Control Company Costs

Consistency is King for a Globalized Travel Experience: An SAP Concur Podcast Conversation with Award-Winning American Express Global Business Travel

Kathryn Kamin |

Clients of American Express Global Business travel were clamoring for a consistent online booking experience in all markets-not just in the primary markets, like France or London, but in secondary markets, like Peru and Saudi Arabia. "When you have an inconsistent experience across your employee pool," Jeanne Dion, Director of Value Experience at SAP Concur solutions, shares, "the doubt around bookings, and payments, and use, and support of yourself as an employee within the company starts to grow. And it actually starts to color everything that you do when you are traveling." Control, savings, and support are all fundamental deliverables to create a satisfying online booking experience for business travelers. Scott Daube, Director of Online Strategy at American Express Global Business Travel, shares how they grew this offering.

This four-episode podcast series celebrates the SAP Concur Partner Award recipients.  American Express Global Business Travel received one of two Partner Innovation Awards for 2020, which, amidst a global pandemic, is quite a feat. Other past recipients include: American AirlinesLyndon Group, and neylux. Listen to each of these episodes on our podcast channel, SAP Concur Conversations, for best practices to implement at your own organization.

You can listen to this episode on Apple Amazon Spotify Listen Notes Acast Google or your favorite place to find podcasts.

 

Want to join this special circle of winners?

Nominations are now open for the SAP Concur Partner Awards, now part of the SAP Concur Innovation Awards, recognizing outstanding achievements from our partner ecosystem.

As an SAP Concur partner, please submit a nomination to win awards in either “Growth” or “Innovation” categories.

Criteria: All partner types are eligible to submit.

Growth Awards: Based on measurable growth in your SAP Concur partnership.

Innovation Awards: Based on innovation you brought to a specific customer engagement or to your overall SAP Concur relations.

Questions? Email: sapconcurpartners@sap.com

 

Transcript:

 

Jeanne Dion:

Hi, I'm Jeanne Dion. I'm the Director of the Value Experience Consulting Group here at SAP Concur. And today, I'm talking to Scott Daube, who is the Director of Online Booking Strategy for American Express Global Business Travel. Scott, if you wouldn't mind going ahead and introducing yourself?

Scott Daube:

Thank you, Jeanne. Yeah, I'm actually, as you said, the Director of Online Booking Tool Strategy for American Express Global Business Travel. Believe it or not, I've been doing this role more or less on Thursday for 25 years.

Jeanne Dion:

Congratulations.

Scott Daube:

Thank you. And, in general, I make sure that everything that has to do with online booking works, I mean, in a nutshell. So, often people don't understand what I do, but I just am sort of the general manager, the glue that holds things together, and working with Concur, we've been offering online booking since 2004, for example.

Jeanne Dion:

Excellent. So, I know that, with the past 18 months, travel has not actually been on the top of everybody's mind, but given what you do for work, it is really top of mind for you. So, when you think about what brought about this innovation, can you explain to me how this all came about? How this award came to?

Scott Daube:

And remember, in 2019, it was a banner year, right? So, prior to the pandemic, travel was in boom times and we had global clients. We have over 4,500 global clients using Concur. And they'd really penetrated all of their major markets, their primary markets, their secondary markets. And what happened is, we had a number of large multinational customers who wanted to expand to all of their employees. So, not just in places like the US, Canada, Australia, EMEA, but in places like Peru, or Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, and literally in places where they had as few as 25 employees. They wanted to get the same service, support, and benefits that they got in all their major markets. And so, they came to us and they said, "We want you to truly globalize." So, we may have 30 markets or 40 markets. We have one client with over 60 markets that needed to be covered. And so, we undertook this project to bring a fully managed, fully supported product to these smaller countries.

Jeanne Dion:

When you say this, that they'd already kind of saturated when we're talking about these tertiary markets, are we talking about them having the exact experience that a customer, that an employee would have, say, if they were in the United States?

