Episode 1

How Snaptravel found purpose and profitability in a pandemic

In this episode of Heart of Business, Snaptravel Head of Customer Experience Ally Bashir shares how they became profitable in 2020—all by adapting to customer needs and building connections.



Anthony Kennada Welcome to the Heart of Business, I am Anthony Kennedy,

LB Harvey and I’m LB Harvey...

Anthony Kennada And this is our first episode. I’m so excited about this. LB thanks so much for agreeing to be a co-host with me on this thing.

LB Harvey Absolutely. Thanks for inviting me. 

Anthony Kennada OK, well, you know, as I’m thinking about the first podcast episode, I can’t help but think back to what was actually the first podcast that I listened to. And I wish I had a really profound answer. I think I’m admittedly more of maybe a late bloomer when it comes to podcasts. I think the first one that that I was focused on was actually the SaaSter podcast. So more on the B2B side. Really interesting kind of interviews. And that kind of helped me, I think, a lot with my career in learning how other people have sort of done the job before. What about you? What was the first podcast that you heard? 

LB Harvey I was similarly kind of late to the game. I was not an early adopter of the podcast, if you will. And I’m feeling a little lowbrow because the first podcast I kind of fell in love with was Serial. And to this day, I still can’t decide if the guy was guilty or innocent. It was a good podcast. We’ve then I’ve since graduated and my husband and I are big fans of the Dan Carlin Hardcore History. 

LB Harvey You do have to have time. OK, the podcasts are meaty, they’re like two, three, four hours. But if you’re a history nerd like I am, they’re pretty great. 

Anthony Kennada That’s great. It sounds like I have some catching up to do. It feels also a little bit like this is kind of like the first day of school to me, at least. I loved school supply shopping and getting ready for school and then getting all anxious in that first day. And it kind of feels that way. I’ve got a little bit the teen angst going on here, a little a little nervous and hopeful for what this podcast going to become. 

LB Harvey Amazing. I also enjoyed school supplies, shopping and also loved a good fall wardrobe falls my favorite season. And so that obviously coincides with the start of the school year. And I always looked forward to the possibilities of of the New Year. 

LB Harvey And in fact, like when I think about kind of the cadence of life, I usually think about the year sort of starting in fall. So I think that school spirit has stuck with me.

Anthony Kennada Well, I know very much like our perhaps, educational pursuits, I think we have a lot of ambition for this show. And I hope that this is a show that, years from now people are still listening to and are following along with it. I’m wondering what your take is. What are people listening to the first episode several years from now, what are they going to think? Is it that the simulation crashed and the Heart of Business is completely automated and we have no need for humans and how we interact with customers? What’s the future of this podcast going to look like? 

LB Harvey It’s a great question. I fall into the camp that automation is good, but we’ll never fully replace humans. I just I don’t believe it. 

LB Harvey But I guess my hope is that people are just together again in five years. 

Anthony Kennada Yes. So we can do this podcast together. 

LB Harvey There we go. I’ll fly down to Phenix if need be.  

Anthony Kennada All right. Well, I’m super excited to kick things off and have our first episode. 

Anthony Kennada We have a great show for you today. We’re going to talk about some of the inspiring news of teams and businesses doing extraordinary things for their customers. And we have an amazing interview to kick us off from the head of customer experience at Snaptravel, in industry that’s been hit hard by the global pandemic. But first, as it is our first show, let’s talk a little bit about what we’re trying to do here.

The Heart of Business speaks to those moments when teams and customers connect in really inspiring and meaningful ways. That’s when your team is motivated and engaged in their work. And for customers, it’s those personal and human connections that make them loyal to your company and your brand for life. In every episode, we’re going to be speaking to leaders whose teams have gone above and beyond to connect with their customers and serve them in really meaningful ways. 

LB Harvey We’re talking about the things that don’t always make sense in the moment, but done well will be powerful and meaningful and create customers for life. We are actually inspired for this podcast by the Bulls. Yes, I’m talking about the Chicago Bulls of the 1998. And for those of you who caught the ESPN documentary The Last Dance, that served as a real inspiration for us. And we’re out there trying to look for the ’98 Bulls of the business world, people who are going above and beyond to create amazing customer connections. 

