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Is there a business case for creating a better traveler experience?

Blog post   •   Oct 22, 2018 16:03 GMT

Leading organizations know there’s a strong business case for putting traveler experience at the center of their strategy. Data shows it improves retention, boosts performance, and even lifts the bottom line. These lessons now need to be applied to travel, says CWT’s new Senior EVP Chief Travel Experience Officer. Here, he tells us why.

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I had a great time participating in an interview to conclude  ACTE Paris. It was my first CWT corporate travel event and a really exciting way to celebrate seven weeks in my role as Senior EVP Chief Travel Experience Officer.

I have spent my entire career in travel in different dimensions but I felt that I was missing that direct connection with the traveler. I could see technology reaching a point where it will for the first time allow companies to simultaneously achieve the goals of their travel programs and improve traveler experience. Also, I wanted to see how a travel policy can become part of a company’s wider culture, and I wanted to be part of that transformation.

It has been great to see how CWT have combined the skills of our travel counselors with the capabilities created by our Product and Technology teams as well as the digital assets we roll out.

The Golden Triangle of business travel – Cost, performance and traveler experience

Part of our strategy with Traveler Experience is joining the dots between many masters. I think of it as a holy trinity: the cost of travel that needs to be managed, performance – what you expect to achieve by sending someone on a business trip, and the experience your people have when they are traveling. We used to think about these things in a silo and also quite often see them as mutually exclusive but it’s essential that we transform our thinking. It’s “both, and”. It’s not “either, or”.

My focus is making sure we can define the optimal solution between the three for our clients. We know from research that successful companies are using employee engagement to drive other areas of the business: namely recruitment, retention, performance, and savings. It’s the same in the business travel sector. There’s no longer a binary effect between cost and service. It no longer has to be the case that effectively managing your program needs to result in a worse service for your travelers.

With data science and tools like personalization, we have the opportunity to play around with the three points in the triangle to find the ideal mix for each and every company.

Here’s an example: In a past role I had to fly out to Chicago for a training week. Now, the old rule was that any flight over six hours was bumped up to business class. But I had no real need to fly business. On the other hand, if someone is flying for two hours to make the biggest pitch of their life and has a two-hour flight, you want that person to step off the plane fresh, prepared and gunning for that deal. You probably don’t want them stuck in row 52G, with a kid drooling on their shoulder.

Of course, the challenge is we all have data coming out of our ears. It’s not always easy to know what to do with it. But companies that are able to truly understand what their data is telling them about the traveler experience they are generating, will have the power to develop systems that allow you to run a very cost-efficient program, as well as build a brand that resonates with your travelers. 

Getting the green light from the C-Suite

During my interview, we looked onscreen at an ACTE “instant issue” poll taken over the course of the event.

It asked, “which of the following strategies do travel managers need more training on?” The results were cost savings (19%), traveler engagement (36%), and making a business case to senior leadership (45%).

I was not surprised by these results.

Yes, we’ve been talking about the traveler experience for a long time. But we haven’t truly been able to measure it using data. Now, technology is at a point where data can be used to make a well-rounded business case: To show how the travel program can drive the culture of who we want to be as a business, drive savings, and achieve return on investment (ROI).

The challenge now is how organizations change the conversation internally.

How do I engage with my travelers? How do I make a business case to start talking internally about this shift from just talking about cost – the binary – to defining what a holistic approach looks like?

Successful companies who are pivoting the conversation to a strategic and holistic view of travel aren’t trying to boil the world’s ocean.

They aren’t looking to technology to solve a problem within three years. This is because by the time you get to the three-year mark and you have solved the problem, there will be new ones.

Successful companies know where they want to head, understand the importance of the travel program in their company culture, and have figured out how to move the needle step-by-step while also taking their travelers along for the journey

What’s exciting is that more and more organizations are saying, “We can accomplish both.” 

We are now all asking: What’s the actionable insight? What can we start to change today? and How can I make sure I service and engage travelers better across all the channels we use to interact with them?

Once travelers have the right tools, they change their behavior naturally. You will have fewer discussions around compliance. Instead, the discussion will be around how you help travelers get the most out of the tools you provide.

Blog author: Niklas Andreen, Chief Traveler Experience Officer, Carlson Wagonlit Travel 

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