Scott Daube:

I would say, they're looking for consistency. So now that said, again, everybody's travel program is different. Some people have a global consistent travel program. Other people have regional travel programs, but they just, in a very basic level, they want someone in Saudi Arabia to be able to book online, the same way that their travelers and their employees in France, or their travelers and employees in Sweden book online. And they want to get the same savings that they get. They want to get the same compliance that they get. They want it, and that's all of the benefits that you get from booking online with Concur, they want to extend globally.

Jeanne Dion:

Okay. So, this is really a play of global consistency, first and foremost, right? That the experience that the employee is getting is the same across the globe. And, that the company still has visibility into the spend and can provide the appropriate parameters and guidelines for purchase. Whether they're purchasing, as you mentioned in Peru, or whether they're purchasing in London, or they're purchasing in Chicago, Illinois, correct?

Scott Daube:

The answer is yes, all of the above. In other words, anything that you get from booking online, whether it's instead of having to call a travel counselor, booking online, and having control of your own booking. The savings that you get from booking online, whether it's on air, car, or hotel, the savings from not having to call a travel counselor. The support and infrastructure from booking online, the ability to shop for yourself, the satisfaction. So, basically everything. They don't want their employees in these places to feel deprived. And what I've heard from some of them is, their employees were clamoring for this. So, they were saying, "Why can't I book online, like my colleagues in France are booking, or my colleagues in Australia are booking, just because I'm in Romania? Why can't I book online, too?"

Jeanne Dion:

Yeah. And I think the key here is, when you have an inconsistent experience across your employee pool, that doubt around bookings, and payments, and use, and support of yourself as an employee within the company starts to grow. And it actually starts to color everything that you do when you are traveling. So, I think this is an amazing opportunity for our global customers to be able to provide that standard of care, and standard of support across the globe, regardless of where you live. So, I'm really excited about this. Now, when we talk about how it works, so a customer is using the American Express Global Business Travel Team, and they also have Concur. So, talk me through how they engage for this platform and how did they start this process of supporting those internal customers on a global basis?

Scott Daube:

Well, again, remember, so we have a reseller version of Concur Travel, and so that's fully managed, fully supported, fully configured, online, offline. Every, in other words, we manage their entire travel program. So, for customers who choose that, generally they'll roll out, in again, from cost benefit perspective, their biggest markets. So, we'll often when, for example, when we win a large customer, we'll sit there, and we'll go through all the markets. And they'll be, they want to cover 20 markets or 30 markets. And so usually it's their largest markets first to get the benefit, the biggest bang for their buck, first. And then, we keep rolling out, rolling on, and rolling out.

And so, in all of our proprietary markets, for example, we have the same teams that configure the tool, the same teams that support the tool, the same teams that manage the tool. So, you're getting a highly professional, consistent, global support. And so now again, so imagine you're a client and you've done that. You've got 20 countries; you've got 30 countries. And then you say, "Gee, I've got 50 travelers, contractors in Malaysia. Can they use it, too?" Or "I've got a bunch of employees doing finance in the United Arab Emirates. I'd like them to get the same benefit," or "I'd like them to be consistent." And sometimes it's to quiet the noise. Like I said, they're actually complaining. Other times it's just efficient. So, I can have the same program, the same training, the same service and support that I have everywhere in all of these countries.

Jeanne Dion:

This sounds like it's more of a platform that is already there to service and not, there is configuration that happens versus a customization. When I think about that, I recently had a podcast where somebody explained that Concur, they likened Concur to being a condo where you can get a different floor plan, depending on what part of the building you want to live in, or what floor you want to live in. It sounds very similar to what's happening here. You have a base platform and then the customers coming in and letting you know, as the provider, what enablement they need to build that platform out. Would that be a correct assumption of how it works?

