Published: 24 September 2020
As an EA, a significant part of my role has been to manage the logistics around travel and hotel bookings. I have developed a slightly geeky knowledge of who flies where, in some cases, approx flight times, the issues surrounding the flights and stopovers. I have an internal encyclopedia of what works for my executives.
But in March 2020 the world of business travel changed significantly and therefore so did my role at Sagittarius. We found ourselves reading headlines such as
‘The International Airport Transport Association (IATA) predicts the UK aviation industry faces a loss of revenue of up to £20.1 billion in 2020.’
“Coronavirus has reduced air travel by 97% this year” House of Commons Transport Select Committee
With the world of travel being a very different place for not only domestic but business travellers, I found myself making this comparison:
I’m booking travel and logistics for SXSW, Sitecore Symposium, planning our Christmas conference, booking numerous hotels, trains and flights to see our clients or our teams in Sri Lanka, Ukraine and Dubai.
I’m booking online virtual events as our team works from home and embracing the art of the video conference.
It’s given me a chance to reflect on how this all works and given the space and time what I’d love to see travel businesses enhance as they emerge from the current situation.
If you’re a fellow EA then read this as therapy, you’re not alone in your frustrations, and if you’re a travel business then please treat this as Voice of the Customer research. A gift from me to you.
The Future Opportunity
In 2020, like many people, our business travel plans have been significantly disrupted.
Making travel arrangements takes time but unravelling has, in some cases, proved to take even more time. Arranging refunds, transferring dates and names, it is all part of the role and nature but surely travel companies can make it easier for us? With opportunities to make use of AI technology and personalise experiences, it raises the question - why is this not the norm?
There are so many opportunities to personalise the travel experience, some companies make the booking a pleasurable experience - as a regular visitor to a website, I have a persona and as such, I’m served content relevant to me. For other sites, the process can feel like torture. With that in mind here are the top 6 things I’d encourage, dare I say love you to improve on your websites.
- Provide a personalised experience for the Assistant and for the Executive (not a combined experience). Almost all of the travel and accommodation I book is for other people. Booking.com allows me to book this accommodation and for others to add it to their linked account. I love having the executives and colleagues listed and I can start typing their name and their details are added. It could be better still by allowing me to set preferences. Does this person need breakfast, a quiet room, other personal/specific requirements? Having these automatically populate using AI and tech, allows me to review, sense check and move efficiently through the process. For EasyJet having traveller’s details/documents stored is extremely useful, I can complete the Advance Passenger Information requirements efficiently. I check with colleagues that their passports are valid and unchanged from previous travel and it results in a quick smooth plan. Allowing team members to add the bookings I’ve made to their Apple wallet and profile makes for smooth travel.
- Easily compare prices and times for flights/trains. EasyJet allows you to select a destination and dates but also shows flight times and prices for the days either side - I can quickly see if there are cost benefits to an earlier or later flight or I can present options to my team if there is flexibility on dates. For many other sites, you select what looks to be a good price/timing mix and click through only to discover the timings you need aren’t available and you are back to the start, selecting the destination and dates all over again, time-consuming and frustrating. Oh, and it also means I need a spreadsheet to document all the options and compare pricing which is a step no brand should force a user to make.
- Make it easy to change flights/names on the website. Plans change - please make it easy to be able to move a flight without it costing a fortune, surely self-serve is the way to go (supermarkets have done it!). Make it easy to change the name of the traveller. Enable me to do this online - at Sagittarius life can move very quickly. I don’t have spare hours to sit on the phone and complete these tasks, I want to sign in to a website quickly, change a name and update the details between meetings. I know I can do this in a few minutes, a phone call however, especially this year, can take hours.
- Make it easy to add /remove extras. My colleagues don’t always want breakfast - being able to add this to some days and remove it for others is really helpful - I know they can pay on-demand at a hotel but three people for breakfast at £20 a time soon mounts up.
- Consider that the person booking (and paying) isn’t necessarily the person staying. Being able to pre-pay easily makes life so much easier...when we have new starters or members of a team who don’t normally travel, it makes life easier all round when I have the option to pre-pay - it makes the accounting so much simpler too as it comes through central card payment. At Christmas, last year I had to complete a payment authorisation form which had to be printed, signed, scanned and sent back. What decade is this? Extremely old school, time-consuming and questionable with regards to data security. Not only that, there are times when I need select parts of the information as the booker (e.g. confirmation of payment) but my colleague needs the dates and locations of the booking itself - having options to send copies of documents to me is really useful and negates the need to chase for receipts, meaning we can all get on with our day.
- Don’t provide travel vouchers which can’t be used online. In this digital age, when you have all of my details and I have an ‘account’ with you - why do I need to spend half a day on the phone to use a voucher you have issued due to a booking cancellation? Seriously? I have to assume you don’t want me to activate the discount which gives me a bad perception of your brand. Or worse still, provide a paper travel voucher which I then need to share with a team member in order for them to queue up at the station and hand over in part payment. Even writing that was challenging. In my mind, these are not worth the paper they are printed on. If I’ve booked and paid online then that is the channel I’ve chosen for all our interactions. Please, oh please, let me use any credits or vouchers online as surely that is just the customer service we deserve in 2020.
Customer feedback rant over and it feels good to get that off my chest. You all do so many things well it's such a shame to mess it up getting the details wrong. During these difficult times, it’ll be the ones that think about the whole digital customer journey that thrive as things slowly return to normal.
If you are looking for ways to improve your online customer experience or support your call centre teams? Talk to us today, we have the experts in house who can guide you through building a first-class experience that’ll delight all your users and usher in a new dawn of satisfaction and hopefully revenue.