Is the rise in technology-driven solutions for business travellers overshadowing traditional customer service? And how important is it to have a ‘real person’ interaction as part of your travel booking journey? We caught up with our CEO, Nigel Taylor, to get his view on striking the ‘perfect balance’ between technology and service in today’s changing market.
The combination of service and technology in travel management is nothing new, so why are we currently seeing such a huge focus on technology and much less on service?
Business travel booking, or any travel booking for that matter, has long been reliant on a strong relationship between provider and client. Historically this was face to face, think high-street travel agents, but it has since become the norm to book travel itineraries via email, phone or online. This is nothing new, and most if not all Travel Management Companies accommodate travel bookers in this way. But with the development of intelligent search systems, some business travellers are quite happy having no human interaction during their booking process. Managed travel however is difficult to process purely in this way.
Why does managed travel specifically need a strong element of customer service?
Complex travel policies can be open to interpretation and are often determined by a particular business sector. The key here is communicating this information to your dedicated BFP team and our integrated technologies are built to do just that. Once the team have reviewed the travel policy briefing they can build a travel itinerary totally aligned with your company’s travel objectives. Then the expertise of a trusted team of people comes to the fore, particularly with their unparalleled knowledge of international fare tariffs.
But you agree that technology is key?
Absolutely! We reported recently on big-data travel trends, one of which was the integration of technology to provide instant tailored information to clients. We see this as a huge positive in our industry to not only support our resourcing, but to improve our clients’ travel experience from start to finish.
How does your technology offering, the 360 Technology Suite, help your clients?
One of the things we hear most from business travellers is that the various admin involved in a busy travel schedule can be frustrating – they might forget to check in online before their flight, perhaps their itinerary has had a last-minute change, or they simply don’t have everything in one place. We decided to respond to this common complaint by creating a series of smart solutions to reduce travel admin for even the most straightforward itinerary. 360 Organiser compiles a suite of standardised travel documents, creating easy to read itineraries, dynamic links to airline check-in pages and automatic uploads into your office calendar, then our 360 Embark technology automatically completes the online check-in process for you, sending the boarding pass to any smart device or desktop. When you’re successfully on your way, 360 Roam keeps you up to date with any itinerary changes, notifications of gate numbers, flight delays and cancellations via your smart device.
What has human intervention provided that technology couldn’t?
We had a client recently who changed their return travel plans last minute, and their new schedule meant that flights were only available in a much higher fare category from the same airport. If we were relying purely on technology to work on alternative flights, it wouldn’t know to go outside the parameters of the same airport. But as our team are constantly up to speed with developments within the airline industry and new routes launching, they could work with our 360 Search technology to source a new flight from a nearby airport that was not only lower in cost, but also featured an upgrade to First Class.
What, in your opinion, is the perfect balance between people and technology when it comes to providing business travel management?
The very fact that there isn’t a perfect balance tells you that they must work together, and that each clients’ needs are entirely individual. At BFP we understand the time constraints on business travellers and their need for travel data in the palm of their hand. To that end, we have already invested hugely in our intelligent technology offering, ensuring that our clients never need to ‘speak’ to us on their business travel trip unless they would prefer to. Our 360 Technology suite, pricing, dynamic itineraries, e-tickets, destination packs, disruption updates and much more are all available on travellers’ smart devices. However, we don’t agree that totally replacing a face-to-face relationship is sustainable at any stage of a managed travel journey. Providing technology that improves an operational process is only one side of a business travellers’ requirements who, in our opinion, value reassurance from a real person – especially in times of travel disruption. We always have a team of travel experts available 24/7 should our clients need advice and are often told this is an invaluable feature of our service – one which we have no plans to change.
What do the Business First Partnership team bring that’s unique?
We’re a family business and this influences how we work with our clients – we want to build long term relationships that work for both parties. Our approach is very much to fit in with how our clients’ want to work, we are flexible and can adjust our service offering to any type of business, schedule, or priority. We bring with us a powerful technology suite and team of experts that far exceeds our clients’ expectations, and that’s what we aim to always do.