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SATISFACTION

SATISFACTION

By and large, travel buyers are satisfied with their primary TMCs. Asked to rate satisfaction levels on an ascending scale of one to five, 33 percent ticked a five—or “very satisfied”—and another 41 percent selected just one notch down at four. Only one respondent was “not at all satisfied.”
In more cases than not, these relationships are improving—or at least not deteriorating: Only 9 percent indicated the relationship between their TMC and their companies in the past 12 months had gotten worse, while 44 percent reported overall improvements in the past 12 months. A 47 percent majority saw their relationship as unchanging.
However, that is not to say travel buyers don’t want more from TMCs. They do. Asked in open-ended questions to list the most important thing their primary travel agency could do to improve services in the next year, buyers suggested a number of actions they’d like to see. They are as varied as the companies responding and reflect the specific needs of each: tech companies may want more forward-looking technology from their TMCs; high-touch hedge funds may want better VIP services from travel agents; smaller companies may want more support in program management and supplier relations; and larger multinationals may want better global support and consistency.
With the caveat that the needs of the company vary greatly with its culture, travel volume, geographic reach and internal structure, a few common themes emerged in the asks buyers have of their TMCs. Quite a few buyers wanted upgrades in the areas of data and reporting; account management and travel program support; service, both from an agent perspective as well as from account managers; and technology.
SHOW ME THE DATA
More than for any other service attribute category, 85 percent of respondents indicated “accurate, timely travel data” was a “very important” area when it came to TMC capabilities.
In open-ended responses, quite a few buyers asked simply for “better reporting.” One wanted improved self-service “dashboard reporting.” A few specifically requested improvements to data quality and accuracy. Some respondents wanted better data to support budget planning. One desired better “visibility into overall travel spend for transparency throughout the company.” A few respondents asked for better tracking of unused or expired airline tickets.
Indeed, TMCs have heard the call for better reporting. In recent years, mega and other travel management companies have refreshed their reporting, analysis and data reporting systems. Travel and Transport even launched its own data subsidiary, Data Visualization Intelligence, while American Express Global Business Travel’s Premier Insights, BCD Travel’s DecisionSource and Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s AnalytIQs have all seen enhancements in recent years.
ACCOUNT ABILITY
Beyond data, many buyer respondents asked for improvements to account management and program support.
There is desire among many respondents for TMCs, as one respondent put it, to “be more consultative rather than order takers” and, in the words of another, “demonstrate value beyond issuing a trip itinerary. Provide proactive consulting by understanding our business and our employee travel patterns.”
One asked of their TMC, “support us with our cost-containment efforts.” Others wanted more support in negotiating with suppliers and meeting their agreements with them. A few asked for better support in policy compliance. Several asked for more “responsive” support from account managers. One simply asked the TMC “to have an effective account manager!”— exclamation point included. Another wanted “a more proactive” and “strategic” account manager.
Jennifer Byiers, vice president of finance and global sourcing for Duff & Phelps, a New York-based financial services firm with around $10 million in total annual travel spend, said great account managers understand the client’s culture. “If an agency comes to me and says, ‘Here are some cost-saving opportunities: You need to book 14 days in advance,’ I’m walking out of the room,” she said, noting that much of the company’s travel is on very short notice. “That means they don’t understand our business, our travelers and our culture. We’ve interviewed account managers to make sure we got the right person who understood our style and our culture. We found that.”
Account managers “drive the service on behalf of the agency,” she said. “They’re not just there to provide reporting and put out fires. They’re the sales team after the account is won.”
GoldSpring’s Tate in his tenure assisting in TMC bids has observed that poor account management is the “number-one reason people fire their TMC.” One corporate travel manager operating a program with around $2 million in annual air spend would agree. Requesting anonymity amid upcoming contract discussions, she is shopping for a new TMC since her current mega agency doesn't lend enough account support to this smaller fish in a big pond. The travel manager is looking for an agency that would provide “attention to our account” and more “timely response and resolution to issues.”
AT YOUR SERVICE
Several buyer respondents indicated that service was a key area they’d like to see their TMC improve. This took many shapes, some adjacent to “account management,” as buyers asked for more responsive account managers. Yet, quite a few also touched on the service provided by travel agents. On an ascending scale of one to five, buyer respondents—84 percent of them—rated professional and responsive agents at a five, “very important.”
One respondent sought “consistency of agents’ knowledge,” noting that some agents are simply more skilled and knowledgeable than others. One asked for better agent people skills, asking the TMC for “continuous training of agents for customer service and how they can communicate to travelers so they are confident, comforting and show empathy.” One just wanted to reach an agent faster, referencing “excessive” hold times. A few wanted more options to reach agents: one asked for chat technology and another wanted the TMC to “enhance agent contact options.” Another requested “more consistent VIP services.” Indeed, consistency in service is among the desires several buyers shared. Buyers asked for more consistency in overall agency service levels. One asked for “holistic global service and support,” and another sought “greater consistency of service and product offerings globally.”
BUYERS VALUE DATA, AGENTS AND ACCOUNT MANAGEMENT FROM TMCs
Of the following services, how important is it for your TMC to deliver each to your program?
BUYERS VALUE DATA, AGENTS AND ACCOUNT MANAGEMENT FROM TMCs
Of the following services, how important is it for your TMC to deliver each to your program?
On a scale of 1 to 5: 5=very important and 1=not important at all
5
4
3
2
1
Provides accurate, timely travel data
85%
13%
1%
1%
0%
Has professional/responsive agents
84%
14%
2%
1%
0%
Has effective account managers
84%
12%
3%
1%
0%
Tracks unused airline tickets
81%
16%
3%
0%
0%
Delivers high traveler satisfaction
81%
15%
4%
1%
0%
Provides timely information and support in the event of natural disasters, political instability or violent attacks
78%
12%
8%
1%
1%
Delivers travel program cost savings
78%
17%
5%
0%
0%
Offers competitive pricing
70%
25%
5%
1%
0%
Supports company-preferred suppliers
69%
24%
7%
1%
0%
Provides in-depth data analysis and business intelligence tools
67%
24%
7%
1%
1%
Provides multiple ways to reach agents (email, phone, chat, texting, etc.)
63%
29%
7%
2%
0%
Provides comprehensive international coverage and services
57%
25%
12%
4%
3%
Provides traveler tracking
47%
27%
18%
5%
4%
Effectively assists in developing and enforcing travel policy
45%
31%
18%
3%
3%
Provides agency-sourced travel supplier discounts
29%
39%
23%
8%
1%
Provides mobile applications for travelers
27%
36%
23%
10%
5%
Supports pre-trip authorization/approval
24%
20%
29%
11%
16%
Supports the sale of ancillary options, such as paid airline seats or baggage
16%
34%
30%
10%
10%
Provides hotel shopping and rebooking services, such as TripBam or Yapta
15%
27%
30%
12%
16%
Helps manage meetings
8%
12%
37%
23%
20%

