Increasing digitization has given travel management companies (TMC) the tools to change as well as a reason: It has elevated our travelers’ consumer experiences and, thus, their expectations of business travel.
“We have witnessed the development of an overarching ‘consumerization’ trend that is fundamentally impacting how the business travel industry operates and its future potential,” David Thompson, chief information and technology officer at American Express Global Business Travel (GBT), said in an article he wrote for PhocusWire.
As work and personal lives increasingly become intertwined, the preferences of business travelers are shifting and expectations for solutions that match those used for personal travel are rising.
“In the current travel climate, business travelers expect tools and technologies that mirror the consumer experience they have when shopping at home,” Thompson said. “They want business travel service providers to deeply understand their profile, anticipate needs, prepopulate fields intelligently, and display the most relevant options to make the end-to-end process quicker and easier.”
Marilyn Markham, product strategy director for the agent experience at American Express GBT, said that digital consumer experiences juxtapose uncomfortably with work ones, “creating frustration wherever there is a lack of ease, integration or even aesthetics.”
This puts pressure on TMCs to deliver first-class digital experiences. “Suddenly, the TMC is not competing against a rival TMC the traveler never sees, but against the best service and e-commerce experiences available in the world! To stay relevant in people’s lives, we need to be found where they are. We need to be able to reuse technology applications that have become ubiquitous to users and simplify to the point of becoming effortless,” Markham said.
Making key enhancements
Delivering this kind of seamless experience has been a top priority as we’ve been investing in upgrading our digital solutions, including our Amex GBT Mobile app. Some of the improvements we have made were directly influenced by user feedback.
“We spent a lot of time talking to the travelers and travel managers, showing them early versions of concepts, and getting their feedback to understand what they’re trying to accomplish when they engage with our solutions. We want to make sure that we deliver something that not only does what they need it to do, but also does it in a way that’s seamless in their other interactions,” said Mark McSpadden, vice president of global product strategy at American Express GBT.
For instance, through early engagement with our clients, it became clear that “persistent chat” was a crucial functionality for travelers. Often what happens on many messaging platforms is a chat message will not be retrievable once you close the window. For business travelers on the go who need trip details at their fingertips, it’s critical they have the ability to easily refer back to these conversations. So, we developed a persistent chat capability for Amex GBT Mobile. Now travelers simply can tap on the message icon and scroll back to see all the conversations they’ve had with our travel counselors that contain valuable advice and information.
We also wanted to make it simple for travelers to connect with our counselors by meeting them where they are “instead of trying to get them to come to our specific corner of the internet on their desktop, between the hours of eight and five, to get the service that they expect,” said McSpadden. The app’s newly expanded messaging platform offers click-to-call and click-to-chat functionalities so that travelers easily can connect with a counselor 24/7, whether it’s through typing or calling.
The click-to-chat feature can be especially useful when calling one of our counselors would be inconvenient — say when a traveler is sitting on the airplane and realizes they may miss their connecting flight due to a delay. Using the plane’s Wi-Fi, they can log in to the app, engage a travel counselor via chat for rebooking assistance, and potentially have it all sorted out by the time they disembark.
Making the content that travelers want easy to find
Another important component of delivering a cohesive digital experience is providing travelers access to all the traveler information they need. We have invested in our technology solutions to create this kind of consistency throughout. Whether it’s a web fare with a low-cost carrier, a transcontinental train in Europe, or a home-sharing rental via Booking.com, it’s all bookable from within the Amex GBT Mobile app, our online booking tool (OBT), Neo™ and our Connect Portal platform™.
Speaking of Neo, the OBT has a few cool features to help travelers breeze through the booking process, such as a door-to-door search mode that automatically builds itineraries in seconds, a smart autocomplete feature that fills in origin and destination fields, and the ability to duplicate a booking based on a previous trip with a similar itinerary.
As the various ways to shop for travel expands, we also are looking to enhance the way content is displayed in our digital tools. Many OBTs are struggling with how to present the growing array of ancillaries the airlines are offering. American Express GBT has been busy testing different displays in Neo and selecting just the right one so travelers can quickly see the distinctions between offers, weigh the options, and purchase the best package with the amenities they want at the lowest price.
And even more improvements are coming.
“American Express GBT is keenly aware of the value of creating delightful digital experiences,” Markham said, noting the next wave of investment will help to “deliver consistent multichannel conversations and open the door to new communication channels so American Express GBT can be found where travelers already are.”
In other words, stay tuned for more digital enhancements coming soon!