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Why influence will always trump control in travel management

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Time and time again I experience how travel managers, despite spade loads of time and effort, are struggling to get their business travelers to comply with a program. The problem, they tell me, is that most travelers think they know better. With all information literally at their fingertips, business travelers think they can find a better deal and a better experience to boot.

By booking that hotel for $20 less on Booking.com, riding with Uber rather than a rental car and getting that cheaper flight on Skyscanner, business travelers think they've beaten you at your job and the system. It's a bit of a case of 'can travel', 'will travel manage'. But as you know, it's not as simple as that.

What your travelers don't get, as you do, is that the devil is in the detail. That detail could be on page 3 of your 18-page travel policy, which says that HQ needs to know where they sleep if there is an earthquake or terrorist attack. It could be buried 15 clicks deep on the company intranet, explaining that booking with a preferred airline is best because of the rebate given to their company when a certain number of flights booked. Or in that email that outlines an important change to your travel program.

This is the sort of detail travelers need to know, but the current approach in delivering the information isn't working and travel managers are left scratching their heads wondering: 'What am I doing wrong? How do I control compliance if travelers are simply not getting the message?'

It's true, travel manager, that making your voice heard today is harder than ever. It's a crowded world and while you know the devil is in the detail, detail is not what they want in this information age! With so much information readily available, you simply can't compete, so don't try to.

In the end you need to recognize that you and the traveler are both on the same team: and like you, your travelers also want to move themselves and the company forward.

So, how do you influence (and thus control) the behavior of someone who is not in the room with you? How do you get them to 'listen'?

Getting people to really listen ? and by that I mean hear and understand each other - is an art. This is true in any relationship, be it between friends, partners, parents and children, government and citizens, employers and employees. Taking a top down approach with a lack of real understanding rarely works. Do that and people will choose not to hear, as has become clear in the recent UK Brexit referendum and US presidential election campaign. And so it is in travel management as well.

It's all about being 'present' with the traveler, in their very pocket, on their mobile, the most personal of devices. This is where you need to meet the traveler, to learn and listen before you start dishing out rules. Be sure to explain, but do so at the moment, in the moment, it makes sense. Don't point them to page 13 of your policy. Show, don't tell!

And by doing so your goal becomes striking a subtle balance between both traveler and company need. This, dear travel manager, is only possible if you really understand the traveler. The key message is that you have to understand the traveler before your travel program can be understood. That will only happen if you're able to create a true human dialogue. The aim here is to garner real time feedback, tips and tricks and not just from the travel team. Take on board the advice being offered by all the other 'travel specialists' in your company. Learn from them, hear what they are saying.

Not an easy feat, but one thing we know from the leisure travel space is that people are increasingly relying on recommendations of 'friends'. So, if 85% of your colleagues take the Heathrow Express in central London, then that's probably the way to go. Why not facilitate a connection between travelers and their fellow colleagues, who they are more likely to trust.

Instead of using crowd control, use the wisdom of all your budding 'travel managers' to influence and shift their own behavior.

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