When a travel-disrupting event occurs -- think anything from
bad weather to airline system outages -- it's Working Solutions' time to shine
on behalf of its clients by augmenting their workforce, sometimes in excess of
200%, to deal with peak customer demands.
Working Solutions was founded in 1996 by president and CEO
Kim Houlne. The company specializes in outsourcing, using 110,000 agents, all
independent contractors (ICs), who work in a number of industries. More than
1,000 of those ICs are travel agents and service Working Solutions' customers
in the travel industry. (The company also has clients in industries like
retail, financial services and health care).
All of Working Solutions' ICs work remotely. They are
activated when clients need to bolster their own workforce. In travel, those
clients are "high-volume entities," Houlne said, such as hotel
companies and large agencies. Working Solutions' ICs are trained, experienced
"Our team actually provides year-round assistance to
many of these travel companies," Houlne said. "Then, in the time of
need, we are able to ramp up -- sometimes upward of 200% -- during an
unexpected hurdle that they have to face."
According to Houlne, the most major of those hurdles was,
not surprisingly, the attacks of Sept. 11. Hurricane Katrina was another that
Houlne readily recalled, as were system glitches that occurred after United
Airlines' merger with Continental.
But more common occurrences, like nor'easters and hurricanes
(especially last year), also caused Working Solutions' agents to kick into
The company matches travel agents with work based on the
skills clients need. For example, a client could request only agents who can
work effectively in a specific GDS or who can speak certain languages. They are
also activated based on their location; if a hurricane was headed for Florida,
for example, Working Solutions would activate ICs that were physically located
elsewhere and unlikely to be disconnected because of the storm.
Chief marketing officer Gail Rigler said Working Solutions'
talent pool spans North America, making it fairly easy to match most requests
with qualified agents.
Many were agency owners who decided to get out of the
business, or who no longer wanted to work full time. Some are still actively
booking on separate systems, but were looking for additional work.
Rigler said the company recruits through social media and
travel sites and will target regional sites if there is a geographic need.
Word of mouth is also important to Working Solutions'
recruitment efforts in the travel industry.
"The travel agent community is incredibly tight-knit,"
Houlne said, which has helped spread the word about her company.
When she founded Working Solutions, it was one of the first "on-demand,
remote customer care and sales models" in the country, Houlne said. The
technology enabling ICs to work remotely was fairly new. The travel industry,
in particular, was interested in the company's offerings.
"It started off with just basically hotel bookings and
has blossomed all the way up to probably one of the most complicated, which is
corporate travel booking," she said.
Houlne said Working Solutions is expanding further into
Canada, where there has been demand, and is also focused more on automation to
respond to clients' requests faster.
"What we like to emphasize to our clients is you need a
backup plan to the backup plan," Houlne said. "For many years, I don't
think companies realized how important this was until the consumer became more
vocal. What we're trying to do is encourage our clients to make sure that they
have a plan in place for whatever may happen, and then plan over it. I think,
for the past couple of years, we're seeing more and more really start to become
a little more proactive than they have been."