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The 4 hallmarks of a ‘traveler first’ business travel program

January 29, 2018 / Global

When your employees travel for work, do they find your company’s travel program more of a help or a hindrance? If it’s the latter, it’s time you considered some adjustments that can make a significant impact.

There are two variables your business travel program has likely been graded on–cost savings and traveler safety. On paper, these existing programs have long since achieved these goals: as a manager of team travel, you secure the best pricing, manage expenditures, and have a system in place which tracks travelers’ whereabouts.

But in reality, a travel program isn’t a complete success unless employees are satisfied with it. And you know why: employees are unlikely to follow a process that doesn’t make it easy for them, and not following the procedures only leads to out of policy spend.

In this post, we’ll look at four hallmarks of business travel programs that can work for both your control, while also respecting the long hours, rushed pace, and often challenging life of your business travelers.

Whether you’re building a brand-new program or overhauling your current managed or open program, thinking more traveler-first will improve your employees’ satisfaction, and perhaps contrary to what you might first think, their safety, and your visibility.

1: You’ve made removing friction your mission

Sure, your travel program may look effective from your side of the desk, but when’s the last time you sat down and booked a flight or submitted a receipt, from start to finish? How often do you spend a day or two on the road “in the footsteps” of your most frequent travelers, rigorously testing your policy? If you can’t recall, now is the time for a refresher course.

It sounds obvious, but it’s worth repeating. Employees want a travel program that’s easy to use and seamless from beginning to end. To achieve this, ask yourself the purpose of every click and every form filled out. If you find yourself confused, asking questions, or double-checking what to do, your travelers are most likely feeling the same way. Those pain points explain the “why” behind high rates of leakage from the travel program and other instances of noncompliance, signaling that it’s time to adjust the traveler-averse portions of the process.

Action Item: Each quarter, sit down with five travelers at each stage of your travel process and silently observe their behaviors. Ask them where they would find your travel policy, too–you won’t get anywhere if they don’t know the rules!

2: You’ve built for the apps your travelers already use

travel manager-first policy, not a traveler-first one! It’s pretty clear that employees don’t want to make and manage multiple accounts: four out of five people are deterred from using any website if they have to create an account. Why, then, should a travel manager require travelers to set up unnecessary accounts? Go to where they are — don’t force employees to meet you.

By using a familiar, recognizable, and dependable app, travel managers reduce the number of employees overwhelmed by how to use the system within the program. The biggest category you’ll find these apps in is most likely the relative newcomer of on-demand travel, including apps like Uber, so there’s no learning curve to overcome.

These apps also have business functionality already built in, ready for you to tap into! All they would need to do is select a different option within their existing account — no passwords to remember, and no usernames to forget.

Action Item: At each stage of your traveler’s journey, gut check that you’re giving them the right level of flexibility to book using apps they already use. If not allowed under your policy, reflect on the work required to integrate, and how that could boost satisfaction.

3: You’re listening to what your travelers want

It’s impossible to build a traveler-first program without consulting your travelers!

Employees want to be heard, and they need a channel through which to be heard. Travel managers who actively solicit feedback from travelers are being receptive and proactive, and employees feel they have a greater role to play within the company. From exit surveys to open office hours, creating and maintaining a constant feedback loop ensures that the traveler-first program continues to consider options employees want.

One great example comes from Salesforce. In a recent Uber for Business webinar, Salesforce’s own travel manager for the Americas discussed how he uses Salesforce Chatter software to collect feedback and share pertinent information. On Chatter, travelers can ask questions, managers can share company and industry updates, and preferred vendors could share incentives to build brand loyalty with travelers. Nicknamed “Road Warriors,” this channel provided travelers with a way to easily make suggestions, while travel managers keep open a line of communication — all in one convenient place for everyone.

Action Item: Use your employee observation above to ask what information travelers are lacking, and where would be most appropriate to find it. Ask who they ask when they have a question, or where they go. This can reveal the gap you can fill with a communications channel, group, or similar.

4: You’re measuring spend, safety, and satisfaction!

As a travel manager, you already know how important it is to measure spend and usage rates to determine performance. Is a travel program truly a success, though, without measuring employee satisfaction? As these programs mature, it becomes more important to ensure that they are working for the end user.

The simplest way to gauge employee satisfaction is to ask them! Sending travelers a survey after each trip is an easy way to build feedback into your existing framework. Questions can be as simple as asking “how satisfied are you?”, or get into detail about the hotel, flight, and ground transportation accommodations. Consistent eights and nines on a scale of one to 10 are a new measure of a successful, traveler-centric program.

Action Item: Devise and launch a short (two-minute max!) survey that can be sent to your travelers after each trip. If that’s too frequent, time it to come out once a quarter instead.

Summing up

Taking a traveler-first approach does take some time and retooling, no matter whether you’re improving a current travel program or implementing a new one. However, focusing on the traveler first ensures that they’re complying with your travel program. If employees are less distracted by the kinks in the system, they’re more likely to just use it and go, and if employees are complying with your system, they are traveling safely and within the travel program’s defined limits.

These four fundamentals minimize stress and maximize satisfaction by utilizing what employees already have, taking their feedback into consideration, and continually making improvements to any hindrances.

At the end of the day, the happier your travelers, the more likely they are to comply with company travel policy. You can’t argue against that being a win-win!