Anthony Kennada That’s right. And I have to say, when you talk about all stars or great teams that really go out of the way to deliver amazing experiences for customers, Zappos is one of the first brands that I think of. And I think that given the focus of our show, we’d really be remiss not to pay tribute to former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who tragically died this last week. Hsieh’s business philosophy was built around the idea that happy employees were the key to satisfied customers who return again and again and how to create happy employees.

Rather than assuming that happiness is achieved haphazardly, Tony began to read about the distinct characteristics that made people happy. He decided that Zappos could find long term success by building a culture around those very characteristics, perception of control, perception of progress, connectedness, that really understanding kind of the depths of relationships and being part of something that’s much, much bigger than yourself, that this led to initiatives like opening up the customer service line earlier this year so that any customers who are stressed about the pandemic to call in and chat or get help with literally anything. Some people called to dream about the vacations that they would take one day. Others called to help find toilet paper. Either way, the Zappos team delivered while at the helm of Zappos. Hsieh also launched the Downtown Project, a project that was aiming at revitalizing the once neglected downtown of Las Vegas and turning it into a vibrant area where Zappos employees could live and work. And that effort grew beyond Hsieh’s original concept, and that area has now attracted thousands and thousands of technology workers and entrepreneurs.

And of course, all of this has paid off for the company. So Zappos was sold to Amazon for 1.2 billion dollars in 2009, and Amazon operated Zappos as an independent subsidiary where that happy culture could continue to thrive with Hsieh at the helm until he just retired a few months ago. So Tony Hsieh was an inspiration to anyone who’s interested in the link between happy customers and happy employees. Long term business success. If you’re on Twitter earlier this week, you would have seen the outpouring of support and grief from the tech community when his death was announced. Gone way too soon. 

LB Harvey Such a loss. And what Tony did, especially for the city of Las Vegas, is a real testament to the best of what business can do for people. 

LB Harvey And that’s really what we hope to highlight in our next Heartbeat’s segment. Heartbeat’s is our recurring segment that shines a spotlight on the good news coming out of the business world, 2020 has been a tough year, but it is amazing to see how companies are innovating, pivoting and serving their customers in new and creative ways. So each episode will bring you a few of our favorite good news stories we’ve heard about recently. What’s on tap this week?

Anthony Kennada All right. I love this story. Have you ever walked by a fountain in, like a public area and you’ve seen a bunch of coins that had been kind of thrown in there? 

LB Harvey Yeah, well, back when we were, like, out in public. Yes, that’s right. 

Anthony Kennada Well, the folks at Disney World went through all of the wishing wells and all of the fountains and in Cinderella’s castle and in the It’s a Small World ride and they uncovered $20K in coins. Wow. And all of these various places, which I find amazing, I think there’s a math equation running in my head to figure out how many fountains that is. But they took the twenty thousand dollars and they donated to a local charity in central Florida that actually provided the Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless community locally there. So I think that’s so awesome like that, obviously, as you mentioned on this year of all years, to be able to find a way to give back to the local community. But beyond that, I think there’s something kind of really I don’t know, something romantic about the whole thing, that these are wishes in many cases that were granted with the coins that were thrown in the castle. So I don’t know. I found that to be a really, really fascinating and moving story. 

LB Harvey Yeah, that’s awesome. I, too, have a lot of questions, like, was it mostly pennies, nickels, dimes? How did they decide to go clean those fountains out? 

LB Harvey But regardless, I think the the broader point and what they actually did with the funds donating to a local homeless charity and bringing to life a great memory, a Thanksgiving lunch or dinner for folks who really needed it this year is amazing. 

Anthony Kennada Very in line with the Disney brand. Theme parks in general have been impacted through this. Quite a bit of Disney and now some layoffs a while ago. And really around the theme park business, I believe in California, Disneyland is actually still closed at the time of this episode filming. So definitely a really great gesture. All right. 

