Traditionally when travel buyers have launched a drive to increase compliance, the number one tool has been to wield the metaphorical stick – often in the form of a mandated policy.
While this 'command and control' approach was all the rage during the aftermath of the financial crisis and ensuing recession a decade ago, there has also been a growing recognition in recent years that a more subtle approach to managing travellers’ behaviour may actually bear more fruit.
Concepts such as behavioural economics and 'nudge theory' have been around for a while – TMCS including BCD Travel and Capita Travel and Events are among the corporate travel specialists trying to harness these techniques as a way of improving travel management.
The subject also took centre stage at this year’s Business Travel Show where Steve Martin, Chief Executive of behavioural change consultancy Influence at Work, delivered a keynote presentation on how the 'psychology of persuasion' can be used to improve the effectiveness of travel programmes.
Martin says that the traditional ways of encouraging travellers to comply, such as education and using incentives, are “entirely valid but not without their problems”.
He believes business travellers can often suffer from “information overload”, which means they may not pay sufficient attention to messages from the travel department, while incentive-based programmes can work out to be expensive, as well as “crowding out intrinsic ways for people to behave well in the first place,” he says.
Improving compliance to travel policy by ‘nudging’ your travellers into making the right decisions is one of the hottest topics in travel management, writes
Martin instead suggests using six “universal shortcuts” to influence or “nudge” traveller behaviour in the desired direction. These concepts are: reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, likeability and social proof.
“These are six additional tools to help deliver the message in the most compelling and persuasive way that go to the fundamentals of human behaviour,” says Martin.
He adds that using penalties, such as punishing employees who fail to follow policy, can often be counterproductive by actually helping to increase the problem.
“Penalising behaviour that’s undesirable just makes people want to do it more,” he says. “If people are always turning up late to meetings and you say that meetings are always late, then the problem will continue. You are normalising the very behaviour you want to eradicate. What you want to do is to normalise behaviours that are desirable.”
Martin uses the example of how HMRC increased the number of people paying tax on time by simply inserting statements such as: “most people pay their tax on time” and “most people in your postcode have submitted their tax return”.
So that’s the theory, but what’s being done in practice to use behavioural science to improve travel programmes and policies? Visual guilt is one concept being used to drive down the cost of trips by asking travellers to make the most suitable booking decision.
Danielle Martinez, Marketing Coordinator at Good Travel Management, says: “Using visual guilt within an online booking tool is an effective way of driving actual cost savings, while also asking a booker to reconsider their choices if they have not selected the lowest cost or option within policy.
“The warning that their selection is noncompliant along with a checkbox approval of the higher cost, and the added requirement to explain why the higher price option has been chosen, is a great way of influencing bookers to buy more cost effectively without the need to have complex travel policy rules.”
The traveller will “find it tough to overspend because their conscience won’t let them”, while any missed savings will also be reported to the travel manager.
Former travel buyer Yvonne Moya, now a principal at consultancy Festive Road, agrees that visual guilt can be effective. “Seeing is believing and as soon as they see a price difference displayed, it might trigger a right decision,” she says. “Your flight is €200 more expensive and leaves just 20 minutes later – do you really want to book this ticket?”
This process does not just work at the point of sale but can be followed up by reports showing the lost savings from booking more expensive travel options. The data can be further segmented by department within an organisation to show which ones have the highest levels of compliance.
Another area where nudge theory is becoming more prevalent is for meetings and events – particularly for corporates' internal travel needs. This has become a focus for Capita Travel and Events under its Smarter Working programme, which aims to cut down on unnecessary travel as well as making trips smarter and safer.
Trevor Elswood, the TMC’S Chief Commercial Officer, says it is not just about focusing on travel costs but looking at “the decisions that take place before you start travelling”.
“When you’re sending people on training courses, you can pre-populate the hotel you want them to stay at,” he adds. “People don’t need the choice, as long as they understand why that property has been chosen.”
He continues: “We also have had clients who habitually hold internal monthly meetings but if you just change that to every six weeks instead you can reduce the budget by 20%. It’s about thinking differently and technology can help with this.”
Getting the right message over to the right people at the right time is crucial. Steve Martin says: “Receptivity depends on the persona you have, so use the digital message that’s most likely to influence that person. Use data to build these profiles as they can be more accurate than asking people themselves. The convergence of data and behavioural science to do this seems to be a no brainer.”
Communication should also flow both ways to be successful, says Marcus Clarke from psychology website, psysci.co. “Employees are more likely to save money for a company when they feel that their concerns can be raised and dealt with at any time. Mutual respect between travel managers and employees is an important factor in minimising travel expenses,” he says.
Concepts like behavioural science and nudge theory are not new but they are starting to have an increasing role in travel management. These often subtle techniques are not so much one big carrot, but lots of little ones that can collectively make a big difference to a travel programme.