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Zoho puts its stamp on Travel Visa Company's post-GDPR applications upgrade

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan May 1, 2019
GDPR was one enabler for change at Travel Visa Company.

Billy Knapper
Billy Knapper

The arrival of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) a year ago caused a lot of anxiety for many organizations, but for one small business in the UK it was a catalyst for adoption of business applications from Zoho. 

The Travel Visa Company does what it says on the tin - processing visa applications for travellers and holidaymakers. It’s a small business, but can boast of being the largest visa agency in the UK outside of London.  It became a Zoho customer last summer, shortly after GDPR became law, with the new regulations acting as one enabler for change. 

The move to Zoho replaced a hotch potch of disparate systems, recalls Billy Knapper, Head of Design and Marketing at the firm: 

We have a Wordpress website and have online forms which use a system called Gravity Forms. When we were using Gravity Forms we saw that there was add-on software and one of these was Zoho CRM. We had used CRM systems very briefly, but we mainly had an internal intranet system for dealing with our customers and we had Hubspot for dealing with businesses. So we had two separate systems. 

When we saw that there was integration with Zoho CRM, we thought that was like an ideal opportunity to try and bring it all into one system and manage it more effectively. Around that time was when GDPR was coming out. Because we had all these different systems and software - we were using Mailchimp for marketing and Buffer for social media - we had a lot of customer information in different systems. We wanted to find somewhere where there was one place to go. 

In the event, the shift to Zoho wasn’t limited to CRM when the company became aware of the Zoho One suite of offerings. Knapper explains: 

We initially looked at Zoho for the CRM side of things, but after looking at Zoho One it was a case of ‘We might as well jump in the deep end and see if we can make use of all these other apps'.  It’s been a kind of natural progression that once we’d jumped on that cart, it was a case of 'Let’s use as much of it as we can'.  We're using Zoho Projects to manage the workflow in the office. We've also started using Zoho People, which means you can then get your staff to clock in and out, which we didn't have before. You can put your holiday requests in, which before was just all done using our paper diary.


Travel Visa Company has customised the Zoho products to reflect its business and operational processes, not the least of which is to cater for the fact that the firm doesn’t have the sales outreach needs of other commercial organizations. Knapper observes: 

People who come to our company are people who have already been referred by the likes of [travel agency] Thomas Cook. They’re going on holiday to Turkey and they need a visa, therefore they’re more ready as a customer. We’re not having to do the sales process. So we were looking for a system that allows us to customize it completely…so that it’s now the various stages of the visa application process.

So we can then change the system to say an application has now been submitted to an embassy and that can automatically fire off an email to the customer saying, ‘This is about the update of your status. It's now going to be due back in x amount of days’. Customers are now getting a much more proactive response from us rather than us getting a lot of phone calls from people saying, ‘Can you give me an update’. We’re now telling them directly with these automated workflows. The customers have a better experience. 

The firm used a Zoho partner to help with the customization work, after early in-house efforts struggled, says Knapper: 

We started trying to figure out ourselves and just make the system as we thought would work best. But we got to a stage where we were just struggling. We weren't sure how to perhaps do it the best way possible. Some of the workflows weren't working as we have. And so we researched a couple of Zoho partners in the area and got in touch with one called JCM, based in Manchester. So they came on board in August time and we had a month working with them to kind of rebuild our platform in Zoho that we had done ourselves. From that point onward it all kind of clicked into place and we were like, 'oh yeah, we can see where we went wrong the first time'. Now moving forward, we're quite happy making any additional changes. If something in the system needs tweaking or we need to add a new workflow, we're quite confident to go and do it ourselves. 

Adoption of the new systems was enthusiastic, according to Knapper, in part at least by breaking reliance on Excel: 

It was all just so old fashioned. Now it's all loaded into Zoho so people can just, with a click a button, access a file. You'd often had to walk across the office, flick through a filing cabinet just to find that person’s [application] pack. So everyone really embraced Zoho. There wasn't much training involved to be honest. There was a bit where during that first week when we launched, we had for that whole week people start an hour early in the morning or you stayed an hour later in the evening and we just had training sessions. After that everyone was kind of on board It was a very straightforward process.

Six months on, Knapper argues that the company has seen genuine productivity gains and enhanced visibility: 

The last six months seems to have taken our business further than we had gone in the past two or three years. As a micro business, all our employees are in the same room so there's not much stuff that doesn't go unheard. Everyone knows what everyone's up to Because in Zoho you all have your own login and you get a date stamp and it says who's put a comment on, everyone can see a full picture of what's happening in the system.

As for the GDPR aspect that was front of mind early on, that’s still something of a work-in-progress, says Knapper: 

I've seen that there are specific GDPR things insides of Zoho which we haven't used as much as we probably should have yet because we're still just scratching the surface. But GDPR was one of our main triggers into choosing Zoho because it means all of a sudden it's all on one server system, which is in the EU, everything's hosted in the European Union. So we're all thumbs up there. There's still more that we could do to make Zoho work better for us for GDPR. I know that there are tools inside it that are able to do that and we just haven't really delved deep into it. 


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