Traditional methods of influencing business travellers focus on education and the use of incentives to get people to behave in a certain way. But there are better ways to persuade others, according to Steve Martin, CEO of Influence at Work.
Speaking at the Business Travel Show in London, Martin said the problem with traditional methods of influencing traveller behaviour lies in the modern world; information overload means you can’t guarantee people will absorb education on travel policy, and incentives can be costly.
Instead, Martin suggested six key shortcuts derived from the science of persuasion that can help travel managers ‘nudge’ their travellers to stay within policy.
First is the rule of reciprocity. “We live in a give-and-take society,” Martin said. “This means that we give back to others the form of behaviour that we first receive. The key is to ask ‘who can I help’ rather than ‘who can help me’.”
Next up is scarcity, which is the idea that people are more likely to want something if it’s in limited supply or they feel they’ll miss out. Martin brought up the example of the Concorde aircraft. “British Airways decided to stop flying the Concorde because it couldn’t fill the plane and people didn’t want to spend the money to fly on it. But the day after BA announced it was getting rid of the aircraft, flights started selling out.”
Martin pointed out that there is a two-to-one ratio in scarcity – if a travel manager makes the decision to take away loyalty rewards, they’ll have to offer something twice as good to make up for it and keep travellers happy.
The third shortcut is authority, with Martin explaining that people are more likely to follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts. “You have to establish your credibility before you deliver your message, otherwise people won’t necessarily listen to you.”
Martin brought up the fact that travel managers who don’t travel much themselves are often shunned by ‘road warriors’. “They might think you can’t be a travel expert if you aren’t on the road as much as they are,” Martin said. “If that’s the case, do a favour for one of those road warriors. When they thank you for doing a good job, ask them to return the favour by ‘backing’ your voice when it comes to informing others of your policy.”
Consistency, in terms of persuasion, means people want to live up to their commitments, values and self-ascribed traits, according to Martin. “Take, for example, making an appointment with your GP or dentist. If the receptionist simply tells you your appointment time and hangs up, you’re less likely to turn up on the day than if he or she asks you to repeat the time,” Martin said.
“It’s such a small change, but it can make a big difference. Make sure your travellers actively make commitments, and they’ll be more likely to stick to them.”
Fifth on the list is liking – people are more likely to say yes to people who have similarities to them, give them compliments (either true or not) or cooperate with them. “Simply thanking people for doing the right thing carries tremendous power,” Martin commented.
Finally, social proof is a motivator that can be used to influence traveller behaviour. In other words, people will follow the lead of a group of other people. However, Martin warned that the wrong message can have an undesired effect.
“If you point out the number of people doing the wrong thing, it normalises the behaviour and people might think it’s okay to follow in their footsteps,” Martin said. “Instead, point out the number of people doing the right thing.”
Martin used the example of a train system in Australia that plastered its cars with an ad that thanked the 90 per cent of passengers who paid for their tickets, which reduced the number of people travelling without paying the fare.
Martin closed the session by saying: “If using these tips can drive compliance in other areas, imagine what it can do for your travel programmes.”