SOURCE: The Beat survey of 154 corporate travel buyers with at least $500,000 in annual U.S.-booked air volume, conducted June-August 2016 Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

TECH, PLEASE
Travel management companies are not tech firms. Yet, technology plays an increasingly important role in the value they provide. Technology emerged as a hot button for clients when it comes to what they want of their TMCs, according to open-ended responses.
One respondent simply asked for “increased commitment to technology.” A few wanted improvements to mobile applications, including the ability to book via mobile apps. Another wanted the agency to “develop text-to-book technology.” Some tech improvements demanded by buyers touched on booking. Some were more general in their tech requests: “Improve their forward-thinking technology solutions.” A few didn’t even expect their TMC to provide the technology, but asked that they stay on top of trends and help clients anticipate and assess emerging technology. It’s top of mind for Autodesk as it embarks on a TMC bid next year. “As a technology company, how do we stay in front and not behind?” said Finch. “To me, technology is going to drive it. Who's got the best telephony? The best app? Who is innovative? Who's got that forward vision? I think that's where we're going to put our eggs.”
THE PRICE IS RIGHT
While very few of the respondents specifically touched on pricing as an area they’d like to see improvement—though one did request their TMC “stop nickel-and-diming us to death”—several asked for more TMC support in realizing savings and getting a greater return on their TMC investment.
This took various forms: Some buyers asked for better discounts on suppliers through their TMC; others wanted better support in securing their own discounts with suppliers. One wanted the TMC to “proactively seek cost-saving opportunities.”

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