Traveller psychology: Do the right thing

Driving compliance is less about throwing the rulebook at employees and more about sending messages on the right channel, at the right time and even in the right place

Mark Cushieri, global travel lead for UBS, says he thinks of himself as an internal marketer. A big part of the job for him and his team is to try and influence the company’s travellers to do the right thing when it comes to their travel decisions.

He adds that one of the pillars of the strategy is traveller engagement. It’s not easy getting 20,000 travellers to think about their travel in a smart way, but he believes that by streamlining policy, simplifying messages and targeting the right groups of people, it can work.

Cushieri was on a panel at the Business Travel Show in London in February addressing the issue of “nudge” or persuasion psychology. There is a growing understanding in the corporate travel world that, as the focus switches to the travel experience, engaging travellers in the why and how of travel policy is the best way to get them to make the right decisions.

The idea of persuasion technology has been around for a couple of years in both leisure and corporate travel. But, it is this traveller centricity that is bringing the concept into the spotlight.

What’s interesting is that in the leisure travel space, persuasion technology feels akin to pressure selling. All those messages on airline and accommodation websites, telling us the number of people looking at this flight or that hotel or have just booked it, add a slight edginess to proceedings. In business travel, this will need to be turned on its head to succeed.

Cushieri says UBS took a step back about a year ago when it began to devise a strategy for how corporate travellers might travel smarter. It looked at how policy was communicated and how it could get closer to travellers. Instead of the surveys it previously sent out to bookers, travel managers and travellers, which only saw a small response, the company embarked on a user-friendly, thumbs-up or thumbs-down survey on each element of a trip as soon as travellers returned. A thumbs-down triggers an email to the relevant travel manager who then contacts the traveller to find out what has gone wrong.

“Some travellers are surprised when they get a call,” says Cushieri. “It’s about trying to address the issue there and then. They are the travel experts, the ones consuming our programme and it’s treating our travellers like consumers.”

The result is improved engagement with the travel programme. The travel teams also query off-channel spend. They ask why, but not in terms of a “stick” approach.

“Nine out of ten times the travellers say they did not know, and that’s our fault,” says Cushieri. “How we communicate has changed; the tone of voice has shifted and there’s far more empathy.”

Insight through data
Capita Travel & Events is on a similar journey when it comes to engaging travellers to make smart travel decisions. Just over a year ago it began to dig into the data it had on travellers – insight from travel and expenses, human resources and other openly available sources. The thinking was that travel policies and spend could not be tightened any more without negatively impacting the traveller.

Chief commercial officer Trevor Elswood, who joined Cushieri on the Business Travel Show panel, says that the data enabled the company to highlight communities or groups of travellers with particular issues and from there Capita could begin formulating specific messaging to try and influence their behaviour. Elswood says that it’s not just about nudging travellers when they are on a trip but also before they travel.

Capita used the Behavioural Insights Team (a “social purpose” company owned by the Cabinet Office, employees and Nesta, the innovation charity), which has developed a concept dubbed EAST – Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely – implemented to influence and drive change by championing the positives.

In a post on the Capita website, Elswood lays out some of the results of using EAST. An email sent equated to a 5 per cent improvement (in engagement), while a personalised email equated to a 7 per cent boost and a personalised email from the boss equated to a 12 per cent lift.

Nudge behaviour
Engagement is a huge part of the process but there are other elements that can be used to nudge behaviour in the right direction.

Elswood adds that providing little choice for travellers as the default is another way of driving the right behaviour. He says that if you pre-populate the hotel you want travellers to stay in, it makes them think when they have to consciously change it.

There’s real evidence across different sectors to show that nudge psychology works. Steve Martin, chief executive of Influence at Work, says that restaurants that highlight the most popular dessert on their menus see an uptake of about 18 per cent in that specific item and in desserts in general.

Martin, who shared the panel with Cushieri, Elswood and Concur UK managing director Chris Baker, is a behavioural scientist and has authored a number of books on the subject. He says that an important element is creating the right environment for people to be receptive to the messaging you are serving them. It’s not as sinister as it sounds, he says, with research now revealing the impact of the decision-maker’s mindset on the actual decision.