Anthony Kennada Our next story is interesting. I got to say, as a marketer, I find this very intriguing and it’s that TikTok has become now the home of what traditionally, perhaps even considered mundane jobs that are now being promoted through the video channel. So think like landscapers, car detailers, power washers. These companies are now creating TikTok videos, basically showing the behind the scenes of them doing their jobs. They’re amassing millions of views on this content. We as B2B marketers have tried to uncover how to use TikTok in a way that can make a big impact and help us connect with our customers, tell our brand story. And the fact that there’s an example here of someone filming a video of filling tubes of lipgloss or their cosmetics job, it’s crazy. It’s becoming a thing. And I feel very left behind in this. 

LB Harvey Yeah. I mean, I have yet to create a TiKTok video, so I too am a little out of the loop, but how cool. It’s a really interesting phenomenon. And frankly, I see a front TikTok video coming out into the ether and we need to work on it. 

Anthony Kennada If you are a GenZ listener looking for a job, please let us know because I too have not have not figured out TikTok quite yet. Moving on, I’m so excited about our first guest on the show. Ally Bashir is the Director of Customer Experience at Snaptravel, which is a travel booking startup that allows consumers to make travel arrangements over SMS or Facebook Messenger. And we talked about this, I think offline, I’m really ready to travel again. So how about you? Are you ready to kind of get back out there on the road? 

LB Harvey You know in my adult life, I have never felt this kind of grounded in place and look like taking a step back, we are so fortunate in the grand scheme of things compared to so many others out there with the fact we’re fortunate enough to be able to work from home, etc, during this pandemic. And I will also share that I miss seeing people. I miss coming into the office and I really miss travel. And yet my husband and I have a trip booked November 2021. So fingers crossed. But I actually got a little bolder and took advantage of a kind of a Black Friday travel deal and booked a trip in mid-May. So I’m, I’m really I’m still in the optimist camp on the vaccine and I’m fingers crossed that travel maybe back open to us safely in May. 

Anthony Kennada I’m really ready to kind of get out there. But again, feeling very fortunate for her being able to to work from home. But I think one of the companies or the industries that have been hit the hardest this year with COVID is the travel and hospitality industry. Snaptravel was no exception. Their business was hit really hard earlier in March. But the incredible story here is not only did Snaptravel survive the initial kind of foray of the travel industry really being shut down, but the company actually got to profitability. And on top of that. They managed to really grow even faster than a traditional year while maintaining their profitability. Really, really incredible. And they did this by investing in the heart of their business. And Ally’s team is responsible for that. So I had a chance to talk to Ally about it. And the story she had to tell was really compelling. I’m so excited for you to hear it. 

Anthony Kennada All right, today, I’m pleased to have Ally Bashir, the Head of Customer Experience at Snaptravel on the show. Ally it is so good to have you on the show today. 

Ally Bashir Thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here. 

Anthony Kennada Awesome. And now your team at Snaptravel is on the front lines of helping people really adjust all of their plans when when covid hit in something that I found interesting. And just like learning more about your stories, you had to juggle, first of all, like maybe like all of us, your own team’s concerns about their health and safety and kind of figuring out life during the pandemic.

But also your customers who had invested a lot of money in their own travel plans and trying to figure out how to think through budgets and all of that as well. Obviously, it was your company and being able to develop kind of a financial future for Snaptravel in general. But I was really, frankly, inspired and the story because it seems like you all have developed through this resiliency, greater sense of purpose and the business which we’ll talk about reached profitability, which is amazing. 

Anthony Kennada So I can’t wait to dig into some of these details with you and hear more of the story kind of firsthand. Before we do, let’s break the ice. We have a segment that we like to call the weird question of the week. 

Anthony Kennada The weird question for you is, what was Toronto like during the Raptors parade? 

