail Westin
* Q&As--answers to the most frequently asked questions, such as tax implications
* Passports--for offshore trips, a link to the U.S. Passport Office homepage
* Help--names, addresses, and telephone numbers of USCO incentive travel staff and travel agency staff.