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Forget the coffee travel manager, what you need is fairy dust

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A company I know just installed a brand new coffee machine. It delivers the finest Italian espresso for their employees, and the latte isn't too bad either.

Everybody was delighted until the bog-standard company survey, which many corporations use to measure employee satisfaction, landed in their inbox. You could almost hear the collective groan and an overriding sense of being ground down like the coffee beans, that were actually meant to give employees a boost.

A week earlier there had been yet another survey from the HR team asking how they liked the new layout for the pay slip and, I kid you not, that same week IT had sent out a global survey on the new Intranet layout.

So what is the next survey going to be on? Corporate survey fatigue?

In this day and age, managing multiple channels to communicate with employees is really tough. Some companies still use the intranet, but that is perceived as boring, dull and cumbersome ? not a great way to get your message across!

Then there are the internal emails, often too long and too dull. And if they aren't mistakenly deleted, likely to end up in an ever expanding ?to-do' folder that never gets done.

Social tools like Yammer, Slack and Workplace by Facebook are, arguably, a great alternative but this is really the online answer to coffee talk. Lots of information, which may be great to hear, but not always relevant to the person hearing it!

Lastly there are corporate apps for each individual use case. Reserve a meeting room, there's an app. File your expenses, there's an app. Book a trip, there's an app. Find your colleague, there's an app! We know that building an app that people will actually use is not getting easier. Recent research from Statista tells us that the average number of apps being used by the typical US smartphone owner has been stuck at 27 for the past few years.

So, overloading them with countless new apps is just pointless. Mobile is undoubtedly the dominant channel today. But in this fast-evolving space things can quickly become old school. Take a dated approach to mobile and you will lose your users.

Let's get one thing straight, mobile can be as disengaging as it is engaging.

So the million dollar question for travel managers: how do you engage the customers of your program: your business travelers, the people you send onto the road to build new business?

Five steps towards a travel program that is so good you'd be an idiot not to comply:

1. Develop digital presence

In all the time I've been doing this travel gig, I've never met a travel manager who doesn't truly care for travelers. And yet, I've seldom met travelers who believe their travel manager cares for them. Why? In the mind of many travelers, you're simply not there.Because you're not in the room with your travelers while engaging them, you need to build (digital) presence and trust.

2. Create identity

Try to create a digital identity for your program or travel team that is close to how you actually operate as individuals or as a team. Are you factual and business like, playful or funny? Now is the time to find the right tone of voice. Match it with your own and team's purpose; and, yes, leverage the power of your corporate brand. You are building a digital relationship which should be based on trust. The brand under which you operate creates that first layer of trust. You can't outsource this to your TMC or OBT, unless you think their brand matches your identity better. Dig deep and I think you'll find this isn't the case!

3. Map the journey

Now is the time to be curious, and ask the right questions:

- When do you want your travelers to think about you or your program?
- How do you want to travel along with your travelers?
- How can you ensure ?you've got their back' home-to-home, door-to-door, meeting-to-meeting?
- How will you communicate that you truly value their input to improve the overall program?

4. Be the thoughtful angel in their pocket

There is only one way forward, and that is for you to travel along with your travelers. Be the angel in their pocket, figure out what they need. Begin a conversation and watch the fun begin.

Discover those hidden gems that move the traveler and the company forward: there's this great cozy (not too expensive) Italian restaurant around the corner at HQ. I can get you a status match on an airline that you don't always fly with. Let them know that the train stops in front of the office, and nine out of ten times you'll beat the traffic!

The key is to combine all the different information sources and apps into a consistent user experience.

5. Iterate till awesome

Be humble as you're trying to figure it all out. Are they buying it? Did you get the right tone of voice? It's all about testing and validating the assumptions of the approach you are taking to move the traveler forward. For every faulty assumption, you might just hit upon the right one. Keep on iterating!

Through this journey with your travelers you need to keep asking the big important questions. Put yourself in their shoes. What happens before the journey? What happens after the journey? How can I build, develop, improve my relationship with my colleagues? How can travelers book a meeting room at Office XYZ? Do they serve vegetarian food in the canteen? Can I preregister as a visitor?

It never stops!

Just think about it. You have the power to make so many people feel happy and valued in their jobs. How will you build this digital dialog with them? You probably guessed it: it will be via mobile only, the angel in their pocket.

So come on, let's get out there and throw some fairy dust. Show them that you do really care and make them fly!

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