Scott Daube:

Well, remember too, you first have to have the platform. So, you have to make sure that in that country and with all the mid-office systems and back-office systems that you're using, that you are booking, you're exchanging, you're refunding, you have PNR acquisition. You'd have pre-trip approval, if the client so wants it, that you have ...That all of these things work the same way they work, again, in the primary places. So now, usually they're not going to that level of customization in these other markets. They're just looking really for the basics. So, they just want these people to be able to book online, or exchange online, or refund and cancel online.

A lot of times they even haven't even gotten to the place where they're doing some of the fancier things they might be doing in other countries, whether that's certain approval mechanisms or whatever. But basically, it's just creating that consistent experience and that consistent platform. So, they can build a site in that country that meets whatever needs they have. So, they may, again, be trying to make it globally consistent, or they may have the travel manager in that region allow them to do things a little differently, depending on how they run the business.

Jeanne Dion:

So, when we talk about this, and we talk about this consistency, and the globalized approach to travel, how many customers are using this tool right now? Do we have any idea? And, how many different templates, for lack of a better term, are built out already to support this, this program?

Scott Daube:

Well, just so what I want to say about the award in particular, whereas there were probably 23 new countries in scope, where we were going into the country, we were creating a platform. We were doing all the testing. We're setting up the PNR formats, the profile templates, we're doing all the testing. So that then, any client who wanted to come to that country, we could build sites for them. So basically, the infrastructure is there. You can come in and build. And so, during the course of the project, we launched 16 new countries that were able then to support any customer. And we had, I think, I know that we had 130 sites that were built in the 16 countries. And I think it was 35 multinational customers who took advantage of that. And then of course, what happened is the pandemic came. So, it would have even been a bigger initiative, but then when the pandemic came, things kind of ground to a halt.

But even in that time, going into these 16 countries, we had 130 customer sites. So, there really was a need, and people started booking. And even today, people are booking. So, in some countries like Brazil, countries where there's pharmaceutical companies, medical companies, we've had some clients have booked all the way through the pandemic, while, whereas others really virtually shut down their travel program. So, we're just starting to get that back now. I'm starting to get requests from clients, like I have a client or a few clients now who are saying, "Well, what about, remember you were going to do Ethiopia? And that never got done because of the pandemic. Now, are you now going to do Ethiopia?" So now it's kind of coming back around again, now that travel's opening up.

Jeanne Dion:

Well, and I can see why this would be so important, especially in the tertiary markets. There's a lot of work. You mentioned pharmaceutical. I can also think manufacturing, where some of the smaller countries where the manufacturing and business really hasn't slowed that much, or the need for what they're doing is still really quite robust. And so, having to travel there to oversee or to travel to and from, to ensure that things are happening correctly, I mean, I can see where this would be growing exponentially, once things start to get back into the swing of what was 2019, and previous. But I can see where even now, those 16 countries, that's a significant amount of work that's been done. And to the point of, you had a list of originals, are you going back and reviewing that list? Or are you taking feedback into where the next one should be, to prioritize that remainder of the list?

Scott Daube:

Yeah. I think the latter. People are saying, "Okay, what's next?" And so, I think we have to reassess where we are and reassess resources, reassess needs, and then figure out what we want to do. But also, clients, they haven't all returned to travel. So, I think it's still in that evaluation period, if you will. I mean, I think, the key to everybody right now is just getting back, just starting the programs back up again versus expansion. I mean, not that people don't want to expand, but I think everyone's focused on the task at hand, which is getting up and running safely now again.

Jeanne Dion:

When we think about all the customers that you have rolled out on this to date, are there any success measurements, or measurements of how these companies are doing, now that these sites are available to them? These countries are available to their employees to be able to book just like everybody else.

