There's Got to Be a Better Way to Book a Business Trip
Talk about an overlooked, underserved market. I estimate U.S. business travelers who book their own travel spend $165 billion a year -- every year. These travelers, the vast majority of whom work for small and mid-sized companies, make up more than half of all business trips taken.
Of the 15 million "do it yourself" business travelers, it's hard to find anyone who is not deeply dissatisfied. There are three big reasons:
Quality. DIY business travelers are crammed into flights, hotels and taxi lines along with millions of traveling college students, vacationing families and seniors. It's easier to find an $11 stale piece of pizza than legroom or space in the overhead bin.
Prices. No one pays more than DIY business travelers. Like all business travelers, they pay more than leisure travelers -- despite traveling far more often -- but they also pay more than big-company employees who qualify for volume discounts from the airlines and hotels.
Service. Press 1 and wait is no one's idea of customer service. The title of "customer" isn't what it used to be, especially when you're a DIY business traveler.
Today's travel system is complex and stressful, especially when no one but yourself is looking out for you. It's a bit like going to court without a lawyer. You can do it, but the process is usually painful and the outcome disappointing.
As the founder of a recently launched company focused on providing a better business trip for the DIY business traveler, I've talked with countless business people who travel. They are frustrated with being the customer that nobody seems to care about. They want nothing more than to focus on the business purpose of their trips rather than the logistics and risks of getting to a meeting and making it home. They pay more and expect better.
Can travel providers offer great service and better prices for DIY business travelers without sacrificing their margins?
Absolutely. Almost 20 years ago, leisure travel was ripe for reinvention, and that's exactly what happened. Companies like Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline (which I also created) led the way. Now it's time to "reinvent" how the $165-billion DIY business travel market works. An imaginative blend of 21st-century tools like big data, the cloud and mobile data networks, seamlessly integrated with a "can-do" 24/7 human workforce, can change everything.
Creating a better business trip starts with understanding how to prevent problems before they happen and how to quickly solve them when they do. Customer service must no longer be about how fast service employees can get the customer off the phone. Instead, the new script must be, "I work for you -- the customer. My job is to make your trip better, and I care about how things turn out for you." Today's amazing communications and analytical tools can be used to prevent, solve or work around any of the dozens of inevitable headaches that strike DIY business travelers on the road.
The business traveler can now be given service that's reminiscent of "mission control" -- a 24/7 operation always tracking your progress and anticipating problems before they show up. With a phone in your hand, you can always be connected to your very own super travel agent.
Say you're about to board a plane that's connecting in a city where thunderstorms are expected or already happening. The reinvented world of business travel will enable you (using your mobile phone) to be contacted by voice, email, text or chat to explain your options -- and if you like, instantly make necessary changes.
Great customer service creates a winning bond between the traveler and the travel company. A 2017 University of Michigan American Customer Satisfaction Survey found that business traveler loyalty improves tremendously if complaints are handled perfectly. And loyalty translates into a customer for life.
These innovations already are helping DIY business travelers have a better business trip. Notice, I said "a better trip," not a "perfect one." Problems will always come up. As a business traveler myself, I see these all too often. But, how well problems are addressed and managed will be the difference between yesterday's and tomorrow's business trip. And they will be the difference between travel companies that succeed and those that do not.
We saw that in the business of leisure travel some years back. Today it's the DIY business traveler's turn to reap the rewards of innovation and change.
Related Video: 6 Ways to Save Money While You Travel