Ally Bashir OK, so do you want to hear the saddest part? I’m a huge NBA fan, OK? And a huge supporter. And so this was like, why my moment? OK. I was in the Philippines with my customer support team when the Raptors won and during the parade. So I was actually watching at like 3:00 in the morning or whatever it was from a random bar in Manila being booed at by non Raptors fans who are also in the sports bar while I was watching the Raptors parade. So I wish I could tell you more about it, because I definitely would have been down there with like the other thousands of people who went. But I had to celebrate from the other side of the world. I can tell you, though, that our city was like on fire. We’re also just really sad. We lost Ibaka and waiting to see what else happens. 

Anthony Kennada Totally. Well you got to VanVleet made the long term commitment. That’s great. 

Ally Bashir Yes fan favorite as well.

Anthony Kennada Good why don’t we dive in. So for folks listening maybe hearing this for the first time Heart of Business is meant to really tell the stories of some of the greatest teams in business and we think that the Heart of Business itself is this really important space within businesses where teams and customers interact. 

Anthony Kennada And so today’s story is just a perfect example of what happens when you put the customer at the center and serve them during an existential kind of time within their own careers. And how does that then translate to value back to the business? As we dive, Ally do you mind telling folks a little bit more about Snaptravel itself for those that aren’t familiar with that and maybe a bit about who are your customers that you serve? 

Ally Bashir Sure. So Snaptravel is a travel company, hence the name. And we offer hotels, flights and car rentals across the world, but are really, really great rates, often anywhere from 25 to 50 percent less than what you would find online. And what makes us special, besides the fact that our rates are really great, is that our sales are predominantly through messaging. So you basically can text us, WhatsApp, us, whatever is convenient for you and you’ll be connected with our bot and our bot will customize this travel agent experience for you so that you can find what you’re looking for in a budget friendly way. And one thing that I always like to stress is that we really have something for everyone.

So just because our hotels are discounted and at fantastic rates doesn’t mean we’re just sort of in the lower end segment of the market. We really offer everything from side of the road, like need a place to sleep and stop, through to the Four Seasons, Ritz Carltons of the world and everything in between. So we’re a product for everyone under the belief that everyone deserves to travel in a budget friendly sort of manner. And we are expanding through the pandemic. We’ve made some business changes. Like you mentioned at the beginning, we’ve actually reached profitability, which was fantastic. And so we’re now expanding into different verticals, going to take that premise of consumer friendly rates across different e-commerce platforms to the masses. So really exciting to open up that chapter of our business as well. 

Anthony Kennada That’s incredible. And you lead customer experience, I believe, for Snaptravel. Can you tell me a little bit more about just the team itself and how do you all interact with customers, especially such a bot-driven business? Like what is that point of interaction? 

Ally Bashir So my team and I basically live and breathe the customer experience. If we’re not in a meeting talking about customers and how to make it better, we are actually talking to customers or going through customer interactions and listening to them. And I divide it into two areas. So we’re pre-trip support and that could be like, you do hit our bot first. So our bot is awesome. It’s all AI powered. Our engineers are phenomenal. Some really, really smart team. So the bot can do a lot. But at the end of the day, it can’t replace a human for really nuanced questions.

For example, when we get a lot, especially like winter destinations, I see this hotel has a pool, but is the pool heated? And so you need to go to someone who can look that up for you or things about like can you bring your pets on vacation with you? Those are questions that would get deferred to our pre-trip support who we have a team of agents who will address that for the customer. We also have post-trip support. So say you had a promo code that you forgot to apply. You would talk to one out of our team members to try to get you that discount back. If you weren’t too too happy with the hotel quality, that’s something else that our team could help you out with. And so we’re really covering the whole end to end customer experience to make sure that people find what they need, enjoy their stay and are able to check out successfully and think positively about Snaptravel and all the money that they saved. And my team sits half in the Philippines and then half in Toronto with me, which is where our headquarters is located. 

Anthony Kennada And obviously, I think with the season that we’re all in right now, we all miss traveling completely from a day in, day out. But I know there’s so many folks which will impact that, our essential workers that have been traveling. So although there might have been I think we’re now perhaps back to the levels that we were or prior to the pandemic. Obviously, there was a big hit to the industry that happened back in March, April. I was reading up on the Fast Company article that was published, and I think this came out of was a Medium blog post or something that that your founders had put together, but really kind of detailing your journey through this. So take us back to March. I think the article said that business had dropped about 80 percent overnight. What was that like? What were the emotions kind of going on right around the time this was happening? 

