An Interview with Francis Taylor, co-founder and CEO of DAE (Dial An Exchange).
How did you first get involved with the timeshare industry, and what compelled you to create Dial An Exchange?
My first involvement in the timeshare industry was quite accidental. A friend of mine asked if I could fill a role for 3 months and as I had just relocated to the Gold Coast (Australia) and was having a short break before looking for work I said sure, why not?
After a couple of years I was reminded I was about to turn 40 and if I ever wanted to do something for myself – my own business – I had better start considering the clock! At the time the big exchange companies had more than 90% of the exchange market in Australia & New Zealand so that to me suggested there was an opportunity. If a different business model could be created and every aspect centered around the customer, there was a good chance of success to make a go of it. After lots of consideration, discussions, and attempts at working through business plans, Dial An Exchange was born.
Dial An Exchange launched in 1997, initially starting with zero members and now growing to over 1.5 million. How has the original concept developed over this time to service such a large audience?
When we started, we had two of us in one office, and no members. We drove around to all the resorts in Australia to try and convince them that their owners should know about our exchange service. It was a slow start and hard and frustrating work, but it paid off. We now operate from 11 offices located in various parts of the world to service our global membership base. In the early days, we were 100% phone in, and only did ‘exchange’ transactions.
As our member numbers grew so too did our reputation for customer service and soon resorts were contacting us offering to help spread the word because of that customer satisfaction they kept hearing about from their respective owners. We were being asked more and more by our members and resort partners to expand our services and help confirm vacations further afield.
The internet and our very first rudimentary website came into being and we looked at opportunities for closer cooperation with resale companies, resort management companies and even the possibility of an office outside of Australia. All these things took time, energy and constant work, but they all helped us grow. We’re still looking to the future and how we can continue to provide a better service to our customers, industry partners and the industry overall.
DAE is known for excellent customer service and putting members first with a variety of consumer-friendly features and benefits not offered by competitors. As the CEO, where did the vision come from that now brings members and resort partners together as ‘the heart of the transaction’ on both ends?
Our own backgrounds were in customer related services and roles so those traits were already inground in our mind-sets when DAE started. It was tough going in the early days and we found our members were our biggest advocates – the best marketing tool we could ever have. When they took their exchange, they’d tell other owners staying at the resort about us. That made us appreciate our members right from the very beginning and we made a promise to ourselves then to treat every DAE member with the utmost respect and courtesy for helping us grow our business. The best way to do that always has been, to give friendly and personal service.
Resorts also saw how DAE helped and looked after their owners and as support and thanks for doing that, they treated our incoming guests with the same kind of service we had shown their owners.
After twenty years of providing a free membership exchange platform there must have been some stand-out highs and lows. Can you share any that you remember were pivotal where DAE saw the opportunity to affect change?
I think all the highs are ‘people’ stories. Seeing the people that have come to work for DAE over the past 20 years succeed in learning new skills and growing as individuals has been an incredible reward, and the contributions our teams make to help grow our business by putting forward great ideas and owning their initiatives to see them through from conception to launch.
We love to hear from members with their great stories on how timeshare has helped them or family or friends who were going through some hard times, and just a simple gesture by one of our team made a difference to them, or the vacation helped turn things around.
Technology, industry partnerships, and charity participation and sponsorship have all at various times been way up there in changing DAE for the positive benefit of members or the community or even ourselves.
As for low periods, they’re just signposts to remind us we need to do better, to think differently, and keep pushing ahead because tomorrow is another day and another opportunity to get it right. Being a low-cost business model brings its own set of challenges constantly. It’s easy to dream big but much harder to rein things back to fit in around the financial budget restraints we set ourselves.
Re-Envisioning the Exchange Industry
The message supported by DAE is that exchange should be simple, transparent, flexible, and easy. With 79% of DAE members citing free membership as the key reason for considering DAE and 65% joining because of the free assistance provided, how has the acquisition of over 1.5 million members impacted the exchange section of the industry?
Those high numbers say a lot about what is missing out there in the market place in the exchange area of this industry. With anything new, it takes time to understand, feel comfortable and importantly get the most benefit from whatever it is. Vacation ownership is no different and the sales process is not meant to be an exhaustive ‘how to’ manual or guide to that.
Exchange is one of those areas that can be full of excitement and promise yet for so many years was failing to deliver. A lot of dissatisfaction stemmed from that, and it was affecting the timeshare industry overall. We know that many owners don’t use exchange services each year and we don’t want them to pay for a service they’re not using. DAE offers free membership and our members only pay an exchange fee when we confirm a vacation. That pay-as-you-go system has been embraced by timeshare owners all over the world that see the value in participating in an exchange program when it suits them, without losing any value or perceived value through ongoing fees.
DAE has won multiple awards for Best Customer Service, Best Overall Company, and Best Customer Product. What do you think has attributed most towards winning these accolades?
From the outset, our entire business has been centered around the customer and what that customer’s needs are. After 20 years, we’ve never wavered from that, and have only strengthened our resolve to make this our core business. We’ve developed a service culture that puts the needs of our members above everything else, and every member of our team in every office understands that from day 1. It’s not always the monumental things but often it’s the little things that show our commitment to this on a daily basis. Whether it’s an exChange agent in our call center giving their direct number to a member to phone them back and continue speaking to the same person, or phoning a resort to check a member’s request has been met – that’s the DAE difference. We know timeshare owners have lots of questions about their ownership or options to use their product or something they have read or heard about and not quite sure who to ask – we’re happy to take those calls and see how we can assist. There isn’t a customer service department or area in our business – it’s everywhere, in everything that we do, for every member, every time.
