By Lesley O’Bryan, Senior Vice President
Technology is playing a larger and more disruptive role in business. It is redefining how companies think about employees and customers and their approach to engagement, experience and empowerment. These days, consumers actively provide feedback before, during and after every interaction and transaction. They want to be solicited for their opinions, they expect you to listen, act and respond in exchange for their loyalty.
This “consumer-first” mindset has seeped into business, the workforce and, by extension, your travel program. Your travelers want to be heard and they want to play an active role in shaping the travel program and contributing to its results. They have a voice. The questions is, are you listening?
The Voice of the Traveler
Listening to customers has become a key ingredient shaping business success and connecting companies with customers. Companies regularly listen to external customers (clients and prospects) and internal customers (employees). These are referred to as Voice of the Customer (VoC) and Voice of the Employee (VoE), respectively. There has been, however, little attention on the value of capturing the voice of traveler in a company. I refer to this as a Voice of the Traveler (VoT) initiative.
VoT is an ongoing and intentional activity to monitor the effectiveness of your program from your customer’s perspective. It involves having a pulse on travelers’ needs, adjusting your program based on their input and assessing the impact of the changes you implement. VoT engages with travelers at key touchpoints before, during and after a trip and throughout the year and feels more like an active conversation rather than a formal, point-in-time measurement. It fosters a community where travelers know they are being heard, their needs are being addressed and that supporting your program generates value for them.
Not your typical traveler research
VoT supplements conventional traveler research. If you already employ an annual, traveler satisfaction survey, then you are well-aware of the importance of traveler feedback. But a VoT initiative is not designed to measure satisfaction. VoT initiatives give voice to what doesn’t typically surface in formal surveys – like work/life issues, productivity obstacles, often ignored irritants, process improvements and anticipated business changes. It reveals the kind of insight you need to contribute to your travelers’ experiences and distinguish your program as better than what they could get elsewhere.
There’s no one size fits all approach to VoT. There are a broad range of tools to amplify the voice of the traveler and capture insight into what is and is not working for travelers in real-time. This can be achieved through online chat sessions, enterprise social hubs, town hall meetings, online focus groups, spot polls, pulse surveys, etc. But listening alone is not enough. It requires insightful analytics and action to encourage travelers to provide continuous feedback and program support.
The consumerization and digitalization of technology has changed and blended business and personal buying habits. This indicates that the original rationale for certain travel policies and practices may no longer exist or be relevant. While a VoT initiative may feel burdensome, it directly impacts your program’s bottom line by spotting early warning signs, preventing unnecessary spend, thwarting supplier problems from escalating and fostering innovation in between sourcing cycles. And, it directly aligns with how companies and customers are changing.
- They’re your customers. Each of your travelers is a customer of your program and the benefits it offers. They make decisions about where to stay, how much to spend, the value of complying with the program and which ancillaries best suit their needs. Be sure your program reflects their input, needs and aspirations or they will go rogue.
- A social audience you can’t ignore. Your travelers are all over social media. They are communicating and networking with people who matter to them. As the line between work and personal blurs, these same people who are connected to your travelers may become your company’s customers, prospects and candidates for hire. Initiate and be part of their conversations so you can hear what they’re saying, respond and create positive brand advocates on social media.
- Pass the outcomes test. Executives are now focused on achieving traditional metrics as well as positive business outcomes. They evaluate every department, program and initiative on its ability to improve talent retention, promote work/life balance, boost productivity or foster a culture of innovation. Recognize the correlation between listening to the voice of the traveler and your program’s contribution to the company’s business outcomes.
- Track at the speed of business. The speed and scale of change in business is staggering. To keep pace, it requires new ways of working and monitoring both hard and soft program metrics. Leverage Advito’s Dynamic Performance Measurement practice to monitor, recalibrate and assess the ongoing, hard-dollar performance of your program in between sourcing cycles. Use VoT strategies to link travelers’ unmet needs and evolving requirements with the rolling performance of your program.
- Mind the gap. Increasingly, there is a disconnect between how well travelers and travel managers feel the managed program meets travelers’ needs. These perceptions and experiences with your travel program are as important as its defined policies, requirements and preferred suppliers. Be intentional about getting feedback and listening to how travelers experience your program.
- Macro manage. Today’s traveling (and non-traveling) workforce does not want to be micromanaged or told what to do. They need to understand “the why” associated with a change, program or initiative to rally behind it. To secure their buy-in, fine-tune your communications to give travelers the big picture of what your program is trying to achieve and the changes you are making. Check in with them (don’t check up) so they feel a sense of autonomy and understand how their decisions contribute to the program’s success.
Can you hear me now?
Capturing the voice of the traveler is pivotal to every managed program today. It requires you to see your travelers as customers and the impetus behind their choices as vital to the success and performance of your program. Can you afford not to listen?