The key to balancing traveller satisfaction with policy compliance
23 Feb 2018 - by Guido Verweij
The key to balancing traveller satisfaction with policy compliance
Guido Verweij, Regional Managing Director, Africa at Travelport discusses the importance of companies shifting focus from just savings to traveller satisfaction.
Although business travelers go where they are told, they increasingly want to go their own way and expect the same level of service as when they go on holiday, according to their preferences and lifestyle. Driven by the increasing number of younger generations of travelers and the ubiquity of digital tools, business travel has seen a major shift in recent years and the corporate travel industry continues to evolve at an incredible speed – much faster than ever before.
With millennial and Gen Z travellers setting their own rules and demanding a more satisfying end-to-end travel experience, corporate travel is seeing a shift in priorities. Although savings continue to be the main driver of a managed programme, more companies are starting to prioritise travel satisfaction over cost savings. Or rather, travel managers are exploring how to drive savings through increased travel satisfaction. It’s a major shift for business travel, so how can it succeed?
Focus on travel satisfaction
Designed to benefit business development, increase sales and contribute to a higher client retention, business travel constitutes a large portion of a company’s expenditure. However, imposing mentally and physically-draining red-eye flights, short stays, inconvenient accommodation and/or exhausting day-long roundtrips can take its toll on employees’ well-being and work performance. In addition, creating friction for the traveller can lead to less travel policy compliance and higher costs due to leakage. As margins continue to shrink, new methods are needed to maximise the return on every trip.
Travel satisfaction is not singularly about flying business class, staying in a fancy hotel or getting from point A to point B quickly and comfortably. It corresponds with every aspect of business travel, from booking and the reimbursement of expenses to the possibility of working on the go and balancing work and personal life.
Booking is often a core pain point for travellers. A seamless experience drives satisfaction for business travellers, while cumbersome tools not only frustrate them but offer an excuse to book outside of company preferred channels. To succeed, companies committed to increasing employee and traveller satisfaction need to focus not only on booking but every aspect of the journey and acknowledge the diverse generational needs of travelers. Only from this perspective can companies start to implement changes to their travel programmes that have an impact on employee satisfaction.
Focus on technology, the business traveller’s playground
Business travellers have always had a curious relationship with technology, but the influx of millennial and Gen Z travelers has led to an increase in tech-savvy, early adopters pushing for mobile technology and greater flexibility in the world of business travel. This mobile-ready generation expects personalised, user-friendly experiences and, in the office, they’re fast outnumbering the more experienced employees. Combining business and leisure, and work-life balance are often top their list of priorities, so they do not hesitate in buying the latest gadgets to help provide the freedom to work from anywhere, reshaping the definition of ‘office’.
To meet these demands, companies must adapt and provide the right tools to connect with the modern business traveller. The latest generation of travellers, for example, spends a considerable amount of their time staring at a smartphone, and thus, at any point of the journey travel managers can support and directly engage them. Mobile has not only reshaped how we work remotely, it is also playing a growing role in travel booking and transactions. Travelport’s recent Global Digital Traveler Research also highlighted how one in three travellers now books on a mobile device. We believe 70% of all OTA bookings will be via mobile by 2020, with global smartphone ownership forecast to rise by 50% from 3.8 billion in 2016 to 5.7 billion in 2020. Outside of mobile bookings, everything from secure payments and itinerary management tools to hotel room keys and concierge services, can now live in our mobile devices.
Although mobile has already become the new norm, emerging technologies are starting to influence travel even further. Tools such as voice search, wearables and bots have already begun to take off. Others, such as blockchain, augmented reality and artificial intelligence, are still in early stages, but have a tremendous potential to transform business travel. Travel managers may not be always
available, so chatbots powered by data and artificial intelligence, can assist their travelers anticipating and learning how to reply to repeating and similar queries. For example, a chatbot may come in handy for travelers looking to find out how to amend a hotel stay.
Focus on automating where you can
Business travellers, are more likely to experience frequent changes to their itineraries than leisure travellers. A typical trip may need to be changed a number of times in terms of dates, times and destinations and the manual process of doing this is long-winded. It may take as much as 45 minutes to make and confirm the changes, and then communicate the changes to the traveler as well as the airline and the hotel. Many TMCs still have not taken advantage of the automation opportunities that exist here that can reduce the effort to a couple of minutes.
One of the challenges here is that today’s automation solutions are often fragmented with multiple offerings that address only parts of the workflow. TMCs often have to work with multiple solution providers to address their needs, and this lack of a holistic approach can result in a patchwork band-aid. The opportunity for the industry is to make the process of automation less complex for agencies to implement and manage. By embracing new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and chatbots, the industry has the opportunity to bring efficiencies to omnichannel communications. And as these technologies continue to mature, automated processes to support traveler self-service through the entire journey will help reduce overheads and improve experiences for travellers by servicing them better and anticipating their needs.
Focus on personalisation to enhance the travel experience
Consumers want personalized experiences because they want to feel like their interests and
preferences are considered seriously, and receive a service that is unique to their needs. A business trip is not a holiday, but business travellers’ expectations are no different.
Beware though, as one-size does not fit all. Engaging and rewarding travel experiences are based on individual needs. To achieve this, a successfully managed programme needs a deep understanding of individual traveller behavior, and for that, data is essential. Travel produces enormous amounts of data and it’s never been cheaper to store raw data and extract meaning from it to understand the habits, preferences and needs of every traveller. But data is incomplete if travelers book through many different channels or out of programme.
Rather than implementing carrot and stick methods, enhancing traveler satisfaction is a much more effective approach to corporate travel policy compliance. It improves compliance because it can change travellers’ behavior. Enabling travel managers to look into travellers’ profiles and booking data or make use of AI driven by data and analytics to analyze their traveler data to build a bespoke travel experience will ultimately deliver a more satisfying travel experience. One more in-line with a leisure experience.
Measuring the return on investment (ROI) of business travel continues to be a challenge for travel managers. Many trips are about building relationships with clients and closing deals. So, simply put, how do you measure the value of a handshake? Whilst there might not be a single metric that demonstrates the link between travel satisfaction and return on investment, there are long term gains for any business. This new approach does not need to come at a cost, but any costs that are incurred should be offset by an improved compliance rate.
As travellers start to feel like their business trips have their exact requirements and preferences in mind, complying with policy becomes a no-brainer. A personalised travel experience, combined with duty of care and 24/7 support, guarantees not only employees personal and professional needs are met but so are the commercial needs of the company.
Guido Verweij is Travelport’s regional md: Africa. He has been part of Travelport since 2012, previously serving as the global head of strategy within agency commerce. Prior to this, he worked for over seven years in management consulting and has advised governments, corporations and private equity firms on policy, strategy and transactions. He is a Dutch national and holds a degree in Medicine from University of Leuven in Belgium, an honours degree in Management and Systems from City University in the UK and an MBA from INSEAD in France and Singapore.