Scott Daube:

Yeah. And again, because the pandemic hit, makes baseline comparisons difficult. So, in a normal world, we would have their booking volumes, et cetera. But so, we reached out to some CGMs just to get input. CGM, the client general managers of the clients who expanded. And basically, what they said is that the success metric is ridiculously simple, which is the clients are happy. So, and that's exactly what we found is clients were saying the feedback's been extremely positive. The users love being able to book online finally. They love the ease of use. There's no negative feedback. The procurement teams at these companies are glad to be getting the benefits of booking online. The savings, the finance teams are glad that they don't have to be doing something different for these employees. They can be doing the same thing, and paying the bills the same way, and ticketing the same way. So, when we reach out, I mean, it's a simple metric. But it's just that clients, whatever goal they had in going into these different countries, that they are able to achieve, and that they're happy. And that's what we're hearing.

Jeanne Dion:

That's incredible. And, I don't mean to bring it down, but one question that I do have, because I've seen a lot of this in my life. When the implementation is rolled out, have you heard of any places where there was a general dissatisfaction, or maybe even a bit of dissent at having a global tool rolled out to them? Was it really the tool that was the issue or are there other things that are involved, that should be addressed during a change management as you roll these out for a customer?

Scott Daube:

Yeah. And well, change management is very important, but there definitely are times when, especially in global travel programs where there may be some employees in a far-flung place that don't really want to be told what to do, or don't want to be told to do it a certain way. And so, they rebel, and they would like to do it their way. So, I've definitely seen that. With this particular project, I haven't heard that yet. I mean, we have customers using Concur in over a hundred countries. And so, there's in the distant past, there were sometimes issues with content. I mean, still today, in some smaller places, there's issues with rail content, air carriers are always changing their content.

Sometimes there are valid issues in a particular country of why the travelers might be dissatisfied, but in general, that's not the experience. But have I ever seen employees say, "I don't like that global travel manager telling me I have to do things a certain way? I used to do them a different way. And I really liked that way. I love my travel counselor, who I knew personally or who always helped me. And I don't want to do this." Sure. That happens. But in general, not really. I think everyone's with the program, and they enjoy booking online. They like the control that it gives them, and the freedom it gives them to do what they need to do.

Jeanne Dion:

And to that point, when I think about that a lot of times when, because change is hard, change is hard for all of us. When something like that happens, is there an ability to maybe fine tune the tools post-implementation, to account for maybe local cultural or whether it's site cultural within the organization requirements and requests that are happening? It's not just a, "Here it is. And you're never going to be able to change it," right? There are ways to fine tune it.

Scott Daube:

Yeah, well, we measure user satisfaction with every trip. Travelers receive a survey that measures their satisfaction for both online, offline, and various aspects of it. And so, if we see issues with that, then we'll often go in, and usually it's not the booking tool per se. It's how it was configured for that particular population. So, let's ... I'll give an example. So, let's say for example, the tool was, the travel manager wanted to achieve the greatest savings. So, they told users that they had to take the cheapest flight, even if it involved taking a connection. Let's just say. And what it turns out is travelers in that country, the city pairs that they travel didn't really fit very well with that idea. Meaning that there were a lot of direct, better direct flights than connecting flights, and connecting flights were putting them out of their way or inconveniencing them.

So then, what we'll do is if we see low scores, we'll work with the client to configure the travel policy in the tool better to say, "What is it that's creating this dissatisfaction?" And do a lot of research to uncover, is it the rules that we have in place? So, it's rarely the tool itself. It's more the rules that were put in place, and people chafing under those rules, or the rules not fitting that particular population.

Jeanne Dion:

I like that you brought that up about, it's most times the rule, not the tool. That idea of being able to meet a customer goal. You've got two customers in mind, right? You've got your traveler, who's the actual end user customer. And you've got your customer, who is who you're managing that travel for. And being able to pull all of that data together so that your ultimate customer, the one that you're managing the travel for, is able to respond to their own end users, and their own internal customers is really critical to a successful business relationship. I really applaud you guys for being able to bring that to a customer and work collaboratively that way with the customer base.

