WHILE THE LEADERS OF THE ‘REMAIN’ CAMPAIGN spend the summer reflecting on how a coherent communications strategy might have delivered a different result, the rest of us would do well to take heed of the importance of a relevant travel communications strategy.
And that strategy can only be formulated once the objectives are clear. Communications programmes need to reflect company cultures and support corporate objectives.
But some trends are more than just company-specific. One of the most surprising discoveries in researching this piece was that a shift is taking place in the market. Some travel programmes (see p62 and p64) are moving from straightforward traveller communications to a plan for traveller engagement. Communication is not just about imparting information but can be a potent tool for pulling people together.
Corporate travel communication is about more than distributing a policy and ensuring that travellers know what to do in case of an incident. There’s the need to consider who – be it travellers, suppliers or internal stakeholders – each communication is with.
In addition, various content by its nature will have a different shelf life and be distributed by different means. There is also the small matter of two-way communication.
Communication is not only about sending information outwards. It’s also about creating an atmosphere and structure that makes people feel involved and encourages them to communicate back.
Trevor Elswood is chief commercial officer at Capita Travel and Events. He believes the key to successful communication is to “understand the outcome you want”. Many companies have the same objectives – lower costs and higher traveller service and safety, to be achieved by following company travel policy – but the methodology to achieve this can vary hugely.
According to Elswood, “there is a new breed of procurement person who is more holistic and understands how travel enables an organisation.
“Most organisations want best practice. Travel management wants to work within a framework to bring an organisation value. Any communication that supports this is appropriate, but how do you do it?”
Value for an organisation is beginning to be viewed in a much broader context than cost savings. Microsoft’s company culture, for example, has shifted significantly to one of employees taking more responsibility. Travel policy has been simplified and is less about a set of rules and more about guidelines. It also means that information is not just sent outwards but positive steps have been taken to ensure travellers are genuinely engaged with the travel programme and that traveller well-being is addressed as much as the fare.
Microsoft’s Julia Fidler stresses the importance of data analysis. Her team has accumulated a healthy bed of data “so we can see what categories are frequent pain points. It’s the start of a ‘voice of the customer’ programme – we want to bring in other things like journey planning, persona-based outcomes and journey-based outcomes.”
American Express GBT regional director Philip Haxne believes that the process of communicating begins with a basic assessment to find out what’s most important for that company and then suggest appropriate key performance indicators.
Capita’s Elswood contends that the travel management company (TMC) or manager must then build a picture of an organisation to have some data insight. He believes that if you understand why people do what they do, then you can communicate in a relevant fashion.
THE BIG PICTURE
How do you choose the tactics that deliver the outcomes? To Elswood this means both considering the whole picture and using language that resonates with today’s travellers. He says: “The company may have introduced a travel ban but this could result in people just using their own cars rather than stepping on a plane or train, but does this fall in line with the organisation’s duty-of-care agenda?”
Or, he explains, you could want people to start booking budget travel alternatives but that could result in high absenteeism. Elswood thinks communications could be adapted to make benefits more obvious to travellers. Examples include pointing out an alternative hotel check-in facility so that corporate travellers don’t have to stand in a queue of 20 people in the lobby, or advising them that they are entitled to free lounge access when flying out of certain airports. Taxi-sharing is another example. Travellers could be told that there are three other colleagues present at the same location with whom they could share the taxi.
Elswood says: “There’s a real science about this. It needs to be done by the right people to get the right outcome.” He points out that the words used or the order in which items are presented influence how a communication is received and acted upon. For example, communicating the distance from a station to a hotel in steps rather than in yardage incentivises the traveller to walk to the property because they see instantly how this will contribute to their 10,000-steps-a-day.
Microsoft’s Fidler is aiming for consistency in her worldwide communications with the software giant’s travellers, but Haxne at Amex argues that awareness of local cultures is important. He says: “Stick and carrot will work in the UK but you just need a stick in Japan – you just mandate, push down and everyone does it.” He believes communicating travel policy is difficult because it often involves sending a message to people who don’t necessarily want to hear it.
