AS DIRECTOR OF PROCUREMENT AND TRAVEL OPERATIONS FOR KPMG, Raquel Hefferan has worked with most of the mobile offerings from traditional travel technology providers. She also has a background in marketing and customer experience and, in many ways, there lies the conundrum. Her role is to balance the needs of the company and travellers in a world where the focus has turned to the customer, whether internal or external.
Up until fairly recently, travellers have not chosen the tools they work with; rather they’ve been told what to use within the range of products and services from travel management companies (TMCs) and technology providers in the market.
However, developments in consumer technology mean travellers have had a taste of a different experience in their day-to-day lives. The pressure is on travel managers to bring some of those features and functionality to mobile tools for corporate travellers.
Hefferan now finds herself having to police behaviour but understanding where her travellers are coming from. “We have to make sure we are driving the volume to preferred suppliers and have insight into the travellers in terms of duty-of-care,” she says. “But with the influence of consumer technology, I need to bring these features into the corporate world.”
She feels that current mobile tools in the market have some catching up to do. She’s currently looking into itinerary-management applications that can be shaped for her company but provide access to other applications and services.
Hefferan describes it as something “agnostic” that would fill the gap between current apps imposed by corporates and the consumer experience that travellers seek.
She says her ideal app would be “one that would act as a suite, and from that I can go into other tools and services.”
Hefferan is not alone in the pursuit of a single, easy-to-use mobile service. Microsoft travel technology manager Steve Clagg has also worked with most of the current tools in the market. He is also in a unique position because he gets his hands on many products through his labs, to test and gauge feedback on the technology.
He highlights the “fractured landscape” whereby travellers have to use a “soup of apps”, such as map-based ones for directions and supplier-specific ones for notifications and loyalty schemes. “What’s missing is coherence, a level of unification and simplification,” he says.
While bigger TMCs and technology providers try to address the situation, he believes it’s the smaller players that are the ones to watch because of their more singular focus on the issues and ability to move more quickly. One trend is a rise in white-label apps that have the look and feel of the company and are starting to bring together some of the services as well as providing corporates with a level of customisation.
All these existing challenges might partly explain why, according to GBTA Foundation and Carlson Wagonlit Travel research, most corporates (69 per cent) say they do not have a mobile strategy within their travel programme. But travel managers say they see benefits in implementing mobile in terms of traveller engagement, compliance and reducing off-policy spend. And most state they are planning a mobile strategy in the next two to three years.
KPMG’s Hefferan also points out that part of implementing a mobile strategy is thinking about newcomers such as Airbnb and Uber, and how to provide direction on them while covering the due diligence requirements when working with new suppliers. “I can provide high-level direction within the policy with the do’s and don’ts, but we need to find ways to incorporate these things as well as assess how big the demand is and ask what they are going to do for me,” she says. “We need a dialogue. They are targeting the consumer but there are certain things we need to have in place as a company.”
Clagg, who sits on the GBTA technology committee, says mobile remains a bit of a mystery to many, with travel managers realising that travellers need it but don’t really know what to provide. He also says some wonder if they need to provide anything in terms of mobile because of the perceived ecosystem of apps already out there.
SUPPORT AND INFLUENCE
Mobile specialists believe there is an increasing expectation from corporates for TMCs to be able to support the mobile channel. Fergal Kelly, chief commercial officer of Mobile Travel Technologies (MTT), says: “Corporates are very focused on how to influence, support and inform their travellers and the best means to do that is to ensure they have good mobile capability.” He adds that companies want tools that help with compliance and to be able to manage their policies – and control through mobile in the same way as they do through a booking tool.
That begs the question of whether current mobile tools help when it comes to compliance. Hefferan says they do and adds that by supplying travellers with the information they need while on the go, it’s easier for them to see what’s in policy. “We want travellers to think as if they’re spending their own money, and make sure they’re making the right decisions. Tools can provide them with the right information. Travel is very complicated so it’s not just about the policies – we can provide clarity with the tool so it’s a good way to make sure the traveller is being compliant.”
But the research also highlights a deeper issue around corporate policy – should mobile fit the policy or should the policy be adapted for mobile? This is an issue that has been raised often in recent years in discussions around not only mobile, but millennials.
MTT’s Kelly says that although much of the capability out there fulfills most of what corporates require, they do need to think about regulation versus information. “It’s policy and control versus allowing people to make the right decision, so there’s quite a wide divergence of opinion,” he says.
According to Clagg, Microsoft has gone through a massive simplification of its policy in the past year – which feeds into Hefferan’s point about smart decisions. Clagg says: “When it comes down to travel policy control, Microsoft has been all about enabling the individual and being focused on user choice. The need for high control is not there; what we need is intelligent choices.”