The DAE Search Availability Options used in combination with the new daelive.com Member Dashboard can provide customized vacation recommendations based on members’ travel preferences, trends, and past experiences. How has this been a game-changer for exchange?
The power of technology has changed so much in the 20 years that DAE has been operating. We’ve always been focused on delivering the most advanced digital platforms that are not only easy to navigate but speak to our members’ needs. This is the next step in our evolution. Customization is everywhere in the digital world from the content we see to the music that we listen to. Being a global company, our exchange offering extends all across the world, across different ownership types and our members’ vacation needs are as unique as they are. One size doesn’t fit all and this new approach will deliver targeted recommendations based on our algorithm for member behavior. We’re excited to see where this takes us over the next few years and how much the exchange space will develop as a result.
DAE offers two options for members that Deliver Exchange That Works. What is the main difference between ‘Bank First’ and ‘Find Your Vacation First’? Does the benefit of banking and saving week entitlements for up to three years factor into members’ decisions?
It comes down to the individual member and their circumstances. Depending on their ownership, members may lose their entitlement if they don’t use it, so our Bank & Save option is a great option for owners to extend the life of their week or entitlement for use at a time that better suits them. We’ll often have members who are planning a special occasion or the vacation of a lifetime and they can bank their credits to achieve that. Members also like to know the option is there to find their vacation first before they bank their week. We wouldn’t expect members to book flights before they had seen the departure date or the destination, so it’s the same for exchange. It’s all about giving members the choice to use DAE in a way that works for them. It also means there is no obligation – you don’t need to bank your week or pay upfront until you’ve found the vacation you’re looking for.
As DAE constantly develops sales tools, incentives, and value-add programs to aid resorts, developers, HOAs, and timeshare affiliates, what are the main solutions sought after to assist with both committed and disengaged owners?
As with our members, every interaction we have with the business side of the timeshare industry is focused on what the business needs, and what we can do to personalize our service for them. In many cases, resorts and HOAs are looking to re-engage owners who have been disgruntled by the exchange offering in the past, or no longer see value in their vacation ownership. Our sales tools and value-add programs are all about showing those owners how affordable and easy it can be to use exchange to fulfill their vacation dreams. Our Gold Advantage and Gold Advantage Select benefit tiers also deliver unbelievable value and stacks of benefits to owners who want to travel and save more, with priority access to DAE inventory being one of the key features that our GA and GA Select members enjoy most. The list really goes on, but we won’t ever stop short in assisting resort partners, HOAs and developers to think outside the box with innovative solutions to boost their bottom lines, and get their owners going.
DAE offers a white labeled Digital Exchange Platform to resort partners and developers to maximize engagement. How have the custom Owner Education Materials influenced the brand positioning for DAE’s business partners?
We learned early on in our dealings with B2B partners that customization is key. Our White Label Exchange Platform is now highly sought after by developers, Vacation Clubs and other partners who see the value in DAE’s product offering for their own brand. Everything we build is for the benefit of their brand, keeping owners or prospective owners within that brand’s ecosystem rather than having them go to an external third party to purchase products and services. Our business partners have seen enormous benefit in that because it builds brand loyalty and reduces confusion, which ultimately delivers a better outcome for everyone. We’ve now built custom Exchange Platforms and materials for over 80 partners worldwide, and demand continues to grow.
One of the business solutions provided by DAE is a Rental Program for HOA Controlled Inventory. How can this help HOAs create valuable revenue with minimal administration effort?
A lot of HOAs are looking to reduce the administrative burden on their resorts and simultaneously reduce the impact of delinquent or unused weeks on their overall operating costs. DAE’s Rental program has the dual benefit of bringing new members into resorts to rent HOA Controlled Inventory, creating new sales leads and additional revenue streams for the resort. The best part about it is DAE markets the rental weeks to our entire worldwide database of members, at no cost to the resort.
daeXtra and daeRewards offer members the opportunity to access discounted travel services as well as earn loyalty rewards. How has this incentivized the overall value proposition of resale inventory?
daeRewards is an additional value-add for owners and members to access discount travel services while earning daeRewards towards their next exchange, rental or other transactions with DAE. As well as discounts on travel, rental cars, entertainment and other lifestyle products, members with Gold Advantage and Gold Advantage Select status also earn daeRewards on purchases. For timeshare owners that are active travelers, this is a benefit they can use year-round, which is where developers and resorts see the added value delivered through this program.
About DAE (Dial An Exchange)
DAE is the world’s leading privately owned vacation exchange provider. With an established network of resort partners, DAE offers exchange availability at thousands of resorts in the most exciting destinations around the globe.
DAE’s approach to exchange is simple – a platform that is easy to use and puts members’ needs first. No hidden fees, complicated rules or trading powers. It’s why DAE has grown to become the largest privately owned exchange provider since opening its doors in 1997 – now servicing over 1.5 million timeshare owners worldwide, including 550,000 direct members.
Through innovation and value-added service, DAE has changed exchange with a low-cost business model that allows owners to get more out of their vacation ownership investment. Operating from 11 global offices located across North America, UK, Europe, Asia-Pacific, South Africa and the Middle East, DAE delivers a range of products and services to help businesses in the timeshare industry achieve their goals and objectives – providing local solutions with a global outlook.
For more information, visit www.daelive.com