Top Notch service can mean different things to different people. For some, it’s a friendly smile and simple “thank you” from the drive thru window. For others, it’s the service person that goes the extra mile when installing your latest kitchen appliance. At a travel management company (TMC), great service has evolved into Travel Leadership, which results in saving companies thousands of dollars in their travel budget; or making sure employees get home safely in the midst of an unexpected crisis while traveling.
Here at MacNair Travel, we talk a lot about travel leadership vs. travel management, and have found that when we take the opportunity to lead our clients through the travel management process, great things happen. Effective leadership in travel is proactive, not reactive. It involves assessing options and potential opportunities. At the core of highest caliber service, you will always find strong leadership.
Exceptional travel leadership encompasses three critical areas – strategic, service and savings. As businesses consider who to work with on their travel management/travel leadership program, we recommend asking questions and gaining information, and then breaking down travel requirements based on the following three categories:
What constitutes a valuable corporate travel strategy? At the core, it’s your business’ travel program development and ensuing program evolution. TMC’s deliver excellent service by developing the appropriate strategic travel management that coincides with your organizations’ overall business goals. Each business's travel and entertainment program should align with business objectives. Your business objectives and company culture can then help to determine how the program is set-up, the overall travel ecosystem, key travel components and additional customized items that deliver value to travelers.
Once the overall strategic direction is determined, it’s time to consider where the TMC fits in regard to execution of your vision. Some important questions to answer include:
- What service options are you looking for when it comes to managing and developing your travel program?
- What are the key elements needed to make the program successful in your organization?
- Does this include writing and executing a travel and expense policy, negotiating rates with vendors, developing expense tracking procedures with the accounting department or creating an online booking system for your business?
Take the time to conduct a needs analysis and then determine how to execute the travel plan, in partnership with your TMC travel leaders, in order to meet the goals of your business travel strategy.
This is where the rubber hits the road in travel leadership. How does your TMC measure up when it comes to service? In today’s world of real-time updates and immediate response expectations, a high level of service in the corporate travel environment tends to be expected. Whether your road warriors are in the midst of their travel or in the process of finalizing their itinerary, service is key in making sure problems are avoided and that best-case scenarios are the norm. Different businesses may have different service expectations such as:
- The response time when calling your TMC with a question.
- The overall service approach or satisfaction scores from your travelers or others that work with the TMC.
- Whether your TMC has sophisticated telephony in place that allows them to listen to and monitor service call and response time.
It’s important to understand and evaluate what your business expects and the resulting statistics from your TMC to determine the desired results for your travelers. Once you have these measurements in place, develop a service level agreement (SLA) to be sure expectations are clear, and procedures are in place for when disputes need to be resolved.
In addition, the other components of service that companies should look for are the strategic advice, savings opportunities and response times from your TMC account manager. These and the following key components should be measured and evaluated on a regular basis:
- Does your account manager follow up on traveler concerns?
- Do they deliver valuable insights?
- Is the response time to your business’ finance (or any other department) team appropriate so that critical reports are delivered on time?
- Does this person provide direction based on weather issues or terrorist attacks while your employees are on the road?
The variety of service and level of detail that a TMC offers can provide a service leadership dynamic that is critical to most organizations.
Securing the best value for travelers is essential when providing great service. There’s no doubt that travel can be expensive, but it’s also the second largest controllable line item in the business budget. Organizations explore the benefits of a TMC with cost savings in mind, and should be asking the TMC: what value will you give to my business with regard to travel savings? To provide great service, your TMC should be providing the most travel options through an unbiased search process, thereby saving your business money, and ensuring that travelers are getting the best deals. What tools does the Travel Management Company have in place to determine the best fares/room rates/rental options? Is there an SLA within the policy that can help to address any discrepancies? Once these questions and more are answered to your satisfaction, be sure to communicate this to your travelers within the travel policy.
The Three S's of Travel Leadership
Strategic, service and savings are the three components of travel leadership that should be incorporated into your business’ travel and expense policy. Once the policy is in place, effective communication of this policy will promote compliance and understanding between your TMC and your travelers. When this understanding is achieved, your travelers and your TMC’s relationship is positive – even when the travel does not go as planned, and it won’t sometimes – the negative repercussions are mitigated when great service is experienced.
In today’s global business world, choices are seemingly endless…whether buying a cell phone or choosing your travel management company, there is no end to the options available. Customers should not settle for mediocrity when it comes to travel leadership, and more importantly, a travel management service partner.
Is your TMC providing great service, or simply managing your account? Are they working with you to lead the way for your travelers and your business? Download this free whitepaper to learn more about the benefits of working with a Travel Management Company that is focused on Travel Leadership.