Amex GBT EVP David Reimer discusses:
- Why travel disruption is ‘”here to
- Recruitment to ensure consistent service
- Getting ready for a September travel ramp-up
American Express Global Business Travel earlier this month released
new tools aimed to help travel managers and travelers better handle flight
disruptions. The travel management company’s global EVP of global clients and
general manager for the Americas David Reimer spoke with BTN executive editor
Michael B. Baker during the recent Global Business Travel Association in San
Diego about the level of disruption Amex GBT’s clients are seeing and its
strategy to help them manage through it—as well as how the company is keeping
staffing levels apace to handle the growing problem of travel disruption.
BTN: How long will the current climate of disruption
David Reimer: Disruption
is here to stay. The industry is required to go out and recruit 40,000 pilots.
We know a lot of the less efficient aircrafts have been retired. We know the
newer aircrafts are slower to roll off the production lines, whether it be the
Dreamliner or Airbus A350, we know that it’s production related issues, and
it’s much, much slower. You have airlines wanting to go back to full schedules
but little resilience when you have a bout of Covid somewhere. It will
continue. So, you can do two things: Hope it gets better or do something about
done is done something about it by making sure we are focusing on that traveler
experience, and that’s been centered around how can we help them when they are
disrupted. We’ve just made a significant investment on disruption tools. We
really enhanced that [Proactive Travel Care] offering. We’ve added not only
through the GBT mobile app, but we have it through WhatsApp. We’re allowing
people to get that proactive nature, where if you are disrupted, you will be
contacted and served up options, so you go in and solve before you’re getting
on a plane that’s no longer going to take off, working out where you’re going
to get to next. While everybody else is queuing up, we have you booked and
accounted for, and you are on your merry way to wherever you need to be,
whether that’s an important business meeting or back to your family.
addition to that, there’s nothing worse than your partner wondering where you
are. Getting that link and being able to send it out to important people,
whether it be colleagues or family, so they can click on real time and see
where you’re at and what’s happening, that’s a unique feature. Rather than
having to text 50 of your closest friends, you can give the link, and it’s
refreshed in real time. On top of that, layering in what we’ve done with our
Insights product, giving travel managers that insight to see, you know what, [a
certain traveler] has done 10 trips in the last two months, and that poor, poor
man has been disrupted every time. Can I give him an upgrade certificate? Can I
see that it’s on a particular route and get a trend to give the traveler advice?
It’s really providing access to information that lets travel managers add real
value to the travelers.
BTN: What can it mean in terms of program
Reimer: They can make different choices about their
program. If they book one airline that’s consistently late or cancelled, you
might want to remove it from the program until you’ve got stability.
Information is power in managing through that. Trying to pull all that together
and not having the strategy and not communicating with your travelers and
giving them tools that help make that experience better is going to count
against companies. Companies thinking about people being away and needing to
get places, you want to do that in the best possible way, and we’ve seen that
through some of the other research we released last year, in terms of what that
employee experience and expectation is. It’s never been higher. We passionately
believe that a managed travel program has never been more important or
BTN: Does it tie in with profile management?
Reimer: When you set up a profile, you set up do you
want a text message, call or email, so you get an approach that’s very personal
to you. It’s about providing that choice for your travelers. Using it is
phenomenal. If I’m on a United flight, and that’s cancelled, and the next one
is in four hours’ time, and there’s an American flight that gets you there
three hours earlier, you can have that choice. That’s the superpower of the
TMC, being able to give that choice and get them where they need to go.
Depending on what the situation is, your whole day could be kaput because the
meeting that you were going to or the event you were going to be at, you’re not
going to make it. It’s nice for the employee, but it’s great to drive business
BTN: How is Amex GBT faring in terms of staffing
during these disruptions?
Reimer: It has been a challenge across the industry.
Although we had employees on furlough, as did a lot of our industry, we kept
connection with those people, we supported them through a difficult time and we
were able to get back a little over 87 percent of those agents. That core level
of experience and that core focus on servicing excellence that is expected of
American Express, we really have been able to [retain] that core DNA.
Over the last two months, we’ve recruited over 800 travel
counselors. We’ve put in place a very significant employee incentive. If
somebody refers somebody, and that goes through to somebody starting at GBT, we
pay $2,500. Then, if they refer a second person, and that person starts, they
get another $5,000. It’s putting our money where our mouth is to attract the
best in the industry, and we’ve had significant success on that both here and
also globally. We’re very happy with where we are.
