4 Steps to a High Performance Corporate Travel Program
Many companies have realized the benefits and importance of a corporate travel program. And this is the right approach for any business that is sending travelers out on its behalf. Managed travel programs help keep travelers safe, help companies forecast budgets appropriately, and help them save money on what is one of the top business expenses.
But those benefits only exist when travelers stay within the booking system their company provides. In many surveys of corporate travel managers, we see the most significant challenge travel managers face is getting travelers to adopt their travel and expense booking and management software.
In one study conducted last year, the largest response to the “most significant challenge” question was keeping travelers on platform, or preventing leakage, at 35.7%. (see Figure 1, below.)
There’s a good chance that noncompliance is driven by a lack of robust, user friendly tools and/or customization options for corporate travel programs. Consider our next survey response in Figure 2, where up to 80% of respondents reported that expense and reconciliation, policy, booking platform, and mobile technology components of their programs were only either moderately effective or ineffective for their diverse workforces.
With so much technology available, and even at our fingertips by way of smartphones and tablets, it’s discouraging to know travel programs still aren’t reaching through in meaningful ways to travelers. (A fact made more curious when we think about how people have been booking their personal travel online for years.)
So, what’s missing for travelers? How can a travel manager get at the heart of what travelers need and create a program that works for everyone?
As a traveler-centric technology company, Deem is invested in understanding travelers and creating a corporate travel software they’ll love to use. We do that by first talking with travelers about what they want and how they use technology. Then we design our travel technology around them as humans (and not as cogs in the corporate travel and expense wheel.)
This is why we include personalization options like keeping traveler loyalty program numbers in travelers’ profiles, so they’ll always get their rewards, and our award-winning Travel SafetyCheck feature, so travelers have their personalized wellness information right in the booking flow, where they need it most.
The following recommendations came from the survey and, especially as we move toward increasing travel, represent great ways to build a culture of traveler communication and input that can help significantly reduce program leakage and make your corporate travel program more successful as travelers return to the skies.
1. Talk to your travelers.
One of the best ways to get information is to speak directly to those who travel. What do they need? What do they want? How do they get their best work done?
While it may not be feasible to speak to every single traveler, facilitating direct communication with a variety of employees will help buyers better understand needs and expectations, and begin to determine what they can do to address them.
Try working with other departments including HR or finance to capture insights from those booking outside your preferred methods. A simple survey can help to identify what’s missing in the process. Establishing a diverse focus group to identify specific areas of the process with the most leakage can also be helpful. Another ideas is to create an internal social channel with a pilot group of users to immediately record their feedback while testing or using the process.
You can use these tools to determine what would motivate users to stay on platform to book their corporate travel. For instance, does your travel technology allow them to incorporate their loyalty programs and preferences into the platform? Does your travel technology allow travelers to book flights, hotel, and car in an order that makes sense to them? These kinds of details can be important in curtailing the use of consumer applications.
2. Get stakeholders on board.
A customizable travel program has benefits across the organization but requires investment in new tools and technology. It’s important that travel managers bring their internal stakeholders — HR, finance, IT, etc. — along and explain what’s in it for them. Bring the metaphorical receipts: How can new tools improve compliance and ensure traveler safety? Where might a more flexible policy save money in the long run? How might customizing the travel experience impact talent attraction and retention?
Have examples and traveler feedback at the ready to build your case and help these stakeholders understand the importance of new tools to keep travelers safe and productive. Especially now, when traveling entails potentially significant health risks, having the entire organization on board and travel technology that helps to communicate these risks is critical.
3. Get support.
Travel buyers needn’t go it alone when it comes to mapping traveler behaviors against their existing programs. Travel management companies (TMCs) can be valuable partners when it comes to gathering data, making changes to the program, and then evaluating outcomes.
You should also work with your corporate travel software providers to identify their user experience and customer success practices. What capabilities exist to capture feedback in the process itself? How can the providers help you in promoting features and supporting your travelers? In what ways can customizable content be incorporated for different traveler needs?
4. Prioritize education.
It is clear this is one of the biggest gaps travel buyers encounter. If travelers don’t know the travel policy or that the policy may be able to accommodate their needs, they’re less likely to comply with it. Additionally, travelers who don’t know the policy or understand why it’s important are more likely to put themselves at risk, and may not fully grasp the travel manager’s duty of care responsibilities and how they benefit everyone.
Buyers should work with other departments within their organizations as well as their TMCs to develop the right educational tools to help travelers understand their options. The onboarding process should be your starting point. Work with your HR department to insert education on the travel program for new hires and explain the purpose of the travel department.
Helping employees understand these basics creates a natural opportunity to emphasize what the travel policy is and how it benefits them, as well as helping them see that complying with policy doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing their preferences. It will also allow you to share a feedback process so that employees know that they can have a say, rather than feeling locked into a restrictive, cumbersome process.
Create a culture of communication
These areas all point to the importance of internal and external communication. A large part of the travel manager role is determining with whom you need to communicate, what they need to hear, and what information they should be sharing with you, so that you can build policies that make sense for the business.
The workforce will continue to diversify over time, so it’s imperative to take measures that allow you to adapt with those changes, even if it’s on a small scale or incremental basis. Doing so arms you with the necessary data points to build your business case for not only the current challenges, but those you may encounter in the future.