The gamification of managed travel: Can social gaming plug travel policy leakage?
One of the strong undercurrents of this year’s annual GBTA conference in San Diego was the consumerization of B2B travel products, such as using consumer behavioral insight to increase travel policy compliance in managed travel programs.
Rather than penalties and paperwork, one strategy being aggressively pursued by many companies is social gaming: leaderboards, badges, missions and social significance leveraged to make complying with company policy fun.
Many travel managers lament the stark reality of their job: they’re required to get travel policy compliance, but have no simple way to make that happen. They can’t legally fine or fire someone for not complying with the policy, so the question becomes how to make tools that are easy, fun and useful for travelers, thus ensuring compliance naturally.
Gamification is one area where businesses are currently allocating resources, due to the fact that it is relatively simple and low-cost to integrate into existing systems and data flows. The skyrocketing popularity of social gaming across all demographics also provides a natural springboard of understanding for employees as they are introduced to the new social features.
Tnooz spoke with two organizations in the midst of rolling out compliance-driven gamification into their corporate travel programs.
Carlson Wagonlit Travel
CWT’s Solution Group, the consulting arm of Carlson Wagonlit Travel, announced this week that they will be rolling out a gamification layer on their managed corporate travel product.
Joel Wartgow, Senior Director, Americas, for CWT Solutions Group for Americas, spoke with Tnooz about the new feature aimed at reducing leakage and organically enhancing compliance with the managed travel program.
In our interaction with customers about their travel programs, we had been getting a lot of the same type of requests from customers with very mature travel programs and strong vendor relationships. They felt they were getting good value from those partnerships but were having trouble getting their travelers buy better.
They wanted opportunities to save money by increasing compliance, but without a stricter mandate. We started to build a variety of customer solutions to that request.
We had a few solutions when we had employed gaming before: scorecards, leader boards, and things like that for people to compete on compliance. We wanted to bring the strength of those independent offerings together to provide a complete interface to travelers.
How is the platform integrated into your managed travel product?
Its a platform thats integrated with our portal, so travelers will see it when they log-in. Within that portal we now have an interface where travelers give individual personal feedback, plus gamification elements that are tied to how they use the program.
What is the cost for this gamification?
This is an additional fee-based service, because in order for gaming elements to be applied successfully within a travel program there are more moving parts to implement and to ensure effectiveness.
We have consultants to help achieve the client-specified objectives. WE also look at the decisions travelers are making relating to these travel decisions, as we look to uncovered what’s motivating these decisions. If we do that, then we can figure out the what and how to engage travelers.
Once it’s deployed, there are communication pieces to share as far as what the game is, how people are doing, and providing updates to the travel managers so we can fine tune and ensure ultimately that hose objectives are met.
Will companies be able to select their own real-world incentives?
We built the platform that enables the tracking and ID of the individual that should be recognized. We’ll work with the companies as to what that recognition would look like.
What’s the most motivating for that type of traveler? If its someone who’s on the road all the time, they may not want a travel related benefit. Maybe public recognition or is it a parking space? Some of those things that come out of the consulting exercise, bc we need to determine how aggressive we’re going to be with a tangible or intangible reward to engage specific segments of the travel population.
What does a successful gamification program look like to CWT?
We believe deployment should be more surgical and precise, not one size fits all. Not a one size fits all – the goal is to figure out who needs to be encouraged to buy travel differently, and let’s figure out why they are making the decisions they are making. And then we build a game around that decision-making process and how to get them to make decisions better. There are so many variables depending on the type, duration, cost and vendors of a traveler’s profile.
What we’re looking to do, is to get travelers to make GREAT decisions. Not necessarily the expected, compliant decision, but a great decision.
For example, take multiple preferred hotels in a destination – if a traveler stays at any hotel it would be considered a compliant decision. But there may be a hotel that is a little less convenient but it could also be a little less expensive. If the company is trying to direct travelers to that hotel, gamification can be used to recognize and reward them to stay at that specific property.
How has consumerization impacted the product development process at CWT?
From the Solutions viewpoint: Absolutely, we’re taking consumerization into consideration.
When we started the development of this platform we wanted to bring in elements of other types of games that a consumer might interface with in a variety of different areas. We’ve brought those elements in, and we also know there are some accessibility desires by the consumer. They want to access via a mobile or tablet device, so we’ve optimized the platform to be accessed on those devices.
We’ve taken the consumer experience into account to help engage our travelers.
Not only are we hearing about it reactively, but we are proactively soliciting feedback so we can build solutions. Our customers are coming to us to drive compliance in a non-mandated environment, so we had to develop traveler-level intelligence.
Two years ago, we developed a series of offerings and deliverables that were addressed directly to the traveler. We’re trying to give that traveler personal and contextual information about buying decisions that they make so they are educated on the impact of those decisions. Anticipate and address travelers needs in advance so we are delighting travelers along the way.
Michelle Surkamp, Public Relations Manager for North America, added:
We do see consumerization changing the way that business travelers are consuming information and we’re working with our channel partners to take that into account. We definitely realize that some changes need to be made and to make some of those changes to help travelers travel more efficiently and travel better while they’re on the road.
It goes both ways: we’re hearing from our own travelers and our client travelers, in addition to our customers who are travel managers. The information is flowing in from all areas.
American Express Global Business Travel
American Express is no stranger to creating consumer-facing tools for their customers, as value-added tools have always been the strategy to create a premium brand that commands more merchant fees from a higher-income customer. The company is clearly leveraging this core competency to deliver a new way to help customers keep their travelers in-policy.
