Today’s business traveller needs to make plans on the fly, at any time of day, and on any device. They need to do it quickly and easily – with results that are cost effective for their companies, and adhere to relevant policies.
That kind of user experience has been absent in corporate travel bookings for too long, but thanks to new technology that’s now changed.
“While there were apps and mobile-optimised websites that delivered flight bookings or travel updates, we found there was no mobile-focused technology that was universally available to our clients, that would provide an end-to-end travel experience,” explains Sydney-based Corporate Travel Management’s (CTM) CTO Tom Clark.
“It surprises many that the corporate travel industry has lagged behind the consumer direct industry when it comes to high quality technology,” he adds. “From the beginning, we have sought to bridge that gap.”
His team launched Australia’s first locally produced corporate booking engine, Lightning, and paired it with a native mobile booking application across iOS and Android.
It allows a user to book complete packages end-to-end, including flights, accommodation and car hire from their mobile device, replicating the company’s desktop software and linking clients’ requirements directly to CTM employees and its back-end system.
“This is one of the first corporate booking tools both locally and globally that ‘consumerises’ the corporate travel booking experience to better align with the expectations they have forged in their consumer travel experiences,” Clark says.
Understanding the need for improved user experience was borne out of company research into their clients. Through surveys, the company – which employs more than 2,000 FTE staff globally and services clients in 82 cities across 53 countries – identified 80 per cent of its clients travelled with two or more mobile devices, and 45 per cent had needed to access out of office emergency booking assistance in the past 12 months. User experience was found to be the number one requirement for travel bookers.
The Lightning booking engine and its user friendly, mobile focused face has proved hugely popular with clients. Average booking funnel times, Clark says, have reduced by 10 seconds across the board.
Wastage has also decreased due to increased compliance with travel policies. There have been increased customer wins too.
“Clients immediately recognise user experience features they have come to expect from other consumer-facing tools” says Clark, giving the company a significant “competitive advantage” when pitching their products.
Ultimately, “customers have voted with their keypads,” Clark says. Within a year, booking volume through the platform has increased fivefold. And it is not the only tech innovation Clark’s team have delivered recently.
From its starting point of a single SMART application, the team has launched a suite of 13 products. The SMART suite includes tools focused on risk management, traveller tracking and documentation management. In the past 12 months the company has launched a new tool, Fare Forecaster 2.0, a patented solution for forecasting travel and accommodation costs prior to booking.
The forecasts empower clients to maximise their savings by ensuring they can book the most suitable and cost effective travel package. This solution, which puts necessary information at the centre of client booking decisions, has been a “game-changer”, Clark says, leading to increased user productivity and maximum client return on investment.
“We never lose sight of delivering on our clients’ daily expectations while we examine ways in which we can improve their future user experience, or return on investment,” Clark says. “Our technology exemplifies our unrelenting focus on providing highly disruptive yet intuitive technology solutions that enhance the customer experience.”
Automation and machine learning
“The automation of our business processes is at the heart of CTM’s success,” Clark says. “By streamlining the processes required to facilitate the myriad needs of our clients when ‘on-the-road’, including entering these requirements into traditional booking systems as a new, or changed booking, we have seen a reduction in invested staff time.”
“On the back-end, the intuitive nature of the engine frees up additional resources for CTM to support our clients, improving the client service and reducing costs,” he says.
This level of automation will be advanced with the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence which the company is actively building applications around. To support this work, CTM has recently recruited a data scientist.
“Data is often used post event but we are increasingly using data and intelligence to ensure we support things like cost reduction and traveller risk management pre-event, or prior to the expenditure being incurred,” Clark explains.
“By learning from previous client interactions, we aim for our technology to know what our clients want as soon as they choose to book, and preferably even before the client makes that choice.”
Technology will define the future success of CTM, and its board and employees know it.
“In just three years I have been able to convince the company of the need for a completely new technology approach, I have identified and implemented a new and reinvigorated technology strategy and developed from the ground up the technology platform that sits behind it,” Clark says. “And, I have taken the business with me for the entire journey with complete buy in from the board down. This has had a transformational impact on the company’s brand and business performance.”