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Corporate travel has not done a good job at solving the problems faced by actual business travelers. Smaller corporate travel companies, along with travel providers and technology startups, are working hard to find solutions to the most enduring problems across the sector.
In this interview series, we will break down the silos between travel sectors to find out from leading travel executives how they are working to make the business travel experience more enjoyable for travelers and simpler for the companies sending employees on the road.
The mobile-first future for corporate travel has been a long time in the making, with many companies now looking to solve the traditional booking and service process.
For Palo Alto’s TripActions, iterating on a mobile platform with digital service has helped them expand with global reach. Anique Drumright, head of product at TripActions, thinks the key is to enable the traveler to book and communicate however it best suits them at the moment.
“I think we’re at a point where we really can dial up and down depending on what the traveler needs and preferences are,” said Drumright.
Skift spoke to Drumright about learning from traveler behavior, proactively solving travel disruptions, and the fine line between customization and customer choice.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Skift: The TripActions pitch is support for travelers and reduced costs for their employers. So how do you look at enabling a better experience for users on the platform?
Anique Drumright: We don’t look at corporate travel as just a booking, right? You book a trip in any form, and you’re booking a hotel and flight, but you’re also doing things mobile. So, I think your mobile experience is super important, in the fact that you always have something guiding you in your pocket. If you’re going to miss a connection, I don’t want to wait for you to tell me that you’re going to miss a connection. We’re going to actively reach out and say, “How can we help you?”
If your gate changes, we’re also going to let you know about it. If the flight’s delayed, et cetera. As we grow, you’re going to see us grow further in this on-trip support and on-trip experience.
Skift: Why do you think it’s been so hard for proactive service through an app to catch on in the space?
Drumright: Yeah, I mean it’s kind of crazy that there’s such a gap between the information that should be available to some travelers, and what they actually get. Maybe people are trained traveling for leisure that it’s going to be a disaster if something bad happens, but with technology, you can push them the right thing to not only make them feel better but get them back on the right track.
Skift: There’s also the matter of traveler behavior. Some people are super hands-on, and others don’t really want to deal with specifics. How do you try to make life easier for both camps?
Drumright: If you want to manage your travel on your own, you obviously want us to provide those tools, as much as possible, right? If you want to cancel a hotel, you can cancel it on our mobile app, you can cancel it on web, same generally with flights, as well. But, at the same time, we’re always a chat away, and if you want to hop on the phone, we’re also available by phone.
I think we’re at a point where we really can dial up and down depending on what the traveler needs and preferences are.
Skift: There’s also the matter of the content piece, getting the right travel options in front of the right traveler. How does that fit with the personalization you’re working on?
Drumright: From an inventory perspective, we’re very big on choice. So, we want to have extremely rich content. How we present it is very customized. So, if you always book United, we’re going to surface a United option first, right? We have all these machines learning in the background customizing the results for you. However, if for some reason, this new sales guy is on your team, and you want to take easyJet, and you’ve never taken easyJet before, you can access it if you want to.
I think we’re balanced. Let’s be smart about what we’re recommending you. Let’s make this super efficient in terms of your time. It takes six minutes to book a flight on average on our system. We’re really proud of that. We want to do even better because no one wants to spend time booking a trip. They just want to go on the trip, and be successful at work, and meet whoever they need to meet in Amsterdam or in New York.
Skift: What effect has TripAction’s global growth aspirations had on the product itself?
Drumright: The mandate is very clear, and it’s present throughout the entire company right now. We’re just very focused on growing while holding on to our quality, expanding our experience in certain places, and growing globally.
But then, I think there are another two pieces, which are: how do we use data as a product team to make sure that our product is healthy, and ensuring that we are improving those general engineering product metrics like you would any technology company.
We have amazing people at the company that are very connected to our travelers and very connected to our buyers. Our support team knows whether someone likes vegan food, or whether they like bacon, and they keep track of it, and they take pride in it. But, it also means that they have incredible insights on our product, how our product is actually doing, and what the product experience is.
Skift: As your corporate customers have gotten bigger, as well, how does that affect the development of the platform going forward?
Drumright: We now need to deliver our product experience on a global scale. People want a really great travel experience, they want really good care for their travelers. That’s consistent for a small company, as well as a large company.
So, I don’t think the expectations of customers have changed. I just think the scale at which we need to deliver it has grown. Customization is interesting when we’re talking about corporate travel. Because, if I am running a travel program, I don’t want my traveler spending 20 minutes booking. I don’t want them spending 30 minutes panicked, stranded at an airport. So, how do we make the booking tool incredibly customized, and then also in terms of when they do need support, that they get to talk to a human, rather than any type of bot, and that that human has all of the information they need to really succinctly and sufficiently help them solve problems?
I think the other one is just this idea that we’re constantly on the go. Right? You can chat with us 24/7, that you can interact with our mobile service, is something that I think we’ll continue to double down on, and differentiate on. Especially from a proactive support problem. How do we solve your problems before you even know that you have them?