Tnooz sat down with Alicia Tillman, the VP of Marketing and Business Services for American Express, to discuss their gamification announcement at GBTA.
We like gamification as it is very consumer minded. That’s one of the big challenges of the [managed travel] industry: how do you consumerize? It’s an industry largely concerned with control and savings, and now that you’ve got emerging demographics coming into the workforce who grew up on these social platforms…we’re at an absolute crossroads.
The reason why there’s so much program leakage is that you have these beautiful consumer applications that are pulling people in. They’re exciting, there are benefits to them. You get rewards that go directly to you as the individual. And we’ve got to think about how we’re going to solve for that.
That’s why we’re excited about gamification: it’s about the individual reward to the traveler for doing going by their companies. You bring the best of both worlds: the corporation wins and so too does the traveler!
The beauty of the program is that it’s modern. It’s a different way to manage an age-old problem in the travel industry, and one that’s growing [with open booking]. It’s growing because new demographics are coming into the workforce. By 2020, Millenials are going to make up over 70% of your population in the company – those are high numbers.
These are the populations that have grown up on Angry Birds and Facebook; it’s a different manner in which they communicate with each other. It’s all about competition, transparency, communication and collaboration. We’ve brought all of those very elements why social platforms are so appealing, and we’ve created a modern engagement strategy approach and attached it to a corporate hook.
At the same time, we have to make sure they are making the right buying decisions. Travel is expensive, and every decision they make can help or hurt the company. Let’s make sure we’ve got modern and sophisticated tools to help our travelers when they are on the trip, but also that we are motivating them to make the right decisions about that trip. The two really go hand in hand.
Gamification is enticing the employee to make the right decision, so the travel management solution can do its job whenever a disruption occurs. That’s why we’ve been focused so much from an innovation standpoint this year in particular around how do you really bring together what the corporation’s rules are merged with the way the traveler behaves and wants to operate. How do those two work together?
How are you integrating gamification?
Most all companies have an online booking tool. We’re building a landing page that lives on their normal homepage for booking travel.
Travelers will see a series of things: a profile to customize with a photo or avatar image, a series of missions, a community weekly and monthly leaderboard, and a full ranking leaderboard. There’s also an activity feed, so if I book my travel 14 days in advance, that will post on the activity feed so everyone else can see that I booked in program. Everyone will be able to see everyone else’s activity as well.
We’ve gamified 7 elements of the travel policy to start, such as booking a preferred supplier, booking a hotel at the same time as your air transaction, booking online, booking in advance, and booking with your company card.
The traveler can click on several different places to understand how they earn points. They’ll see a mission, and each time they complete that mission they get points that add up to badges. They can see their score on the leaderboard.
Do you need more than social rewards to make this work?
Some folks have asked if that’s all we need – points, badges, leaderboards, and competition to be able to motivate behavior. I argue that, for a lot of companies, that’s all it’s going to take. In our social lives, why are social games so successful? You’re not getting a new car every time you level up on Angry Birds, you’re leveling up, you’re winning at some aspect of the game. And that’s what’s so appealing about the games.
The company will also have the option to offer more: free technology, a free hotel stay, whatever it may be. We want to test first the intrinsic rewards, points and badges.
Our strategy is to take the essence of why these social platforms are appealing and let’s build a solution around that and attach it to what a corporate role is.
How does this tool address the open booking/open travel debate?
Open booking is a reality – it’s here to stay. It’s not that we’re not in support of open booking – we recognize the reality of it. But there are tremendous benefits for staying within the company: savings, security, knowing where your travelers are when a disruption occurs, having to spend more money on technologies to connect travelers directly to suppliers.
But why not just modernize managed travel? It’s about understanding why they are booking outside the policy and let’s build more modern strategies within the managed travel space to be able to engage with the travelers in a different way.
We think, in what we’ve studied, the intrinsic benefits – the badges and seeing where you feel in relation to your peer group – that is a big motivator in itself to drive a desired behavior. Some companies will say, that’s not enough for my travelers. So a company can absolutely tie in an existing reward program, or we can explore building something reward-specific for them.
So as we make it through the pilot, we want to learn what is motivational to travelers, what do they need.
What is a successful rollout for you on this project?
A successful trial would be that the travelers took advantage of the missions, and, if we are saying that one mission is to unlock badges by doing specific things, that people do them. We’ve been looking currently at what travelers are booking, so we have a benchmark set of data to look at.
We have six months of data currently on these particular travelers. We can then look to see if we have shifted behavior in terms of booking a particular airline, a particular hotel, or their behavior at booking hotels with air transactions. I want to see over the next 30-45 days, are the points and badges actually motivating a particular behavior. I want to look at that data to judge success.
The manner in which we designed it, is to be fun, whimsical, youthful, it’s got bold colors. We intended it to look like a consumer-based application. We’re going to put a lot of motivation around how we communicate it to travelers.
There are so many possibilities. When we think about bringing consumer applications into the business environment, there are going to be two things that everyone is going to be focused on here: what do you bring in and where do we start. This is an industry that has been around for a very long time. There’s been change in the industry, a lot of turmoil, but I don’t think there’s a firm understanding yet. This is a very complex industry; we have to keep it simple.
NB: Boardgame image courtesy Shutterstock.
Nick Vivion was a reporter (and later also global events lead) for Tnooz between August 2012 and July 2015. He was the launch co-founder of Booty's, a global street food restaurant in New Orleans and now is AVP Operations, North America at Zomato.