Business travellers face unique challenges every day. On tight schedules, they try to stay connected and productive as they move across the map. Last-minute changes and cancellations are common. Unexpected business trip disruptions and hassle require fast but careful solutions, regardless of when they occur. As a result, business travellers need and expect an exceptionally high level of customer service.
Over the years, Egencia has consistently earned high marks in terms of customer satisfaction. A recent survey found that 96 per cent of Egencia customers were either very satisfied or extremely satisfied with the service they received. The question that arose, however, was how could Egencia accelerate growth while still maintaining — or better, yet, improving — on its record of strong customer support and business traveller services? The answer, and the solution we’ve put in place over a period of years, involved rethinking the company’s organisational and systemic models, among other sweeping changes. That’s the Egencia way: always striving for improvement to support our customer's business travel programmes.
Teaming local knowledge with global support
Looking at its customer support operations in 2018, the Egencia leadership team saw an opportunity to change its approach and facilitate growth in the process. The opportunity presented itself in the form of globalisation. For context, in 2019 alone, Egencia’s worldwide team of thousands of travel management consultants handled more than 10 million customer contacts. That’s more than one every three seconds — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Before taking advantage of this global opportunity, Egencia ran its customer support operations on a country-by-country basis. “The insight was that our organisation needed to evolve to accommodate the reality of global business travel,” said Paul Cowan, Egencia’s Senior Director, Global Customer Operations. “Even if the customer was travelling locally, he or she was using a worldwide system. Our thought process went to aligning the structure of our customer support organisation with our overall global presence to get the benefits of scale and best practice, but retain the terrific local knowledge and understanding our travel consultants had of their market in each location.”
The first step in implementing this change was to establish a single, global customer support organisation, now known as Egencia Customer Services (CS). CS is able to support any Egencia customer, anywhere in the world, at any time through a unified set of systems and a connected, worldwide workforce. “Now, everyone gets the benefits of scale and best practices,” Cowan added. “Instead of having multiple ways of training a new travel consultant or updating our existing team on the latest changes from airlines and hotels, we now use one set of best approaches worldwide.”
Taking action to make customer service performance even stronger
Egencia then invested in a number of initiatives to improve upon its already high-performing customer service. Overall, the goal was to build a shared performance culture. In particular, the initiative focused on three core areas of corporate travel customer support:
- Coaching and mentoring — Great customer support for business travellers comes from the personalised attention of knowledgeable travel consultants. To bolster the travel experience, therefore, Egencia decided to invest in its travel consultants through coaching and mentoring. Each travel consultant receives a minimum of two coaching sessions per month. In total, Egencia devotes more than 100,000 hours annually on training and coaching for travel arrangers and consultants, carrying out more than 70,000 individual pieces of coaching and feedback each year.
- Monitoring performance — Egencia’s CS team closely tracks the personal performance of travel consultants. The process includes weekly and monthly evaluations between travel consultants and their team leaders to ensure quality and consistency of service delivery.
- Listening to customer feedback — In parallel, the CS team conducts a monthly survey via email and phone of more than 30,000 customers who have dealt with Egencia’s travel consultants to understand levels of satisfaction and to learn where it’s possible to improve even further.
Ultimately, these efforts succeeded in creating a single sense of purpose that pervades the entire travel consultant group.
The successful move to a global organisation involved the adoption and implementation of numerous best practices. These included implementing a state-of-the-art workforce management system, along with other unified systems of record, such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) for the whole global operation. “You have to be systematic about building an operation of this scale for it to work effectively for our people and deliver for customers,” Cowan remarked. “It’s essential to ensuring that everyone understands their objectives clearly, with the right structure to support them in delivering against those objectives.”
The addition of these new tools enabled another important best practice, which is the ability to shift operations from geography to geography as demand ebbs and flows. For example, during the Australian bush fire outbreak earlier in 2020, Egencia was able to route the resulting spike in calls to consultants located in Europe.
Business travel customer service success metrics
The new global approach to business travel management is working. Egencia is able to keep its promises and respond quickly to customer needs. Customers receive fast responses to their enquiries. In a recent customer satisfaction survey, 91 per cent of Egencia’s customers said they were extremely satisfied with the service they received from Egencia travel consultants. In another sign of the programme’s success, Egencia was able to switch more than 1,000 travel consultants to home-based working in a two-week period during the COVID-19 pandemic without experiencing any impact on service delivery.
What Egencia’s customers have to say
Egencia’s customers have shared their positive experiences with CS’s travel consultants. For example, a customer in France said, “Thank you for continuing this telephone reception. I can’t stand having to do everything today on the Internet. The operators are friendly and efficient. This human contact highlights your service, which I never fail to recommend.” An American business traveller echoed this sentiment, stating, “I had a stressful need to change travel twice in two days, and called in for help. Both reps that I spoke to were polite, helpful, empathetic and really exceeded my expectations. Thank you all so much!”
Egencia customers repeatedly highlighted their positive personal experiences with the travel consultants. This enthusiasm is attributable partly to coaching efforts and the investments in the consultants’ success. In Australia, for instance, a business traveller remarked, “The people I have interacted with on the phone have been exceptional. We even mentioned to our customer service people that it would be worth it to take notes from your team.” Further to this point, a Singapore-based Egencia customer noted, “I had an amazing experience interacting with the travel consultant. She provided very timely assistance and was very helpful and friendly. The issue was resolved while we were on the call, and I’m very pleased with the outcome.”
Fostering a positive customer experience in business travel is an ongoing focus for Egencia. The company’s leadership team is pleased with the outcomes of these most recent efforts, but the process of continual improvement never stops. There are always new ways to get better at business travel.