Written in conjunction with Steve Martin, Influence at Work.
Drawing up and regulating compliance in a travel policy is a necessary component for managing duty of care, supplier contract management and travel spend management. Travel policy compliance is essential to your travel programme and traveller safety in the same way fruit and vegetables are an essential source of nutrients, yet why do travellers find policy so hard to swallow?
The corporate travel landscape is changing considerably. New entrants like Airbnb, advanced travel booking tools and increased traveller demands are making it easier for travellers to book non-preferred suppliers than ever before. Luckily, travel management practices are getting smarter as well. Data analytics is often used as a solution for more advanced supplier marketing and controlling travel spend. Interesting to note is that data is increasingly leveraged to help with the most unpredictable factors in any travel programme - human behaviour.
Scores of business travellers make their own purchasing decisions every day; decisions that affect their own safety abroad, travel supplier relationships and travel departmental expenditure. Traveller behaviour has thrown a spanner in the works of many travel programmes and the attempts to control it have been varied.
Travel policy approaches
According to Festive Road and Barclaycard's Best Practice Guide, there are two fundamental approaches a travel manager can take to formulating and instituting their travel policy: the Commanding approach and the Liberating approach. The Commanding approach is a corporation-focused approach based on traditional procurement, strict policy and compliance. The Liberating approach is person-centric and trust-based.
Which approach should managers take? There is no right answer. It all depends on what kind of travellers are in the programme itself. Luckily, travel data can be analysed to separate travellers into several groups or categories based on how often they travel, if they go on long-haul or short trips, whether they are often compliant as well as their job role and function of the trip.
For example, the Commanding approach may work well with a new employee who only takes short-haul trips, yet may not work as well with a senior account executive who often takes long-haul trips for important client meetings. The latter may feel they need a bit more TLC.
At this point there may be a sense of apprehension as managers consider the monumental task of altering their entire travel policy, and perhaps management approach, for every traveller. But do not despair. There is a way to make your messaging more personalised, more targeted and thus more successful at achieving compliance from every type of traveller without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Just as your parents may have bribed you with dessert after eating up your vegetables, travel managers can make travel policy more digestible by adding some "sweets" to the equation. These sweets take the form of persuasive messages that appeal to deeply seated motivations that exist within us all.
Travel is not the first business practice to attempt to use persuasive messaging to influence human decision-making. In sales and marketing, many make use of personalised email subject lines so prospective clients open up their sales emails. According to Campaign Monitor, emails with personalised subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened.
How can we approach this in travel? We can use data to determine who our travellers are and then determine exactly how we can communicate with them. Like a well prepared meal, we advocate a successful travel policy in line with programme goals seasoned with desired traveller experience. Each step and ingredient is equally important. The meal we aim to serve up is a quality travel programme, tailor made to suit traveller needs and thus enjoyed by all. By using data to better understand each traveller we can better use the science of persuasion to tailor messages to each traveller, making any programme easier to digest and thus more successful.
The ability to persuade others has long been thought as an art gifted to a lucky few. This is simply not true. Successful persuasion is governed by universal principles that anyone can use to convince people to behave in a way which benefits both your goals and theirs.
The six principles of persuasion
Reciprocity, scarcity, social proof, authority, likeness and consistency
If we look closely, the travel industry has already made use of these principles in their sales, marketing and booking processes. If you have ever seen the manner in which hotel room adverts are displayed on Booking.com, you will observe that often there seems to be "only one room left." The principle of scarcity, in this case, appeals to what might be lost if we fail to act quickly. The room itself is the same. Its availability (or lack thereof) has become a key selling point.
Reviews on platforms like TripAdvisor are another example- this time in line with the principle of social proof. We follow and are more likely to behave in a way that similar others have previously behaved.
Rating systems, like the Michelin Guide for restaurants, are examples of the use of the principle of authority and trustworthiness. If the experts rate this place highly, most people believe they should, too.
Many cruises, hotels and trip packages also use the additional principle of consistency by asking travellers to fill out a form with dates and personal information first before quoting them the full price of a trip. The principle of consistency states that, by getting a smaller, action-oriented commitment first, we are more likely to secure larger commitments later. The chances the traveller will follow through and make the booking will subtly increase.
The use of royalty schemes where airlines reward travellers by choosing the same airline consistently institutes the principle of reciprocity. Reciprocity believes we are more likely to be persuaded into an action if something has already been done for us. When restaurant waiters leave mints within the bill and hotels place chocolates on pillows, the action is subtle yet encourages us to tip the waiter more money or book the hotel again in the future.
Finally, liking is the principle that states how much more likely people are to cooperate with those they like. The prevalence of PR departments in major travel suppliers is proof that public image and likeability plays an important role in travel booking decisions. In 2007, Jetblue's CEO, David G. Neeleman used these principles to respond appropriately to a PR disaster. Instead of blaming external factors for leaving travellers stranded during a weather crisis, Neeleman took full responsibility- apologising to both customers and staff. Influence research carried out by social scientist Fiona Lee determines that when companies take responsibility for failures they are more likely to perform better on the stock market. Jetblue recovered from the incident showing that, despite their mistake, using good messaging to encourage "liking" and "trustworthiness" from the public can be a well-placed strategic move.
The Science of Persuasion in action yields tangible results
One study analysed a hotel's messages encouraging guests to comply with environmental policy by reusing their towels. They used the principle of social proof by stating "most people reuse their towels at least once during their stay." Due to this message, towel reuse increased by 26%. Personalising and targeting the message specifically towards each guest boosted compliance further. "Most people who have stayed in this room reuse their towels at least once during their stay" was the message that increased reuse by 33%.
If a hotel, and the travel industry as a whole can use persuasion science to ethically influence guests, there is no reason why the same approaches cannot be applied to optimise corporate travel. Imagine what a 33% increase in travel policy compliance can do for any travel programme?
With travel data analytics allowing us to group each traveller accordingly, and the use of six persuasion principles in the targeted messaging to follow, we are now a step closer to more effectively persuading traveller behaviour- making your travel programme that much sweeter and easier to swallow.