Travel managers have a lot to deal with; from sourcing new suppliers to reporting on spend to trying to keep travellers compliant with policy. Business travel management could even be compared to juggling, whether that’s in relation to the tasks you have on any given day or the multiple skills you have to possess. Although arguably, some skills are more important than others.
For example, what’s more important for the modern travel manager: a broad knowledge of the travel industry and its surrounding technology or solid people skills? It’s not a trick question and the answer might surprise you.
People skills are vital for the job. As you interact with so many different levels from the finance department to HR to business travellers, you need to understand how to interact with each and speak their language to get your message across.
In fact, a survey conducted by Radius Travel in 2013 suggested that people skills dominate travel management. Most notably, 80% of the survey’s respondents deemed ‘negotiation expertise’ to be the most essential qualification for business travel, and this potentially still holds true with the art of persuasion being one of your most valuable tools.
Travellers do what they want, when they want – right?
With open booking policies becoming more prevalent in the enterprise, there’s no escaping the fact that travellers are increasingly booking how, where and when they feel most appropriate. For some, it feels like the very opposite of managed travel but as open bookings increase, there may have to be some compromise.
This compromise won’t necessarily be to let travellers do what they want but those in charge of travel management will have to learn to persuade rather than force travellers to follow the programme.
Swapping force for persuasion
Assuming that employees will simply do what they want when it comes to business travel will lead to many managers implementing counteractive, forceful tactics. Banning open booking, implementing stringent policies and ignoring the importance of digital interaction will have the opposite effect; travellers might not comply.
Instead, it’s far better to work on improving and expanding your communication skills by being more hands-on with technology. Use social media or internal messaging channels such as Facebook for Work or Slack and try applying marketing techniques such as sharing engaging content and monitoring the engagement with analytics tools.
The employees who travel for the company will influence the success of the programme you manage, therefore if you can nurture the relationship by demonstrating you’re willing to engage with them directly and empower them to make suggestions, you’ll start to see significant increases in travel policy compliance.
How to enhance your travel management skill set
Here are 5 ways you can harness the art of persuasion to increase travel policy compliance:
- Meet with employees – listen to their feedback.
- Develop a range of marketing skills – increase your ability to communicate effectively with different types of content. Rather than just text documents, try using visual content such as a visual travel policy builder to engage with your travellers.
- Try using social media and internal messaging channels for both talking and listening to travellers.
- Recognise that attitudes are changing fast – gain an understanding of the young traveller mindset and how business travellers clash with traditional travel programmes.
- Immerse yourself in virtual alternatives to travel – you may become responsible for them one day. (In Radius Travel’s survey, they found that 51% of travel managers cited alternatives to travel such as video conferencing as a qualification that will become increasingly important.)
Whilst all of these actions are important for the art of persuasion, make sure you maintain C-level support for your travel programme, because without it, your efforts to persuade rather than force policy compliance may easily be overridden.
While modern travel management still relies heavily on process-driven functions such as procurement and finance, the human touch remains essential. As travel managers, it’s time to think about how persuasion and communication skills can help the way you manage your travellers.