In each issue of Business Travel Executive, the members of our Buyer Think Tank offer their individual thoughts on what’s hot, what’s cool and what’s coming next in managed travel.

The Think Tank is a team of eight veteran travel managers from programs that run the gamut in size and complexity – but each member contributes a unique viewpoint. Travel Buyer’s POV brings fresh perspectives and ideas to inspire innovation and thought leadership in the corporate travel industry.

For corporate travel managers, feedback from travelers can be a wellspring of insights and a source of metrics to elevate the travel program and enhance the ROI on every travel dollar. So it’s important for travelers to have a consistent, readily available pipeline to offer their input on what’s going right and what needs fixing in their company’s travel program.

In this issue’s Point of View, members of the BTE Think Tank share their strategies for – and frustrations with – the task of gathering meaningful traveler feedback.

Beyond Fiasco Freakouts and Knee-jerk Reactions
Thoughtful, useful traveler feedback is hard to come by. Almost all the feedback I receive is based on an emotional reaction to some either positive or negative occurrence that the traveler experienced. Nine out of ten are negative. An annual survey is probably more indicative of the service travelers are experiencing because it’s not a knee-jerk reaction to a specific incident. However, a 20 percent rate of return on surveys is considered good. What about the other 80 percent?

My program at NetApp relies on an annual survey, a feedback mailbox, and traveler return surveys that only get about a 1 to 2 percent response. Not much to crow about! I do have strong one-on-one relationships with many of the executive administrators in the company. They know that I will support them, and they come to me for assistance. They definitely come to me when things go wrong! They also give me some honest feedback when they’re not freaking out over some travel fiasco.
– Mark Ziegler

Encourage the Virtuous Circle
While feedback loops are incredibly important to creating a well-run corporate travel program that serves the needs of the company and the employees, I like to create parameters around those feedback sessions. Giving employees the opportunity to provide feedback on vendors in the program, especially hotels, provides open communication about what can work best, and will increase their compliance to your program.

Opening this up for conversation in this very structured way allows you to ask questions with limits that will keep you away from open-ended and continuous forms of feedback. This is mostly due to the fact that, when someone insists on giving me such unsolicited input and I respond with "Thank you for your feedback" as a complete sentence, it’s generally understood to be the equivalent of me telling them off.
– Rosemary E. Maloney

Good or Bad, Feedback Is a Great Gift
For meetings and events, feedback is fundamental to success. It provides insights into attendees’ experiences and improves event quality. Understanding what went well and what didn’t go so well this time is critical for enhancing the attendee experience at future events. To deliver the best possible experience to all stakeholders, planners need to understand preferences and expectations so they can tailor more personalized experiences for attendees, speakers and hosts.

Events are so personal and dynamic. Things can – and do – change rapidly, so real-time feedback helps adjust on-the-fly. Providing a safe way to offer feedback before, during and after the event demonstrates a willingness to listen and adapt, building authenticity and trust in a relationship. Feedback is also a crucial source of data to help identify goals, establish baselines, and drive continuous improvement, ultimately setting the stage for the success of future events.
– Wendy Palmer

Listen, Listen, Listen
I get traveler feedback using the usual methods: Post-travel surveys from the TMC and OBT, and also surveys sent directly from our travel department. This year we are paying more attention than usual to increasing our response rate, as we intend to use the data as leverage to lobby for some much-needed change. We also created a targeted survey to our most frequent travelers, specifically on our booking, approval and expense processes – very short, open and freeform. Sending out surveys is positive step, but what you do with the information is more important.

Selectively contacting travelers who responded and addressing their problems and concerns, or even their positive responses, can have even more impact. You can engage with your travel clientele in other ways, too. For example, don’t overlook those executive assistants who aren’t traveling but are managing trips for others. They often have the most valuable, honest feedback you can receive. Roundtable discussions provide great input. And I always get plenty of opinions on the elevator, too! No matter the source, I’ll take it all and use it the best way I can to improve.
– David Smith