Scott Daube:

Yeah. And really, again, this was all about globalization. So, we're already doing that for you in like, we may cover 95% of your transactions or 98% of your transactions for your population, your traveling population. But now, you want, and we want to bring it to the last 5%, the last 2%. And we can do that. It's pretty straightforward when you look at it that way, because it's the same team servicing it, whether it's again, in Peru, Romania, United Arab Emirates. The same people configuring the site, the same people maintaining the site. So, they know your program, they know you, they know how your other sites are configured. They know your travel policy, then how you're being handled offline. So again, it's just extending that benefit as widely as possible, to as global as possible.

Jeanne Dion:

And when you mention you do that, that final 5% or 2% of your population that's working in some of those tertiary markets, is there any limit or any minimum to the number of customers that you have in a country where you could roll this type of program out? Or if you have just one person, does it make sense to be able to do it? Do you have any guidance on that for our customers?

Scott Daube:

Yeah. I think we have some interesting conversations about that sometimes. So, because in other words, it does take time and effort to enable a site, to roll out a site, to configure a site. And so, we'll say to a customer, "Well, how many travelers do you have in that country?" And if someone says, "10," the conversation might be, "Do we really want to go through the effort for 10 travelers?" And they answer, it might be, "Yes." Or the answer might be, "Well, do you have another idea?" And it might be, "Well, they can be serviced out of a hub in the neighboring country without any additional work at all. What if we did that?" Or so there are other solutions.

And sometimes though, I've been in conversations where we're trying to prioritize building sites in Slovenia, and nothing wrong with Slovenia, I'm not knocking Slovenia. I'm just saying, we're like, "Really, how many travelers do they really have headquartered in Slovenia?" And the answer might be, 20, 25. And so, but if in other words, if the customer has a good business reason to do it, then we do it. But there is time, effort, you could call it cost of doing that. So, it's not magical. So, there is a cost benefit analysis, if you will.

Jeanne Dion:

Well, I love that you're not providing just a one size fits all. "You must do this," or "You can't do this." That it's really consultative, and really working together to provide your customer and our customers with the best possible solution for their particular needs and challenge. So, and I know it can't always be easy to do that. There's a lot that goes into it. So, thank you for taking such good care of our shared customers. I truly appreciate that.

Scott Daube:

Well, I think what we share in common, both Concur, and American Express Global Business Travel is the global nature of our products and services. So, we're the largest distributor of Concur Travel. We have more countries than anybody else, and you also distribute Concur Travel and Expense in over a hundred countries. And so, for us, it makes sense. It just makes sense that clients that have this multinational name, that have this global need, it's a good fit. So, it's a great partnership that way. It's a great way to look at the business together and a great benefit for our customers.

Jeanne Dion:

When I think about our customers, is there a specific customer type that this type of program, or this type of innovation would work best for, or really, is it open to everybody?

Scott Daube:

Yeah. I mean, we have different segments of customers. So, if customers who, for example, in the middle market in the US, only operate within the US. We have customers who might be US-Canada. We have customers who do sort of simple international trips. We have customers ... We have one customer where literally 93% of their trips are complex international trips. So, I can't say that this fits one type better than another. What I would say is, again, it depends on their traveler population, because again, this is really just broadening the program, making it available to them. So, from sort of my job is making the platform available. How people then use it, that's the beauty of all the other teams that work on it, on whether it's the implementation teams, whether it's the client general managers. So, what they're looking to our team to provide, it's just that ability. Like, "Here you go, knock yourself out. With whatever need your client has, again, it's Malaysia, it's United Arab Emirates, it's Peru, it's Romania. Now you can do it."

Jeanne Dion:

Well. When I think about this award, I think about the innovation that it's taken to do this. And so, I'm going to ask you to put on your future vision hat and think about what's next. I know you mentioned expanding the program to additional countries. Is there a timeline or some additional features or functionality that you're looking to add into this platform?

Scott Daube:

Yeah, I think the challenge now is, travel is still dynamically evolving with things like new distribution capability, other sources of content, that I think there's a challenge, too, in keeping all of this up to date and keeping it all rolled out on a global basis. So, there are new data privacy regulations there, so it's not just, I mean, it's great that we're able to build the platform, and we're able to make it available, and it's great that clients are able to use it. I think what creates a big challenge for everybody is as the industry dynamically changes, it's keeping pace with all those changes in all of these places.