Elswood foresees a holistic approach to communication and engagement: “There’s no one out there doing it now but I can see that in the future we will use a whole variety of things to measure the success of communication – revenue, absenteeism, traveller well-being.”
PHARMA - A GLOBAL CAMPAIGN
CAROLINE STRACHAN, MANAGING PARTNER OF FESTIVE ROAD, explaining how a communications policy was conceived and implemented at a global pharmaceuticals company, says the overarching philosophy was that “the business should run the business and travel should be as easy as possible”. In practice that meant identifying a way to provide information in a format and at times suitable for travellers.
A team was created to devise and implement a communications plan along the theme of a ‘Campaign for Better Business Travel’. It set out to discover what travellers liked – and disliked – in the business travel programme and what the employees actually wanted from the travel team.
The plan acknowledged that different travellers consumed messages in different ways so initially positioned communications in all the places where travellers might interact with the travel team: cafés, plasma screens, social media, intranet, newsletters, emails and so on. Data from a survey of more than 2,000 travellers from different regions was extensively analysed.
The focus was on engagement rather than communication. An internal social media network was created to facilitate traveller conversations that became the site’s content. Travellers would provide information which, for others, became answers to oft-asked questions. The time saved by not having to answer individual queries meant the travel team was able to prioritise other tasks and, when something did go wrong, they had the time to deal with that traveller. There was also a real shift in traveller behaviour: use of lowest logical fare rose from just over 70 per cent to above 90 per cent, and advance purchase went from the mid-60s to a mid-80s percentile. TMC staff were trained to communicate with travellers – if they were doing a last-minute booking, for example, they might point out that 65 per cent could be saved off that fare if the next trip were booked in advance.
Energy and Shipping
EVERY SECTOR HAS ITS OWN TRAVEL PROFILE and its own approach to traveller communications.
Pippa Strasser-Ganderton is head of account management for shipping and energy at ATPI, which has a substantial number of clients in both sectors.
Both have shore-based personnel who are treated like other traditional transient travellers and receive direct contact from the TMC, but there is also a high volume of crew travel.
Strasser-Ganderton explains that the TMC team is not necessarily in direct contact with crew members. “An in-between person – an HR administrator or group co-ordinator – is responsible for the duty-of-care and logistics to maintain the right number of crew on a rig at any one time.” These crew co-ordinators manage the flow of communication so are in constant contact with the TMC team and will pass on travel details to the actual traveller.
Strasser-Ganderton says that most energy and shipping companies also engage a duty-of-care company, so responsibility for communication is usually agreed during a three-way conversation among the client, its duty-of-care provider and the TMC. The three agree who is responsible for what communication and where any data feed comes from. She says that “arguably the best place in an organisation is HR because they should have up-to-date information on all their travellers”.
The view from IT
She hasn’t abandoned travel but explains that a lot of regional travel responsibility has been outsourced so that the global team can focus on core issues such as communications, data and new technology. This reflects a new view at Microsoft about what should be done in-house and what by specialist outsourced providers. It also reveals a philosophy that employee communication is an opportunity to further employee engagement rather than just transmit information.
Fidler is now focused on creating a programme that facilitates exchange between travellers and the travel department. Data on everything from journey planning to journey outcomes is being evaluated to identify pain points and create a programme which enhances the ‘voice of the customer’. She says: “We want to hear what people love, benefit and appreciate as well as what causes stress – we learn from both areas.”
She explains that “policy has become significantly less important in our company. We have gone through a programme of travel policy simplification and replaced it with an engagement model, influencing and helping people make mature decisions. Ultimately we should not get in the way of people doing business.
“Policy still exists but in its simplicity there is an opportunity to make sensible decisions. People do the right thing for business and client and within their own budget area. If guidance is simple, clear and to the point, people are much more likely to adhere to it.”
Microsoft’s ‘policy simplification’ has been introduced on a global basis. To ensure that this engagement does happen, Fidler has had to identify purpose, style and language to build it in a way that’s sustainable.