Ally Bashir So I’m actually going to go back a little bit further. So we are a global business. So come like January, February, we had an inkling of what this coronavirus was because we had people who were going to China and other parts of Asia who had been messaging us and asking us to refund their trip. And so, of course, like, oh, yeah, sounds like they’re having tough times, you know, like, I totally hear why you don’t want to travel. Stay safe. Let’s work with you. And so as it started coming up in the news, more and more we’re like we have a handle on this. Like it’s a few bookings here and there where people are asking for their money back, but we can deal with it in-house. It really wasn’t until those early, early restrictions were placed on the US that we had any sense of scale as to like how big this could actually be. Then overnight, people couldn’t leave the country, couldn’t come back into the country, and that’s when travel really started to halt.

And we were like so many emotions sort of going on at once. And so I’ll unpack that a little bit. I think first and foremost, we were obviously like worried for the business, like considering that sales dropped 80 percent overnight. Know we’re a team, we’re a young company. We were kind of like, are we going to get through this? And it required a lot of trust in our leadership, in our peers, et cetera, to say, hey, like we’re a great group of folks, like we’re going to do the best we can and we’re all in this together. But definitely, definitely a sense of shock there. But that was, I think, made particularly difficult based on the fact that we’re juggling that with fear for like ourselves. So we didn’t know how serious this virus could be. We didn’t know what numbers we’re going to look like. We were worried about our selves, our families, our friends. So a sense of sort of the unknown and potential foreboding there. 

Ally Bashir And then on top of all that, we had our customers. So we were experiencing a flood of customers who wanted to obviously cancel their trips, get their money refunded. And as much as we could identify with that at a personal level, because, of course, you’re not going to use that trip. You want that money back, we all wanted the same. It was very scary in the sense of what’s going to happen to this business if we have no more customers. And seeing it on a very personal level, like all of the customers, emails, calls, chats coming in was really a whole new experience for us. 

Anthony Kennada Well, the article is talking about the different types of refunds. Meaning like customers who bought refundable tickets or made were refundable engagements using Snaptravel and how those were, you know, a lot of work to keep up the volume but relatively straightforward. You all had to also deal with some trickier types of refunds where it wasn’t quite that straightforward or financial commitment was made. And now you have to kind of look at the fine print to really do right by the customer and get them their money back. You talk about just some of the complexity with some of these refunds. And frankly, why was it important to Snaptravel from your brand promise perspective to deliver. 

Ally Bashir So when you purchase a room at Snaptravel, basically there’s two categories. OK, so there’s the refundable ones, which mean if you cancel by a certain date, you will get your money back. And as you mentioned, those are the ones that we were sad to see go, obviously, because it meant like the loss of a lot of Disney trips, a lot of family plans, but at least everyone could leave and part ways happily. Right.

You had your money back. What was a lot more complicated is that majority of what we sell is nonrefundable given that the rates are so awesome and so we had thousands and thousands of customers with serious financial liability telling us who told us they wanted their money back and they wanted it back ASAP because they would no longer be going on their trip. And so from a personal standpoint, we completely got that right. I had to cancel the trip of a lifetime and I, too, was struggling, getting my money back so I could really put myself in these people’s shoes. Being there literally go through years of savings because I was going on a safari. So it quite literally was the trip of a lifetime that I had been planning towards.