From a psychology point of view, research is being conducted around context and geography, according to Martin, and Baker says the company is looking at how to bring these principles into corporate booking tools.

“The future of the online booking tool is that there is no booking tool. You will go to your diary, start putting a trip there and behind the scenes the booking engine will start looking for scenarios that support that trip. It knows your preferences and the company policies,” says Baker.

“The traveller will get a narrower choice but if you’re presented with the right choices, backed up with the right data, nine out of ten will pick these. We will trust these tools in the future the same way we trust SatNav. As people get used to AI and machine learning, and as these technologies become part of the consumer and household world, we will start to see this coming through in certain booking tools.”

Baker points to tools such as Rocketrip that are part of Concur’s app centre that aim to encourage the right behaviour through incentivisation as well as other means.

Guilt trip
Another corporate travel start-up, Lola, has built in some visual guilt techniques to its booking interface. For example, in-built budget filters enable travel managers to set spend ceilings for hotels in particular cities. The same can be applied to flights but travellers can be given some “wiggle room” to allow for their particular circumstances, for example, getting their children to school before heading to the airport. If travellers exceed budgets, the system prompts them with a dollar sign.

Lola’s whole mantra is about putting “more joy” into business travel. Its chief executive and founder Paul English says travellers hate current systems because they’re too restrictive. By letting them book what they want within guidelines, they get a better experience.

Baker says that technology will evolve to get into the psychology of particular travellers, identifying who books well in advance and who changes their mind often or books late. These people can then be grouped and targeted with specific messaging.

Elswood points to Capita research highlighting road warriors whose “per trip expenditure” performed well. Therefore, rather than targeting them with a message about saving money, the message was about could they avoid travel altogether, could they thinking differently?

“For the newbies, the infrequent travellers with the highest trip cost, the message was about education and understanding,” Elswood explains.

In Cushieri’s experience, it is not just the right message, it’s the use of channels to deliver that message. If everyone is overloaded with email perhaps a chat tool is a better channel. Or, it could come down to different age groups and even cultures.

Travelport says that most companies are still not using mobile technology to full effect and many still do not see its potential for engagement rather than transactions.

The company says that a virtuous circle can be created using push notifications to nudge behaviour in the right direction. When the traveller engages, travel managers can find out what is happening at various stages in the journey, and can nudge again.

It points to the work Travelport Digital has done with BCD in setting thousands of rules which trigger messages to travellers to influence and change behaviour.

Educating employees
All of this sounds like sensible stuff, but how can travel managers get started? For Cushieri it’s about educating employees from the get-go. He advises walking them through the travel programme and providing them with a quick view of how to make a booking.

“It’s getting people to know what they need to know, that there is a travel team to support them and why we ask them to do the right thing,” he says. “That has been very successful. The individuals that we find don’t do the right thing are those who are not frequent travellers and it’s because we have not communicated with them very well.”

Both Elswood and Baker stress the role of technology in prompting the right behaviour, such as asking whether video collaboration might be an appropriate alternative to a trip. Capita unveiled its Meetings Calculator at the Business Travel Show to understand the motivations behind meetings. The company says 80 per cent of travel relates to a meeting and a large proportion of those are internal meetings.

Paul Saggar, Capita Travel and Events’ chief innovation officer, says one of the areas companies should consider is where the best place to meet might be. “It’s about factoring in the time spent travelling and the cost. If you can demonstrate that to people, they will consider moving the meeting. It is about stepping back a bit,” he says.

But, even without the technology in place, there are simple things travel managers can start with, such as what the priorities of the organisation are. Or as Elswood suggests, “don’t try and boil the ocean.” Rather, use the data you have to find the “outliers” and address messages accordingly.

A final thought from the psychologist. Martin says what happens at the end of a journey, such as a queue at hotel check-out or a delayed flight or taxi is “etched in to memory with greater intensity than anything else” so travel managers need to work with that, too.

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