So, I know that's not exactly what you asked, but I think that creating a true global program and having truly global technology is still a big challenge. Just as I'm sure you're finding on the expense side too, not everyone, everywhere is the same with expense, with travel. And so, I, to answer your question, I think just making sure that as we roll out a lot of these new programs and a lot of these new benefits, whether it's NEC or whether it's new hotel content, or again, whether it's new data privacy, that we're able to do that on a global basis as well.

Jeanne Dion:

That's not always easy. We say, "Oh, we're just going to do that." But that really is the crux of the issue, right? To make sure that we're able to service everybody, not just a select few.

Scott Daube:

I'll give you an example. So sanctioned entities. The US changes its list of sanctioned entities on a regular basis. And we literally go into all of our customer sites and many of them, which we can do centrally, but some that are in sort of far-flung places, and we have to manually configure restrictions on bookings. So, whether it's Crimea, Iran, North Korea, but they change all the time. And just maintaining that, people don't really see underneath the covers, what hard work all these teams are doing. And so, I just want to give kudos to all the teams at Concur, and kudos to all the teams at American Express Global Business Travel that are doing this hard work that no one really sees. I don't want to say never appreciate. No one really sees, because it's kind of behind the scenes.

Jeanne Dion:

Well, that's the curse of making everything look easy.

Scott Daube:

Exactly. Exactly.

Jeanne Dion:

And I know, that's exactly what happens.

Scott Daube:

It's our job to make it look easy. That's right.

Jeanne Dion:

That's right. That's right. That's what you spend your whole day doing, making business travel look easy. So, is there anything else that I have forgotten to ask or anything that you wanted to share with our audience before we wrap up?

Scott Daube:

Honestly, no.

Jeanne Dion:

All talked out.

Scott Daube:

No. Yeah. I mean, like I said, it was in a way it was a very straightforward project. It was to expand what we, all the good stuff we currently do for everybody, everywhere. Just to take it further. And so that's what we did. So, there's no, I don't want to say there's no trick or there's no extra something to that. It's just taking what we do and making it even bigger and better.

Jeanne Dion:

Yeah. Well, not always easy, but you did it quite well. So, congratulations again for the award. We're very appreciative to be partners with you, and we're excited to see what comes out next from these countries, and any new features and functionality that you bring to us, we're truly thrilled to be part of it.

Scott Daube:

Well, thank you very much.

Jeanne Dion:

Thank you. And thanks to you for listening. If you have any further questions or you're looking to get any more information about what the American Express Global Business Travel teams can do for you, or what you've heard about related to Concur, please go ahead and visit our websites. Thank you again for joining us. And we'll be talking to you soon.

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Scott Daube is Director, Online Booking Tool Strategy for American Express Global Business Travel.  Scott started as a director with Amex GBT’s interactive division when it was formed back in 1996, and was part of the launch of Amex GBT’s first enterprise-level corporate online booking tool, AXI.  Prior to American Express, Scott worked in advertising, publishing and media, where he was instrumental in the creation of digital travel destination areas that appeared on services such as America Online and Apple’s e-world.  Scott holds a Master’s degree in Public and Private Management from the Yale School of Organization and Management, and a combined Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown University.

 

 

 

Jeanne Dion is the Director of the Value Experience Delivery team at SAP Concur which provides customers with data-driven insights for programmatic improvements. She’s an experienced professional specializing in Intelligent Spend Management across travel, expense, and accounts payable platforms. Driven by a passion for process improvement, Jeanne looks to bring every customer to a best practice standard while ensuring their business objectives remain the primary focus. When she’s not digging in data to identify trends and program behaviors, she loves to travel with her daughter and volunteer within her community.

Follow her on LinkedIn

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