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Prescription for Change

U.S. Healthcare and Pharma Services Firm Consolidates Travel Program

Situation

Healthcare and pharmaceutical companies sometimes need help navigating government regulations and managing clinical trials to get their products to market. A U.S.-based firm that provides business and consulting services to these industries had rapidly acquired businesses over the past several years, creating new divisions to offer more comprehensive support for their customers. All that growth meant good things for their bottom line, but their travel program had become a pill too large to swallow.

The company was working with more than 20 travel agencies of all shapes and sizes – that meant their processes and servicing platforms often weren’t consistent across the 40 countries where they operate, which ultimately took time away from their core consulting services. With annual U.S. air volume nearing $10 million, they needed help from an expert to better organize their travel program.

Solution

The company consolidated its U.S. travel program with American Express Global Business Travel in 2011 to give them greater visibility into and control of spend. Moving from multiple travel agencies to only one travel management company meant they would only have one source of data, which would support supplier negotiations and also make it easier to track travelers during an unexpected crisis. The client had traditionally offered only offline travel servicing. However, following consolidation, they decided to launch a single online booking tool to help reduce transaction fees and increase traveler satisfaction by speeding up the booking process and putting more power in their hands.

The client’s travelers were used to having lots of options and few mandates when booking business trips. Implementing a single booking process across the entire company would require a careful change management plan. An American Express Global Business Travel service consultant worked with the client’s travel team for six months to design and lead the change strategy.

The joint team hosted focus groups to learn about the booking processes currently in place. Employee satisfaction and well-being is top of mind for pharmaceutical companies, making ease of trip essential for doctors, educators, researchers and salespeople who are on the road. To keep travelers happy, we needed to understand what to change about the client’s existing systems and what not to change. This insight would also help us minimize the impact of any changes that might cause friction.

Next, we built a communications strategy, supported by executive sponsors who could influence employees to adopt the new online booking tool. We also developed a monitoring system and feedback loop to track success and course-correct, if required.

Outcome

The client went through a huge transition as they consolidated and revamped their travel program, and moved from a full offline service to a combined online / offline program. The benefits were worth the change. Within one month, the company achieved 83 percent online adoption, and after the first year, they’d saved $300,000 through online booking – a testament to the success of thoughtful planning and stakeholder buy-in. The online booking tool is easy to use and carefully configured to meet traveler needs, and employees can still call a travel counselor for help with complex international itineraries or VIP service. Their travelers feel supported, no matter where or how they book. And, by controlling costs, the company has freed up resources across multiple divisions to put toward further clinical trials, research and development, and consulting.