The road to traveller centricity: delight the user and the rest will follow

Roxana Bressy | May 19, 2017

Business Travel.IQ – 2017, May 17

Why plug in a minor improvement when technology allows you to rethink processes?

For many, business travel is simply part of the job. It is necessary to do the role they’re employed to do. Despite the advances in video conferencing, the need and value of face to face meetings is clear, with global business travel spend doubling in the last 15 years. The US, Germany, UK and France are listed in the top six global business travel markets along with Japan and China, and accounted for $438 billion in total spend in 2015 according to research from the Global Business Travel Association.

So, technology has not removed the need to travel for business but it has changed it.

Right now, ‘traveller centricity’ is hot. In recent months, I’ve walked the conference halls and attended a variety of events and it’s clear that the industry has embraced this shift.  However, while it has become one of the most over-used phrases in the travel industry, let’s just be clear about what it means. Traveller centricity, as I see it, is empowering business travellers by uniting technology and service that focuses specifically on the end-to-end experience of the person travelling.

Why has this become so important?

Business value through user experience

We’re immersed in technology. When you stop to consider that just 10 years ago we were about to see the very first ‘smart phone’ appear on the market, it’s staggering to think how quickly connected devices have become ingrained in just about every facet of our lives. We now expect access through our personal devices to fast, intuitive and intelligent tools that learn and remember our preferences. We want tools that make our lives easier. Brilliant consumer apps have put pressure on the corporate world, raising our expectations, and all too often the technologies in business fall short of the mark.  Booking business travel is no exception.

Outdated travel booking processes and technologies simply don’t cut it, whether it is

  • Completing forms
  • Repeating details to an agent every time the traveller books
  • Explaining preferences
  • Manually checking the policy to make sure they don’t go outside of it
  • Compiling all my paper receipts and copying information laboriously line by line into an expense claim

These outdated processes and technologies have evolved over time but have incrementally improved rather than re-imagined how we do things considering the exciting technologies we have available now. Not only are these practices time-consuming for employees and back-office teams, they are increasingly met with resistance. People will find ways to make their lives easier (there’s an app for that) and that won’t necessarily be the best for your company.

It’s great to see that companies are waking up to the idea that making business traveller expectations a priority is in their best interest. Working to offer travellers an easy, hassle-free, but personalised, customised experience for booking travel is the way to meet the objective. And let’s not lose sight of what that is: getting employees where they need to be, quickly, easily and safely without impacting their productivity in doing what they’re paid to do.

Leisure tools don’t have the full answer

While consumer apps designed for leisure travel have put pressure on corporate technology, it’s important to remember that business travel has certain requirements and restrictions that leisure travel just doesn’t need to consider and are a challenge. Things like policy compliance, negotiated corporate rates, back-end system integration and reporting. It’s my belief (and after banging this drum for the past five years, one that the industry seems to agree with) that the key lies in creating a tool that gives the user the ‘consumer’ experience they desire, while not compromising the requirements of the business.

And it’s not just meeting the business requirements that is important. Let’s not forget that we travel for business with a purpose, to generate revenue for businesses and facilitate future growth. So, shifting away from solely thinking about business travel in terms of cost and process and instead thinking about it in terms of enabling these high-value employees to do their job as effectively as possible really can impact your bottom line

Creating a traveller-centric culture

When you’re thinking about your own strategy, don’t consider traveller centricity to be a destination – it is a continual journey. To be effective, your business travellers must be front and centre when making decisions about your travel booking technology and overall strategy. Focus on simplifying the travel booking experience and never underestimate the importance of a strong change management plan.

Here are four characteristics to embrace when starting on the road to traveller centricity.

  1. Courage. To get started on implementing a more traveller-centric strategy, you must first have the courage to try new things and commit to delivering on them.
  2. Flexibility. With any kind of change comes lessons to be learned. Foster a culture that accepts not everything will work from the start and exercise a willingness to continually evolve and improve processes based on results.
  3. Respect. Feedback is essential to a truly traveller-centric strategy – embrace this and be sure to measure behaviour outcomes and analyse data, rather than basing future decisions on anecdotal feedback.
  4. Commitment. Don’t stop at measuring and analysing the data – commit to adapting processes based on this information, rather than simply collecting it.

Remember, to continue to be traveller-centric, you need to review and evaluate your processes and technologies on a regular basis, looking for areas to improve efficiency and effectiveness and meet the evolving expectations of your travellers as new technologies become available.

Beyond traveller centricity

We’re agreed as an industry that putting the focus on the traveller in important in delivering against our objectives whether that’s as a travel manager, a finance leader, the company or indeed us as travellers. But to truly deliver individual, personalised experiences, the challenge goes beyond great software, user interfaces (UI), user experience (UX), services or suppliers. The key will be in harmonising the component parts to drive shared success across the field and in doing that we will be able to deliver real individual experiences.