By: A.G. Lambert, Chief Product Strategy Officer, SAP Concur & Brian Hace, Vice President, Global Travel Strategy, SAP Concur
SAP Concur Fusion kicked off today with two compelling panels exploring how the pandemic has impacted two key areas: travel and technology like artificial intelligence (AI). The panels delved deeper into how businesses should approach both areas as we move closer to a post-pandemic world.
The common thread that ties both topics together is the issue of trust. Both businesses and travel providers must establish policies and processes that instill trust and increase the willingness to travel. And in the case of AI, with the pandemic speeding up the need for its adoption, business leaders and employees must develop a sense of trust in the technology for it to succeed and benefit businesses.
Trust in Travel
While there are many reasons for business travel–from collaboration to developing relationships–the desire to establish trust with customers, colleagues, and clients is an important one. Ironically, as travel resumes post-pandemic, trust will play a key part in employees’ willingness to get back on the road and in the skies on behalf of the business. They’ll look to their employers and travel providers to help keep them, and even their families, healthy and safe
An SAP Concur study fielded in May–June 2020 found that one of the top concerns among business travelers when it comes to returning to travel is the health and safety of family members (55%). During the SAP Concur Fusion panel “Exploring the Current Evolution of Travel,” Raj Varadarajan, senior partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and a frequent business traveler, noted that employees who live with their family or others must also think about the well-being of those around them when making the decision to travel again.
Beyond health and safety precautions, business travelers also want help with staying informed. Lisa McKenzie, senior vice president of global sales at BCD Travel, noted that customers who are currently traveling, along with those who plan to travel in the future, want to understand the various restrictions in place around the world. “It’s not just about duty of care, it’s about traveler care,” said McKenzie.
Kerrie Henshaw-Cox, associate director of business travel at AstraZeneca, echoed this sentiment, “We’ve moved away from travel management to traveler management…travelers need information, and we need to have all the information that’s out there in one place.”
For travel providers, ensuring customers feel safe in their hands is an essential component to reactivating travel. According to British Airways’ Head of Distribution and Payments Rogier Van Enk, the company has adapted its products and services to be more contactless–whether at the airport or on the airplane. While the ultimate goal is to keep customers safe and healthy, British Airways hopes such measures will give customers confidence while flying with them.
In the end, the importance of face-to-face interaction to develop key business relationships has not been forgotten. “There is something powerful to a face-to-face discussion–a lunch, a dinner, a meal, a meeting in the office… ” said Varadarajan. There is no doubt business travelers are eager to get back on the road to strengthen old business relationships and create new ones, and as the travel industry looks to the post-pandemic world, the importance of trust will be front and center.
Trust in AI
The adoption of advanced technologies, like AI, has seen a rapid increase during the pandemic. Businesses are racing to invest in new technologies that allow them to stay resilient and successful in today’s business landscape. In many cases, the speed and efficiency AI offers is the best way to automate processes due to work from home requirements or the influx of more customers conducting business online or over the phone.
The SAP Concur Fusion panel “Exploring a World Where AI is Essential,” explored this topic with a focus on the use of AI to improve the customer support experience. Omar Tawakol, vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Contact Center Business Unit, discussed how AI can benefit companies from a customer support perspective and, in turn, create a better and faster experience for customers.
“We’ve been talking in [the support] industry for years about the transformation of AI to help agents become super agents and to automate. And then COVID-19 came along, and I think it accelerated the adoption of AI in this industry by three or four years… ” said Tawakol. “So what the AI can do is listen along with the [support agents] and nudge them, look at knowledge base articles or past resolution articles and tell them ‘Hey, I think this is the resolution to your problem.’”
But even with such benefits, AI still faces challenges with regard to adoption. Business leaders, and even employees, may be wary of fully embracing its benefits due to the perceived complexity of the technology. According to Massimo Mascaro, technical director, Applied AI at Google, this is not necessarily an AI problem, but more of a process and engineering problem. A combination of more awareness in responsible AI and investments in the technology, tools, and framework can help increase trust and, as a result, adoption. Mascaro notes that strict and constant monitoring of the AI models that are put into production is key, allowing businesses to understand when they start drifting from what they’re expected to do and when they start showing bias.
When it comes to developing trust around AI and, thus, adoption, Stela Koleva, vice president, EMEA service and support, SAP Concur, knows first-hand the best approach to take. Koleva implemented an award-winning AI project in her department, and she noted that starting small and collecting feedback continuously was crucial. The way results are measured also should leave no space for doubt as to whether AI has contributed to the business.
In the end, AI will continue to become an essential part of doing business and, ultimately, an organization’s success. The journey to AI shouldn’t be complex or intimidating. With the right approach and perspective, trust in AI can be established among business leaders, employees, and customers.
Trust has risen to the forefront as we begin the return to travel and ramp up the adoption of technologies like AI to help reinvigorate businesses.
The pandemic has challenged our view of who and what we can trust. What was once familiar and routine–from old friends to business travel–now feels unknown. And what’s new and vital to the future–from new clients to technologies like AI–might be accepted with uncertainty. The good news is that with the right policies and processes in place, trust can be developed and maintained in both travel and AI.
To learn more about the evolution of travel and the benefits of AI, visit the SAP Concur Fusion website for recordings of both panels.