Jeroen van Velzen, founder and chief executive of Roadmap, a customisable app for frequent travellers, echoes some of this sentiment around travel policy. He feels that travellers are generally disengaged with corporate travel programmes, and companies need to be thinking about “fishing where the fish are”.
“The travellers are on mobile and there’s a corporate disconnect,” he says. “The biggest change happening in corporates is the move to the trust and ownership culture.”
He adds that while much of the existing mobile technology does what it claims to do, employee engagement is not high.
So, as policies begin to put the traveller at the centre, then some of the pressure from developments in the consumer world should disappear.
Hefferan says we’re not there yet in terms of her ideal and in many ways, because of the pace of change, we’ll never be there. However, she adds that companies are much more aware of the customer experience and the employee experience.
Kelly says MTT often gets feedback indicating that people want an effective tool, which means that if the user experience isn’t good, they’ll simply turn to something else which works for them. “The market might partly be reflecting that there’s some work to do in terms of the user-experience to get people to want to use these tools,” he says.
Given the existing complexities of getting the best of the mobile channel for corporate travellers, it’s perhaps premature to think about where the next trend might be.
However, when you look at how fast new technology is adopted today – more than 116 million downloads of the Uber app in the past year – can travel managers afford not to have one eye on trends?
Recent research from Gartner says that mobile devices are moving to a ‘post-app’ era with digital assistants recognising customers through voices and faces by 2018, and by 2020, smart agents on hand to serve consumers the data they need. It’s not that hard to imagine this progression with recent developments such as the Google Trips mobile planning app or Facebook Messenger enabling companies to keep all interactions with customers in one thread.
Amazon Echo is another example whereby users can use voice search to find flights through companies including metasearch specialist Skyscanner.
And, Google is also launching messaging app Allo and its Assistant service enabling a two-way conversation, which many call its answer to Siri and Cortana. Theoretically, the services will learn user preferences as they go along and use context to improve results. For example, if a user entered the word ‘business’ in the context of flights, Google Assistant would know he or she was referring to business class flights.
Admittedly, there is much hype around chatbots and similar services, with companies potentially adding to the complexity and fragmentation by rushing to develop their own.
FCM, for example, unveiled Sam (Smart Assistant for Mobile) in the US in the summer. The app aims to offer the best of both worlds with a chatbot to assist with elements such as gate changes and driving instructions, or restaurant recommendations, combined with the ability to call or text a travel expert.
Inevitably some of these trends and developments will stick and it is conceivable that by the time an all-in-one mobile travel app comes to market, it will already be overtaken by something better, faster and more user-friendly. We just don’t know what yet...
CASE STUDY: Q&A
CRAIG CHERRY, procurement director at global media group Dentsu Aegis Network
What is currently on offer in terms of mobile for corporate travellers?
Mobile is used in various formats – a mix of B2B and B2C apps – and now we have consolidated our travel procurement into American Express, the objective is to develop a clearly defined mobile strategy with them.
What is lacking?
There is a lack of cohesion around what our mobile strategy looks like at the moment, but the first phase of the Amex project was to ensure our travel booking community is having its expectations met via the online platform and offline services. It was always our intention to then initiate ‘project mobile’ [the next phase of integration with Amex Global Business Travel products and services]. This will look at all aspects of the process, from search, to booking, to paying, to customer service and duty-of-care. It is an end-to-end solution that we will also be able to use to analyse our travel via some very intuitive and sophisticated data visualisation developed specifically for mobile.
What do you see as the challenges to further development of the mobile channel?
We have some challenges around data compliance and use of personal data. There are also IT security issues, but we have a pragmatic outlook that, as mobile usage in corporate travelling becomes normalised, the apprehension will dissipate.
How we move travellers from tried-and-trusted B2C sites and applications into a standardised corporate environment is another issue, and collaboration is crucial. We could have a best-in-class suite of apps for both bookers and travellers, but if we haven’t collaborated with the actual users to understand why there may be a hesitance to change, then we will be on the back foot from the off.
Are apps helping compliance?
Ground transportation is a great example where the use of mobile applications can massively improve compliance to travel policy. If we have a large amount of legitimate travel that is spread across a plethora of non-nominated vendors, then capturing this within the couple who are helps us close the loop. This is a model we would like to recreate in other areas of our travel programme.
What is the ‘holy grail’ of mobile and corporate travel?
We are an agile, pioneering business that has put the digital economy at the heart of everything we do and, in turn, for our clients. We need to embrace partners and products that correlate perfectly with and help us deliver that vision.
T&E [travel and expenses] will always be an emotive area and one that needs to be managed effectively, efficiently, commercially and within a compliant framework. Having a mobile, corporate travel procurement strategy that allows us to flourish within these parameters is crucial.