American Express Global Business Travel last month started offering a bundled platform for new U.S. clients spending less than $20 million annually on air travel.
In partnership with Jigsaw Research and design consultancy Livework Studio, GBT crafted the program based on several guiding principles for the client experience: personalization, proactive servicing, consistency, value, local expertise and ease and clarity of deployment. It went into beta with some existing clients in December.
Customers benefit from the new approach through better call recognition, preferred rates and amenities and simplified pricing. Having invested in its telephony services and a new onboarding process, for example, GBT can automatically identify travelers and incorporate their preferences when they call for help.
The company reoriented its servicing teams to provide help regardless of booking channel or time of day. There’s only an online fee and an offline fee. Proactive traveler care, card and travel data visualization and air re-shopping through Yapta are included.
GBT vice president and GM for the U.S. and Canada Colin Temple leads the initiative. “I came into this role specifically with the goal of growing GBT’s share of the midmarket,” he said in a Tuesday interview. “It appeared to be an underserved space. Companies do not have a tremendous amount of resources to dedicate to managing travel. Clients who are new to managing travel appear to struggle. Travelers aren’t used to it. Many companies seem reluctant to mandate policies and programs. Once deployed, they’re struggling with getting returns.”
Temple said that while the goal is to be online booking tool-agnostic, most clients are using a portal backed by Deem. GBT owns KDS, but he said Deem remains “fully integrated into our roadmap.” For mobile, midmarket clients may use GBT’s app.
The $20 million threshold in the past was lower, meaning some accounts previously thought of as part of the large or global segment are now “middle market.” Exceptions may include firms with smaller budgets but complex multinational needs, or those with larger budgets and simple travel patterns.
Temple said clients previously considered large should expect no change in account management or customization capabilities. The new midmarket solution meets 90 percent of the existing client base’s needs, he said, and optional services like complex international faring and VIP or on-site configurations also are available.
At the moment, this is a U.S.-based program. Canada by year-end may be the first follower, Temple said.
In its former life as a fully owned entity of American Express Company, GBT made a few attempts at targeting the midmarket. It bought a midmarket specialist in 1998, and in 2010 created a bundled service for clients with less than $10 million in air volume.
Growing, Lucrative And Competitive
The space is highly competitive. Midsize to large TMCs like those affiliated with BCD Travel, GlobalStar and Radius often best the megas on local loyalty and customer attention. Egencia has loads of midmarket accounts built on its strengths in self-service and technology. Concur has a number of TMC partners to which it delivers leads. Startups are nipping at the lower end. On the upper end, even Carlson Wagonlit Travel sees opportunity in the small and mid-market segment.
Midmarket accounts are highly coveted. Often without their own negotiated rates, these clients help provide TMCs leverage with suppliers for commissionable rates and other special benefits.
The Ohio State University’s National Center for the Middle Market regularly surveys more than 1,000 midmarket firms on business performance and prospects. The latest revenue indicators, covering the December quarter and full year 2016, are among the strongest recorded since the research began five years ago.
“Forty-eight percent of middle market companies grew through expansion into a new market in 2016,” according to the group. “Projections for future growth have risen each quarter and are now at the highest levels seen in two years.”