Checking in with a bite
One of travel's biggest hassles could soon be obsolete, thanks to Wherewolf.
The newly launched, Queenstown-developed software replaces paper check-ins and clipboard waiver forms with touchscreen technology, getting customers checked in fast - in 15 to 45 seconds - and tying off the process with a digital signature.
Information businesses need for marketing is gathered, automatically sent to a tailor-made analysis program, and all that sensitive material is locked down securely in cloud-based storage.
Ben Calder's Big Night Out bar crawl business launched with perfect timing to ride the groundswell of social media in 2007.
Quick to realise this was the new word-of-mouth, Calder, 26, quickly turned his bar-crawls, first in Queenstown, then Dunedin and Auckland, into one of New Zealand's most social network-savvy businesses.
In the years before Wherewolf, Calder's companies manually checked in more than 60,000 customers.
"Amongst all that information that people scrawled on all those pages, was a pattern to where we put our marketing spend," he said.
"But transferring it into a program, to then have to break it all down and translate it into valuable business information, equates to employing someone just for data entry, then having to analyse it.
"All that paperwork is just terribly clunky - but you can't do without that info."
While necessity was definitely the mother of this invention, social media is its equally important father.
"Social media is the new word of mouth, and Wherewolf can link businesses with a customer's social media accounts," Calder says.
"With the other info entered, a business gets a great profile of that customer, which opens all sorts of doorways for return business."
In December Calder teamed up with programmer Wulf Solter. Once Solter, 32, had created the first platform, he was so thrilled about commercialising the idea that he spent Christmas Day on a Nelson beach, writing Wherewolf's primary code.
Wherewolf had its first sale in March and has quickly caught on in Queenstown's tourism industry.
Since early April Wherewolf has employed a team of eight, and sold packages to more than 30 of Queenstown's most customer service-savvy businesses, ranging from accommodation providers to a beauty spa, and proving the up-take ratio for a simple idea with endless possibilities is huge.
Calder and Solter put that down to their tailor-made software that is customised according to each client's needs.
"At the touch of a button our clients can see all up-to-date statistics, can instantly email guest's information, deals, photos and especially links to Facebook and Trip Advisor.
"Similarly, the bookings, rosters, time sheets and more are linked in one neat package."
Wherewolf uses the latest standards-compliant HTML5, Node.js and cross-device compatibility tools, ensuring the suite runs securely on any modern browser and device, from iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, webOS and Blackberry through to Windows, OS X and Linux.
Calder's pub crawls became the pre-launch testing ground for Wherewolf, checking-in another 30,000 punters once the paper system was canned, and before before the commercial version hit the market.
It was a "baptism by fire," Calder says.
"The prototype stages were far behind us when we launched commercially, and it was a baptism by fire." People in bars and in party mode have "a very limited attention span, or patience" for checking in, so it was a perfect testing ground.
With the software launched and sales running strong, Calder and Solter now see a clear snapshot of a readily accessible paperless workplace - whether that's on a jetboat jetty on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, a backcountry airstrip, or a plush beauty spa.
"The paperless workplace is no longer a pipe dream touted by a few Silicon Valley evangelists, but a working practicality for a rapidly growing number of New Zealand operators.
"The Wherewolf suite handles the complete end-to-end experience, from guest and customer signup solutions through to staff management and seamless integration with real-time booking engines and point-of-sale software," Calder says.
"Wherewolf provides a range of off-the-shelf white labelled, customised mobile app and Software-as-a-Service solutions to streamline the tourism and services industry. Reducing administration overheads, increasing marketing effectiveness, increasing online and social media presence and professionalising the guest or customer's ‘on deck' experience."
As a keen skydiver with close links to Queenstown's aviation industry, Calder has tailored Wherewolf to tackle aeroplane and helicopter trip manifests, incorporating load distribution and optimum flight weight packages.
But just because the idea was born among 60,000 paper check-in forms in the adrenaline capital of the world, that doesn't mean Wherewolf's scope is limited to the realms of adventure tourism.
Solter, who had to undergo extensive rehabilitation after a major mountain bike crash in late 2011 is a big proponent of wider uses, especially in the medical field.
"The platform is so flexible that we want to incorporate packages tailor-made for practitioners in the medical, sports treatment, and dentistry realm. If patients have an existing heart condition, get a new injury from falling off a bike or a snowboard, or have a bad tooth that needs checking in two months, that is entered on their profile history and the practitioner has an automatic steer when the patient next checks in for future treatment."
- © Fairfax NZ News