Right. So we knew how important it was to these people to also sort of add a more personal element to it. People were writing in to us saying, like, listen, I lost my job in this pandemic. I lost my insurance. Getting my money back for this trip because I can’t go on it really means a lot to me given my new circumstances. And so that was really humbling and saying, like, we have to do something for these people. Right. Like, this is not just, oh, I’m not going on a safari. Better luck next year. This was actually impacting a lot of our customers in a more material way. So that’s sort of the headspace that my team was in. But at the same time, we have commitments to our business to keep us growing, to keep us afloat to our investors. We have a whole team who want to keep their jobs because they love where they work and we don’t want to hurt their circumstances either. And so we knew that we couldn’t just refund our guests immediately, even though that’s like you talk about Heart of Business like that’s what our hearts were saying, like just give these people their money back. Right. So we had to get creative. And the way our supply chain works without going into the nuance of things is that unless someone in the middle of the chain says like, yes, you know what, we’re OK, we’re not going to try to collect the money from you. Like, let’s go back on the refundability principle of this booking. We will still be on the hook for that booking and for paying you and being sort of this up and coming company. We couldn’t necessarily afford to be on the hook for everyone unless we had some assurance of getting our money back as well. And that’s what I mean, like the commitment to our company, to our business, to our teams internally. We ended up negotiating with all of our partners who supply our rooms, all the hotels. I had a whole team call the hotels explaining what was happening on behalf of the customer and asked me if they would be willing to provide a refund in that case. And so in general, it took a lot of work and a lot of manpower hours, but we were able to secure these refunds and then pass that on to the customer. And now one decision that we did make was we weren’t successful all the time. Small businesses had to survive as well. They were counting on that money as well. But something we realized we could do is that if we gave people refunds in Snaptravel credits, we could refund them faster and we could refund more people because we’d be sharing the liability. And so we ended up refunding over ninety seven percent of our customer base, which is phenomenal in Snaptravel credits that are good for another 12 months so they can repurpose that money for whatever their next trip may be. Or a lot of people are actually traveling again during COVID to like go visit family social distantly, like stay in hotels or backyards and stuff. So we’re actually seeing a lot of good use of those credits to date, which has been fantastic. 

Anthony Kennada That’s incredible. And I wanted to ask about another trend that you guys saw around essential workers traveling and using Snaptravel, be it doctors and nurses that were traveling to help hospitals and communities that were hit hard were covered with surging. What was that like and how did how did you sort of start seeing that use case, I guess, pop up? 

Ally Bashir So this is my favorite part of the coronavirus experience in the midst of empathizing with our customers and feeling their pain over trying to get their bookings and their money back. We saw some really positive messaging coming in from customers. So people were saying like, thank you, Snaptravel. You saved me one hundred dollars a night, which meant I could extend my stay in this small town and help support the hospital because I am an essential worker. I’m a nurse. I’m a doctor who I’m traveling to go support a hospital, not in my community who needs more resources. And we saw tons of that or people who were saying like, hey, thank you so much. I could now afford to go visit my elderly parents, but from afar and just like, check on them. On the other side of the country. Countless, countless chats came in regarding the positive benefit and how we were helping these essential workers travel, which really kept us going amidst feeling sort of everyone’s sadness that plans were getting canceled. There is a lot of confusion in the world all around. So it really kept our team happy and added a new purpose to us saying, like, OK, this work is worth it. Like we’re staying open, we are keeping afloat, we are bringing hotels, great new source of business and helping people really serve their communities. 

Anthony Kennada That’s incredible. And I mean, I imagine, given the backdrop of of the uncertainty out in the world, that that must have motivated the team. What do they what do they say today about the impact of this on their work? Has this elevated kind of their greater meaning behind their jobs? And thinking about Snaptravel is not just a technology product, but really an enabler for communities, for healing, for human connection. 

Ally Bashir All of these things definitely we still get messages around like, hey, thank you so much. I could afford to quarantine and keep my family safe as I travel. Like I stayed in a hotel for 14 days. We still get some of the essential workers who are traveling saying they could extend their stay because their budget went further. So that is still very rewarding. But I think just at a broader level too this really helped us connect with our customers. And I know you’re always supposed to know your customer. And we definitely did our focus groups. We tried our own product all the time. We would talk to our customers within the agency. We did all all the checklists stuff you’re supposed to do to know your customer. Right. But this really helped us understand them at a whole new level because we were going through the exact same thing, why people couldn’t travel to see their families. I told you my trip of a lifetime got canceled. So we had this new sort of common bond and that exists today that when we think about how we’re helping our customers through good times, through bad, like through finding a hotel with the coolest pool in Orlando versus like getting a refund or helping them if they didn’t enjoy their stay. Like, it’s really our driving force that these people are just like us. And we could envision being in this same situation. And I think that’s brought our team together and given us sort of a badge of honor that we’re here to support them, that we wear proudly throughout the company. 

