Traveler Engagement: (Hard) Work In Progress

By | February 17, 2017

Traveler engagement is an area of opportunity, but translating touchy-feely principles for a procurement mindset of compliance and savings is problematic.

Many practitioners remain in the earliest stages of a more robust engagement program, studying and planning. According to an Association of Corporate Travel Executives/American Express Global Business Travel September 2016 survey of 254 corporate travel managers, 90 percent of companies maintain key performance indicators on travel savings. For associated “traveler-centric” concepts like productivity, wellness, work/life balance and retention, the rate of KPI usage dropped below 30 percent.

More than two-thirds of those polled do measure satisfaction, a likely departure point on the engagement journey. Some travel managers are trying to take the traditional traveler survey into the 21st century using new communications channels including internal social networks. This can give rise to what Advito VP and emerging practices lead Lesley O’Bryan calls the voice of the traveler, enabling managers to learn about things surveys cannot tell them.

“You need to get more into the mindset of marketing and communications,” O’Bryan said. “It’s not just one communication at a time. It’s pulled together in a more cohesive way.”

“It’s not easy,” said Festive Road associate Mia Andersson. “This is a huge effort. You need to invest time before the engagement part. But it is putting you in a position where you can stop fire-fighting and be proactive, and you will do much better work.”

Julia Fidler

Julia Fidler, global employee engagement and user experience lead for MSTravel and VenueSource at Microsoft

The two consultants last week joined two buyers on The Company Dime’s Teleconference. They discussed the benefits and drawbacks of traveler feedback, among other topics.

Shire senior manager of global travel procurement Mary Batal-Riley said ratings and reviews of suppliers are not a bad thing, but careful consideration of the output is warranted. “My concern about traveler feedback is, it’s so subjective,” said Batal-Riley. “What works for one person may not work for another.”

Batal-Riley said she once witnessed corporate travelers change their bookings after a colleague posted false information about a preferred hotel property. Her preference runs more toward a star rating system because it seems more objective.

“Having the right filter on your ears is important,” agreed Julia Fidler, global employee engagement and user experience lead for MSTravel and VenueSource at Microsoft.

Microsoft owns social enterprise tool Yammer. Fidler said about 30,000 people (40 percent of the company’s traveling population) participate in the network’s travel group. “It has not been overwhelming and concerns are outweighed by the benefits,” she said. The travel department enlisted a Microsoft customer relationship management group to monitor the several posts per day.

Having help from the CRM department may not be realistic for many companies, but other departments like human resources, marketing or communications could offer a hand. External providers can, too.

U.K.-based Tripism has just gone live with its marquee client — Microsoft. Tripism’s platform allows employees to rate and review offices, hotels, restaurants, meeting spaces, entertainment venues, WiFi hotspots and even transportation options. These selections can be filtered to include only one’s co-workers. Preferred restaurants are loaded in based on company expense data. To help with adoption, the service uses traveler booking data for post-trip emails to users including links to “dynamically created landing pages,” said founder Adam Kerr in an interview last week. Having previous trip information allows users to quickly review and provide feedback.

On the conference call, Andersson and O’Bryan agreed that requests for information should be sent to travelers immediately after the trip is over.

Kerr said monthly or semi-annual surveys are flawed because “people are skewed by their last experience.” Tripism now has mobile apps which allow for in-trip feedback, but Kerr has found travelers don’t take much advantage since they have other priorities. With scale, Kerr said, sentiment analysis and machine learning will take the platform to another level.

Fidler wants a multi-channel approach, and said the choice of communications mechanism has been answered naturally depending on the need.

She said her company’s next stage will include “having conversations with people,” which almost sounds like a joke until one considers the corporation’s size. “We have a strong survey mentality and a little survey fatigue in Microsoft,” said Fidler. “So we feel user experience testing and user experience interviews will be the next opportunity for us to understand more about the ways we can integrate maybe into other systems and communications through other channels along with, say, HR or IT.”

Indiana-based Peoplocity launched four years ago to improve customer engagement. It has turned to managed business travel after attracting the attention of startup accelerators at ACTE and RunUp Labs.

“The bar is low” on survey response rates, said founder and CEO George Klein, also in a separate interview. Peoplocity’s mobile app facilitates traveler communications for issue resolution and delivers “instant” feedback. Data fields created to capture info for program improvements and supplier relationships can be customized by the client. Peoplocity is considering integrating with itinerary apps or using geolocation for automated context. It also may offer up its software to become a “button” on the apps of other business travel mobile developers.

As the company has yet to launch with clients, the business model is open. “Ultimately the supplier is maybe best suited to pay for it,” said Klein. “But our path to success has to come initially through travel managers or travel management companies.”

Fidler said harnessing the traveler’s voice in work with suppliers is still relatively new, but suppliers are interested.

The wins from traveler engagement don’t have to be systemic, negotiated or quantifiable in a KPI, said Jeroen van Velzen, CEO and co-founder of Dutch app developer Roadmap, during a separate telephone interview.

“We’re running a big campaign on hotel feedback in major destinations for one global company,” van Velzen said. “We got feedback on hotel security issues at properties, for example the parking lot was dark in multiple instances. We sent the feedback to the team, they sent it to the suppliers. And there was lighting in the lots one week later.”

In general, he said, engagement remains a “work in progress” for many firms. “First you need the adoption. The next level is, you want to influence their behavior. And the last one is actually the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — what the procurement people really want — supplier relations.”

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