Dana Rixter, director of travel service for BAE Systems, used to think miscommunication was the root of all evil. "I've changed my mind," she said. "It's actually misinterpretation that is the root of all evil."
That includes ill-conceived travel program constructs that focus too much on an "average" traveler without taking the time to understand the needs of a broad travel population. And while BAE has conducted traditional surveys, offers a feedback button on its internal corporate travel portal and even conducts supplier feedback meetings to inform upcoming negotiations, Rixter knows those are imperfect attempts to address what can be very complex issues within a travel program.
"There are many methods of communication, and one size does not fit all," said Rixter. "You can succeed in getting a slice of information, but a multiple-choice survey can never take the place of an inquiry-based conversation. Messages can be misinterpreted, and the opportunity to respond in the course of that conversation is key. So many times, programs are based on a misperception. The change to clarify can change things dramatically."
This year, Rixter plans a listening campaign that will focus on groups of travelers: frequent, infrequent, VIP, etc. she will conduct one-on-one conversations, aggregate and categorize responses and determine where she can personalize the travel experience while still delivering compliance.
"We always say travel is so personal. One traveler may fine a real problem with a property because of a single feature, while another person values that feature as a benefit," she said. "Understanding those differences should inform our programs. We can't continue to look at all these difference individuals as a single population."
Rixter admitted that BAE's 16,000-strong travel population is too large for her to engage each traveler, but she sees this strategy as a move in the right direction. "I've never had the chance to focus on groups at this level. I'm eager to see what the conversations reveal and if I can effect changes that will impact our travelers' lives—and, as a result, the company—for the better."