Anthony Kennada Moving forward and using the vaccine coming out like travel, even as it stands to your point, is sort of getting back to sort of normal levels. What learning will you do you think you’ll take with you into the sort of new normal? From a customer perspective? You talk a lot about empathy and kind of walking in the shoes of the customer, but putting into practice kind of we’re going to take with you, I guess, as a CX leader, really, as the team moving forward. 

Ally Bashir That’s a great question. In addition to the empathy, when I reflect on the process and what I’ve learned as a business leader and working with customers is that I have license to be creative. So if when I talk to my customers all the more of the same thing at Covid, they’re like, I need a refund and I want it in cash. And where I took license to be creative was I said, hey, I can actually get more people, more options. I can ensure that they come back to fuel our business. I can help people make more creative memories or more fun memories if I use credits instead of cash. It kind of worked out to be better for everyone, quite honestly, even though no one was banging on my door asking for that as an option. And so with the success of that and how that worked out, I think it just challenges me and my team to think creative about how we can not trade things off, but grow the pie for everyone and make that a positive experience for everyone, which includes thinking about the health of your business and giving customers the best experience that you can, especially because now I think I mentioned we’re seeing people are really happy that they have those credits and are happy to use them, try new things, explore. And so we really feel like we delivered a great experience at the end of it. 

Anthony Kennada One thing I want to note is that the story here for Snaptravel in 2020 isn’t necessarily just a survival story. It’s a thriving story because I encourage folks to read this, this article. If they’re haven’t yet, we’ll include it in the show notes. You all leaned into the challenge, made a lot of business changes and actually reached profitability. And I think about 60 days or something did unheard of. Congratulations on that. That’s amazing. I’m curious when you think of your team’s work as sort of an input into that move to profitability or just in general for posturing the company to now be ready for that next chapter of growth, which again, sounds like you guys are growing and maintaining profitability as you’re growing. What was the role that the customer team really put into that effort? 

Ally Bashir I think we manage the customer experience such that we had customers who still wanted to come back at the end of Covid. So when travel restrictions were released, when people said, I can’t take this anymore, I’ve been cooped up for too long, we had customers who were eager to come back to Snaptravel because they thought we handled them and their predicaments fairly with dignity quickly. That’s something we haven’t actually talked about, but we really focused on managing the uncertainty by getting back to them as quickly as we could. And so at the end of the day, they remembered who we are and they came back. And so as we grow, as we expand to new verticals, we still have that customer base relatively intact and thriving thanks to the work of all the people who took the time to serve our customers over Covid. 

Anthony Kennada That’s incredible. I’m excited about this next segment. We call it Speed Round. Speed round basically means I’ve got a list of questions here and you have five seconds or less to answer each question. 

Ally Bashir OK, I’m ready. 

Anthony Kennada The first question is this. What is the best book that you’ve read recently? 

Ally Bashir The Henna Artist. Really good. Highly recommend. 

Anthony Kennada What is your favorite podcast? 

Ally Bashir Well, this one, because you featured me and I’ve never been on a podcast before. Plus, I really like our working relationship with Front. But if I’m not being biased, I really like The Daily to keep up with music. And I love something called the History of the 90s, which highlights different like historical events or like fun events from the 90s. So it’s cute and... 

Anthony Kennada All right, stop the clock. I am a huge 90s fan. I’m going to check that out. We’re going to do some cross promotion here. 

Ally Bashir Yes. History of the 90s, it alternates between like Spice Girls, like how they rose to fame versus like the assassination of like the Israeli president, the prime minister. So you really get everything going on. 

