Looking Inside – How communicating with my kids during lockdown helped reinforce lessons on traveler engagement

A colleague asked me a few weeks into lockdown how it was going with the kids and I gave them that face; you know, the eye roll, slightly exasperated face all parents do at some point? That face was driven by the all-to-frequent requests for quiet while on a work call or the multiple response each day to snack requirements. Of course, the additional family time the Covid-19 situation has brought has been nice, but balancing it with work has been a new challenge.

But that question and that face made me realize that I had to adjust my communication approach. Telling my children what to do over and over every day wasn’t going to get results or make any of us happy.

Now I know that travelers aren’t kids, but I suspect every travel manager out there reading this has felt exasperation from repeating the same stuff because people take the same approach time and time again.  So, if you manage travel and feel that engagement can be a hurdle, especially when you tell them the policy, where to book, who to book with, etc. and they still don’t listen, then read on. 

Lesson 1: Move from tell to sell.

Telling my children to do their worksheets met resistance. I had to change my approach to be less authoritative and think more like a marketer. Same for travelers. They can be turned off by a strict approach with mandates. They might be necessary right now, but it’s about how they are communicated. Instead of “All employees must use our booking tool and travel agency” think “We are currently requiring employees to use our booking tool and travel agency because YOUR safety is of the utmost importance to our organization and these tools and suppliers help us ensure that.” Use the WIFM (What’s In It For me) principle every time you craft a message.

Lesson 2: Explain the reasons.

Good marketers connect with their target audience by relating to them. When I took a step back and thought about the viewpoint of my children – a major change in being at home constantly, mom and dad trying to be their teachers and having to do school at home – I realized that a lot had changed for them and I needed to explain why we had a new routine and schedule.

With travelers, explaining new processes and the reasons you might be restricting travel or making changes as travel starts again will provide comfort and instill confidence. Travel managers are working hard to understand new safety standards, ensure supplier cleaning protocols are up to par and collecting real time information on travel risk. Letting travelers know this will give them great appreciation for what you do and likely lead to better engagement.  This situation is an opportunity to raise your profile within the business by showcasing the value you bring to the business and the travelers.

Lesson 3: Repeat the messages.

I put pictures of the kids’ new routines in our kitchen so they could easily see and follow the next activity. This even included snacks, lunch, and playtime to show it included more than just schoolwork. Every morning for the first week my son looked at it, repeated it and explained it to his younger brother. It signaled to me that this was a message that needed explaining and reiterating until it became comfortable.

The messages you send to travelers will also need repetition and probably multiple forms/channels of communication. Even road warriors are going to encounter many changes to their typical travel routines, and they need help knowing what to expect.  Clear, concise messaging repeated in multiple channels will get you the results you need.

At FESTIVE ROAD we use the 6W’s: Who, What, Where, When, Why and hoW (okay, okay, I know that’s not strictly a W but things are different noW, there’s new rules!).

Who are you talking to?

During lockdown I learned so much more about my children, but how well do you know your travelers and how they feel?  Take the time to talk with them and survey them.

What are you telling them?

Giving them valuable information is key. If you’ve created a plan to return to travel, that should give you the content you need to communicate. New processes, policy changes, health and safety guidelines and resources are some of the topics you might address. But you don’t need a 10-page word document.

Maybe it’s a 1-page infographic that links to further detail if needed.

Not sure what questions to ask? The FESTIVE ROAD Permissible Travel Framework includes a Traveler Engagement tab with a list of questions you might use: https://www.festive-road.com/the-permissible-travel-framework/

Where should you communicate with them?

Think about different channels such as intranets, newsletters, company chat channels and webinars. You might need to use multiple channels to reach different travelers. Incorporating communications from senior leaders can also be effective in getting attention. Prepare to review and adjust your plan because information will continue to change and communications will need to be ongoing.

When should you communicate?

When it comes to the journey, it is going to be critical to communicate at ALL points. Pre-booking, during the booking process, pre-trip, on-trip and even post-trip. Consider education and training before travelers book/go, information and messages built into pre-trip approval and booking technology, impacts to itineraries on trip and gathering feedback upon return.

Why am I doing this?

Referring back to lesson 2 above, I certainly learned how curious my children are and that they truly want to know the reasons and are capable of understanding them if given a chance.

Your travelers want to understand the reasons right now and be a good steward of your organization. Your communications need to provide comfort, instill confidence and give context to show that health and safety are a top priority. Telling travelers you heard their challenges, you addressed them and your reasons behind it is how you will truly engage them.

How do I start?

Use these lessons and the above guide to make a plan. Being a great communicator is hard, but it is becoming a core part of every travel manager’s role.  At FESTIVE ROAD we call it the “Selling Buyer” because being able to sell in the program is more critical than ever – and with Covid-19 everything is exaggerated. But if I can get my children to eat vegetables because I explained it will help them grow strong like their favorite superhero, then I know that you can find the points to relate and resonate with your travelers.

To infinity and beyond…!

Written by Katie Virtue, FESTIVE ROAD, USA