That doesn’t’ mean that you get all the right people in the right
place in the right time. We’ve seen that when you have disruptions, there are
still strains on the system, and the strain is less about recruitment and more
about what’s going on. You have Schiphol shut down, you have industrial action
at Heathrow, you have a 100,000-passenger cap going through Heathrow, which
nobody really knows how to manage because systems aren’t in place to manage
these things. That’s where you get the stress on the system more than people. Having
that steady strategy and recruitment pipeline is critical. We’ve also worked
with two major employee agencies globally to supplement that. We have our human
resources department adding more people outside of their core jobs and
deferring them back to pure recruiting functions.
BTN: Are you recruiting largely within or outside
of the travel industry?
Reimer: We’ve had some [from outside the industry],
but we’ve been ultra-successful within the travel industry, and given our
profile of customers, that’s very important. We still put those people through
the very rigorous training program. We still as a requirement comply with bank
holding company regulations, making sure that focus on data privacy and
security and compliance generally is an important part of that, to make sure
they’re ready to go on the phones. The training is more on meeting that
standard than bringing them in to teach them about travel.
We also recognize that you want to grow people in this industry
and bring them in, and that’s a focus to bring flexibility and choice of
benefits. With flexibility, we’ve long been a pioneer of the work from home
concept, so that’s not new to us. Being able to jump straight into that without
skipping a beat has been pretty easy, because we’ve been that way for over 10
years and have the systems and processes to support it. If you don’t, it’s hard
to set up: Making sure people have the right equipment, training and that they
are safe and capable of working at home.
BTN: What level of increase are you seeing in
transactions that require agent support?
Reimer: The average handling time has gone up, whether
you are a first-time traveler and want your hand held, or whether it’s just
because you’re being disrupted and need help, all of those drive volume into
the system. It’s the unexpected nature becoming more expected. What we’ve done
really well at is the partnership and support from our customers, thinking
about what we can do together.
We’ve had active plans for over 12 months knowing this was likely
to be an outcome. How do we get more travelers online? How do we communicate
and get information in their hands? We’ve been working with customers in
advance to know we’re coming to the busiest period of the year, so let’s not
have everyone turn up Sept. 1 and start booking the hell out of everything. How
about we get those messages out and encourage people to book early? Not only is
that good from an experience point of view, it’s more likely going to have
success from a savings perspective as well.
We’re really partnering on how we communicate that together. We
always had phenomenal partnerships, but I would say over the last three years,
they’ve strengthened immeasurably. Things will continue to change. What are the
right staffing levels and models? This is an active daily and weekly conversation,
and that’s the level of focus you need to drive that customer experience. The
proof will be in the pudding as we get to the busiest part of the year. We’re
looking at how we build out additional centers and capacity and models as well.
BTN: How is consolidation with Egencia and Ovation
Reimer: For us, it’s always been about giving our
customers choice. If you think about what we’ve built pre-Covid and post-Covid,
we’ve wanted to make sure we’re a one-stop shop for all of our customers.
People have a view that travel is this amorphous thing, and business travel is
business travel. The view we’ve taken is
recognizing that different companies with different travelers with different
profiles are going to need different solutions. We have a very clear strategy that
we want to provide companies and their travelers with choice.
If you want to go
out and have something that was highly online, highly digitized and
configurable at a travel manager level, that was the Egencia solution. We feel
that was the pedigree, fully digital shop. It’s been out there, and it’s proven
and truly global and backed by a phenomenal technology. If you want something
that is super-high VIP—and there is a difference between VIP and super-high
VIP—that is really going to be Ovation, and we continue to grow that. We’re
rolling out that program globally in other markets and making it core to our
solution. If you want something that is highly configurable, highly global and
is works exceptionally well, that is going to be Amex GBT, that really
solution-orientated approach, that allows you to put in the spoke requirements
globally and at a market level, to make sure you’re covering culturally what
you need from a business outcome. GBT is not just a house of brands, it’s a
house of solutions for each of those different segments.
BTN: We saw CWT release a
new subscription-fee model earlier this year. Do your clients have
interest in such a model?
Reimer: We’ve got a number of different models out
there that we offer. Subscription models are not foreign to have in our toolkit,
when it makes sense. You need to have commercial models that support some of
the ebbs and flows in the volume we’ve seen, and that’s good for the customers,
so they can get the support they need, and good for us that our shareholders
and company gets the economic return they need. There are a number of different
models that have come out of Covid-19, and they’re here to stay.
Source by www.businesstravelnews.com