Anthony Kennada It’s awesome. I’ll definitely check it out. All right. 

Anthony Kennada Question number three, do you prefer to work from home or work from the office? 

Ally Bashir I wish I could do both. I do like home because I see my dog all the time. But I wish I could do both because I’m pretty social and the people. 

Anthony Kennada OK, next question. Favorite purchase you made during quarantine. 

Ally Bashir I was really worried that my favorite florist in Toronto was going to suffer thanks to Covid when small businesses closed. So I’ve sent every single one of my friends and every single one of my family members giant bouquets of flowers online so that their flowers that were sitting in their refrigerators didn’t go to waste. I was like literally crying because I was afraid of all the flowers that were going to be thrown out. And so that was my favorite purchase, albeit a bit outrageous. 

Anthony Kennada I think it’s amazing. That’s a great answer. 

Ally Bashir I’m sure you knew my husband saw the bill and didn’t think the same. He could appreciate my sentiment. He was like, what did you do? 

Anthony Kennada All right. The last question, what’s a brand that you admire the most? 

Ally Bashir I really like Indigo. I don’t know if you would know what that is. It’s our Canadian Barnes and Noble equivalent. So it’s a big bookstore, but also because, like, book retail is obviously a slow industry these days, like into home decor, board games and different stuff. It’s by a Canadian  founder and businesswoman who’s like pretty prominent in the business scene too and great branding overall.

Anthony Kennada Awesome. Well, Ally, thank you for being on the show. Congratulations again for an incredible story that is still being told certainly in 2020. And again, thank you. I think you for everything that your team did to help both do their part in serving your customers, but also in helping give people the care that they needed kind of through your actions. So really appreciate everything you all done. And thanks for for being on the show. 

Ally Bashir Thank you so much for having me. It was awesome to get to talk about this and looking forward to hearing who else you have on the show, too. I can’t wait to hear other people’s Heart of Business stories. 

Anthony Kennada Awesome. Thanks. I appreciate it. Thank you. 

Anthony Kennada There you have it. A story of exceptional customer service, a team finding purpose and the company thriving. It doesn’t get any better. LB It’s time for your last word. 

LB Harvey I thought that that story was so inspiring and I love what it teaches you about building empathy for your customers. Sometimes you really have to put yourself in their shoes to understand what they’re really going through. And as Ally said, strike the right balance between creative solutions that may not be exactly what they were looking for, but do solve their problems while still positively impacting the business. And I think Ally and team did a phenomenal job of that in a really tough position. So I think we can really all embrace this message of empathy and bring that back into our everyday interactions with our customers. 

LB Harvey Look, I think like most people, when the pandemic hit, the first thing I thought about was what does this mean for me? And it’s really easy to get stuck in that headspace. But the truth is, it’s been really hard for for everyone, and especially in an industry like Snaptravel’s, there were literally no winners. 

LB Harvey It was a total shutdown. 

LB Harvey And I think it’s pretty inspiring that they were able to strike that right balance of really understanding and doing what they could for customers. I mean, to refund something like ninety seven percent of queries that came in is pretty incredible. And yet to get the business to profitability during that time, like what an incredible blend of servicing your customers to delight while still doing the right things for your business and its outcomes. So I was really, really impressed and it really wouldn’t have ever been that way if people like Ally weren’t closely connected and listening to their customers on a day to day basis and really driving that mentality of customer empathy throughout their organization. So props to Ally and just an amazing story. 

Anthony Kennada Props to all props to the team. And we’re wishing nothing but continued success for Snaptravel and for the travel industry at large. 

LB Harvey Well I think that’s it for Episode 1. For those of you who are listening, please hit subscribe to Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And if you enjoyed the show, please leave us a rating and reviews as well. 

Anthony Kennada And you can follow the Heart of Business podcast, as well as other great stories of how teams and customers are working together to make missions possible by subscribing to Front Page, the editorial site that we’ve recently launched for founders, executives and customer facing teams. Or you can follow us on Twitter at @frontapp or by going to frontapp.com/blog. Until next time. 

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