We sat down with Mary Barbagallo, Director of Project Management at World Travel, Inc. who oversees our Implementations team.

We caught her while her mind was in high gear: Mary had just finished a first call with an onboarding client. In 15 minutes, she’d be setting up another internal call to reconvene with the team and discuss the next steps. It was the perfect time to get quick, clear, practicable insight into how to better prepare for the implementations process.

What are five issues that surface regularly?

Mary walked through the implementations process, identifying issues that often arise with new clients who aren’t as immersed in the industry. Here are some things to consider before you begin an implementation.

1: Know Thy  Preferreds

Stop laughing. This is more helpful (and zen) than you think. It’s not about just knowing who your preferred suppliers are and aren’t (although, yes, that’s necessary). It’s about knowing why they’re your preferreds. KNOW THYSELF is a prevalent holistic saying. Well, KNOW THY PREFERREDS before you begin writing a new policy or implementing a new travel program.

How did your preferred suppliers become your preferreds? When was the last time you negotiated the rates, and do you know you got the best possible rate? (If you don’t know you got the best possible rate, ask for back-up from our Consulting Services Department. They’ll know.)

Too often, new clients come to us with statements like, “ABC Carrier is our preferred because our CEO likes them.” Or they’ll say, “XYZ Rental Car Company is our preferred, but you don’t have to give them top hierarchy in the OBT; it doesn’t really matter to us.”

Let's review the basics here: The purpose of having preferreds is to save you money. If you can get a rate or agreement with an airline that better matches your travel footprint, you’re going to save significant money, which your CEO will like a whole lot more. And if you don’t give booking preference to your preferreds, you’ll have a hard time fulfilling your contracts, which will make negotiations much tougher when it’s time to renew.

Set yourself up for success: Know Thy Preferreds.

2: Know What You Need to Know

Different clients have different priorities, but you probably have some basic objectives. Maybe it’s saving money. Maybe it’s improving data. Maybe it’s enhancing your risk management capabilities. Whatever your focus, think about how you can achieve it before your first implementations call. Our team is stellar at consulting with you to find an answer, but consultation works better when you have a set trajectory.

For example, think about what information you want to track. You probably don’t need each traveler's Title; for analytics, you’ll benefit more from department or cost center or purpose of trip. You know who your CEO is. What you need to know is how much the Sales department spends on travel each year, or how much travel is attributed to a specific research project.

Coupled with this is preparing your data. Particularly if you’re interested in an HR feed, make sure you’ve cleared out the termed employees and the duplicates. “Even if you have to pay someone to do it for you,” Mary says, “this is absolutely worth it. Inconsistent data from an HR feed can wreak havoc on your analytics.”

3: Don’t Leave Your C-Levels in the Dark

You’d be surprised how many of our incoming clients don’t have a plan for pitching the new travel program to their VIPs. Your VIPs or your trendsetters (we’re talking about the CEO and his admin who is actually booking for him) need to feel involved in the transition process. Put in a little extra effort to bring them up to speed before implementation begins. Although they may have had no role in selecting the TMC, they’re going to play a role in how enthusiastically their departments adopt the new program.

Not sure how to communicate with them, or when? Not a problem. We can help with that! Our Implementations team has templates for communications that will help you craft the right message.

4: Don’t Over-Estimate the Value of the Hard-Stop

Approval processes are amazing. (Especially with our new WorldApprovals™ product!) But before you get trigger happy and decide to hard-stop every single element of booking, think twice.

“Hard stops on airline tickets may save you money, yes. But hard stops on hotel and car reservations probably won’t. Not in the long run.”

A hard stop on airline bookings helps keep your travelers honest and makes sure they book reasonably-priced flights. But if you place a hard-stop on a hotel or car, the whole booking will be held as non-compliant – meaning, the system won’t purchase the flight so long as it’s waiting for an approval or a resolution on the hotel. You therefore run the risk of losing the flight price.  We usually suggest that travel managers put a soft hold on non-compliant hotel and car bookings, so that managers are notified when air or car are non-compliant, but the booking is allowed. Hotel and car can be more easily changed after booking, and the traveler won’t lose the airline ticket price.

5. Approvals Prep

Approvals are a great way to save money, and with WorldApprovals™, they can help your approvers fix data (like cost centers and trip reasons) before the trip is booked. But don’t be fooled; approval processes need to be thought through ahead of time. Have an employee hierarchy in mind for all your employees – it’s best to have approvers identified in traveler profiles. And make sure your approvers understand the importance of timely approvals, so that you actually get to reap the benefits of the process.

Additionally, allow us to offer some approval philosophy. “It’s a bad idea to require approvals for every single flight,” Mary says. “Consider setting a threshold for price or class of service. That way, travelers don’t feel like they’re being watched constantly, and they have a little leeway with what to book, but you’re still catching the more questionable expenses.”

Trust the Experts

Our World Travel, Inc. Project Management team is constantly onboarding new clients and new segments of existing programs. They’ve seen it all! And the biggest advice they can give you is this: communicate clearly with your travelers. Change can be difficult, and sometimes people don't realize what's happening the first time you tell them. Communication is key!

Our Project Managers are masters at this, and can help you with your communication plan and so much more. So when you’re not sure about any aspect of your new travel management program, just ask! Our consultative service is just the thing you need to set up a healthy and effective program.

Chesley Turner

Written by Chesley Turner