Encouraged to use online purchasing tools and embrace a new channel, travel professionals are buffeted by rapid change. Travel managers, in particular, are pressured to adopt the latest and greatest online tools, to be on the forefront of procurement-led sourcing initiatives, to save more money than ever before — and to do it all with little or no lead time.
Far from being victims, travel managers undermine their own effectiveness by being too quick to abandon a traditional source of support — their supplier and customer relationships. Inundated by complex pricing matrices, peer benchmarking studies, and exhaustive procurement savings formulas, travel managers making the change to online travel management often overlook the mainstay relationships that have helped them in the past. How many times have solid travel programs been compromised by the rush to implement the latest offering? While such efforts are often driven by the need to control costs, having to step back later and repair unexpected damage introduces new costs.
And travel managers are blamed for such failures. To avoid this, travel managers and their suppliers need to remember the key role that human factors play in the travel process. Strong working relationships ensure not only successful innovations — but will help sustain success.
To start, study your program’s successes and its key supporters. Then, analyze what the savings of moving online actually cost. And consider the following:
Arm yourself with as much intelligence as possible about the travel sector you are considering. Network with peers who have previously implemented online programs. Local travel associations provide a regular source of access to people and products you need to know about. Go to trade shows and forums, and participate in online discussions to familiarize yourself with what’s new — and what’s working. Travel managers are already experts on their companies’ current state — culture, business environments, regulatory realities, upcoming changes, and competitive pressures. It is important to accurately assess how well your company’s culture will — or even can — adopt to new processes and programs.
Take the long view. During any bid process, make sure that a potential supplier’s personnel and infrastructure can support your organization’s requirements over time. What you learn during the early stages of an engagement will provide essential insight on the company’s communication style, approach to implementation, and ongoing support strategy. Technical glitches and minor procedural hiccups can be corrected, but a botched rollout and an unresponsive supplier can be very difficult to overcome. Avoid these problems for the long haul.
Explore and understand partners’ customer relationship philosophy. Take reference checks and client site inspections seriously. The information and impressions gained during such investigations should be considered as strongly as price modeling. Trusted supplier relationships should make the bid process a give and take that will result in creative options for new ventures. Potential suppliers can begin to establish trust by learning as much as possible about a customer’s company and programs. Ask for creative client-specific offers. The responses can show an inclination to value relationships, not just the bottom line. Quantify how adopting new processes will affect your actual costs. Your current suppliers are critical to helping you make these assessments based on their knowledge of your program. The stronger the relationship, the more realistic the assessment.
Solicit travelers’ and internal colleagues’ input and support. Enlist the aid of your colleagues in the procurement, finance, IT, and HR departments. They can bring unique perspectives, experience, and expertise. Work with them to help define requirements in terms of needs and resources. They can also help identify obstacles in terms of culture, resources, and — perhaps — competing initiatives within the corporation. These insights will ensure that a project has realistic requirements, a manageable schedule, and contingency plans for when the unexpected happens. Colleagues’ involvement in any new effort is crucial. Assess their ongoing feedback as carefully as data provided by other travel management reports.
Don’t stop seeking assistance. Finally, use traveler satisfaction surveys and focus groups to ensure that these constituencies continue to be an integral part of any initiative that has significant impact on the travel process. Publish the results widely to show the program’s successes, as well as innovations that support your company’s strategic goals.
And suppliers? Don’t forget that you are the people on the other end of this travel-related relationship. While it may seem obvious that satisfied customers clearly benefit you, there are nuances you need to recognize. As a supplier, it is important to provide a comfort zone to your customers. Because some sales can be psychologically adversarial, you must show your customers they can rely on your knowledge of his needs. Based on a comprehensive understanding and analysis of a customer’s program, a successful relationship manager will always focus on what his customer wants — even if the supplier cannot provide the service requested. When a travel manager feels confident that a call to her account manager will elicit a timely response and knowledgeable answers, that ever-important trust is developed.
Such trust takes time and effort to cultivate, but once it is established, it becomes a solid support that is hard for competition to dislodge. Next time you explore or launch the a new technology or cost-saving initiative, don’t forget the people and relationships you want on board.