How to Build a Better Corporate Travel Mobile App | by Diana Brandon | Right This Way | Oct, 2021

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Byline: Todd Kaiser, SVP, Business Development & Strategy, Deem

[This article first appeared on Deem.com/blog on Aug. 31, 2021.]

onsider this: You’re searching for flights and maybe 1,000 results come up. On a desktop that’s mostly manageable, but on a mobile screen, you’d lose your mind trying to filter and sort through it all. That’s the experience for most of today’s business travelers.

And in fact, when it comes to satisfaction with their corporate travel software mobile app, a recent survey of business travel managers showed results are largely mixed — nearly 50/50.

Mobile apps are meant to be convenient and easy for travelers. We’re already tethered to our smartphones, and day-to-day tasks like ordering coffee or updating a project status are fairly intuitive in most apps. But in spite of that, nearly half of all respondents in our survey agreed that business travel tech is a major pain point.

Now, if you fall into the category of “booking and managing business travel on a mobile app is a wonderful experience,” you can stop reading here. But most people don’t have time for technology that isn’t easy or doesn’t work like it needs to — that’s why users delete 80 percent of mobile apps after a single use. That, and, who wants to use 15 separate apps to manage a simple trip?

In order to figure out a better way, we first need to understand the pitfalls of existing legacy corporate travel software technology. (We’ll get to the good stuff in a minute.)

First, a quick rundown on the issues with many of the corporate travel apps available now. Our collective tolerance for glitchy, hard-to-use technology is at an all-time low, and business travel apps are among the worst offenders: I mean, when was the last time anyone showed off their business travel tool to their friends at happy hour? Trust me — it doesn’t happen.

Most corporate travel software mobile apps are slow, complicated, inflexible, and half-baked. It’s one thing to show an itinerary, but what about booking or making changes in-app? Or, maybe you can book a hotel, but you need to log in to a separate app to book your car or flight.

For other apps, the problem is multi-faceted. You’re dealing with poor user experience, slow processing speeds, and incomplete functionality. If a doesn’t load quickly, users will leave. If users don’t trust the price or the travel options in the app, they’ll leave.

Most mobile apps are legacy solutions that are meant to integrate with other business systems across a company. Indicative of these old apps, user reviews of one of the biggest legacy travel solutions say that the platform is “outdated and clunky” and “the tool is not intuitive.” And that’s from a May 2021 TrustRadius report.

Most users make their minds up within two seconds about whether they’ll use it or move on. And when it comes to business travel apps, the stakes may be higher. If travelers give up on an app, it’s likely they’ll book outside the company’s preferred technology and policies. That creates real implications in terms of an organization’s ability to budget and manage corporate travel.

Once they’re off the app, unless there’s a mandate, they’re more likely to book wherever they last landed. And if there is a mandate, they’ll shop somewhere else first, then try to find what they wanted on the “approved” app. (And if the content isn’t there or is included at higher prices, that causes further distrust and frustration for the traveler.)

Either way, they’re spending a lot of time trying to do something that should be fairly straightforward. Fighting with these apps is just not a good use of an employee’s time.

Unintuitive technology, incomplete apps, and clunky systems are weaknesses that align with results reported in our travel mobile app survey. We can’t expect travelers to sit through a training session or have to look up how to use an app. Nobody sits through an Instagram training session or googles how to buy something on Amazon. Travel apps must be the same.

Now, on to solutions. Most travel apps — I call them stovepipe apps — serve a single purpose for solving a single problem. But I want to share this example of how things can change: Recently, a major pharmacy had standalone apps for all their stores. While they had good intentions, it ended up creating continuity issues when patients changed locations. Having stovepipe apps had very real consequences, including whether patients got the wrong medication or suffered allergic reactions, or worse.

To fix the problem, this pharmacy company ended up implementing a centralized platform for patient and prescription data. And it was a game-changer in providing consistent and accurate information and a more efficient experience to patients. It’s an example of the success in offering one consolidated technology where both users and managers can control and access important information.

When apps are built to communicate and interact, as in the pharmacy solution example and unlike most business travel technology today, they provide users with something better. There are two guiding questions travel managers can explore to choose the travel tech that’s right for their organization:

  1. Is it technology your travelers are going to love?
  2. Does it add value and remove friction from the already complicated travel process?

Above all else, travelers love technology that’s user-friendly. If you think of it as the complete experience, it should include every airline they need or hotel that’s right for them, in addition to a handful of other must-haves: travel safety, ride hailing, restaurant recommendations, even gyms and safe running trails near their hotel. This should all be delivered in a digestible, easy-to-access format that looks great on any screen.

Travelers value ease around common tasks such as:

  • Modifying or canceling reservations on a mobile device
  • Booking air, hotel, and car reservations in one transaction
  • Viewing upcoming trip information with real-time flight notifications
  • Ability to sync itinerary with calendar, review easily offline, and share it with the right folks
  • Safety checks built into the booking flow with neighborhood assessments, airline and car rental cleaning protocols, and COVID-19 data

This type of experience meets the needs of travelers, but what about decision-makers?

Travel managers provide direction and guardrails for their travelers, but they also need to forecast spending trends, set accurate budgets, and show a return on investments. All that requires solid data.

We know that when companies make traveling better for their employees, they boost productivity and help the business grow at scale. There are a few integrations and content types to consider, including personalization, proactive alerts, and support when you and your travelers need it. Essentially, this functionality can help you create a data-driven business travel program that reduces complexities and friction with all stakeholders.

Our collective digital savvy has increased recently — just ask my father who had his first Zoom call last year. Corporate travelers have always been a tech-savvy crowd; there is no reason they should have to compromise with their travel app. Companies serving that audience have higher expectations to live up to; how they’ve gotten away with that low bar for so long is astonishing.

Human-centered design is beginning to make waves in the tech industry. This is the philosophy and method of designing products based on understanding of the end user. Novel, right?

There’s so much more people need from these apps than policy integration and trip approvals. Let’s think about usability; I can’t count the times I’ve tried to select a dropdown list or tap an action button in an app and accidentally touched a nearby field.

So many of the go-to travel apps just aren’t road-tested in real traveler conditions. Had they been, the act might have revealed exactly how often, for example, one might be using the app while running for a car with your bags in one hand and coffee in your other, trying to confirm which terminal your flight departs from.

Deeper than that, this type of thinking is meant to include all users. Can travelers with vision or hearing impairments use the app to efficiently get to where they need to go? The technology should be configurable and flexible enough to serve all users — including people who use screen readers, rely on alternative text, or need contrasting colors, as well as other accessibility features as outlined in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) accessibility initiative library. This can’t be an after-thought for developers; technology needs to be designed with accessibility at the core.

And, on another level, this type of thinking can help mitigate risks and threats for travelers. Features like our award-winning Travel SafetyCheck, built into the Etta platform, source health and safety information from multiple data points to show users the information they need to navigate new cities. That could mean notification of a higher crime rate in the neighborhood of a hotel they’re considering, local data that may prove relevant based on the traveler’s gender or how they identify, or even an overview of the status of basic freedoms in their destination.

This is the type of design — and context — that creates a better and more complete user experience. We’ve heard from travel managers who say this solution reduces the number of questions and complaints they field and shortens the time support teams spend taking costly phone calls.

With so many people eager to sit across from their colleagues and see their customers face to face, business travelers are expected to get moving in 2021. As much as we love video calls (sarcasm), the truth is, some business just works better on the road. Let’s make it easy.

Etta is a great solution for travel managers who are focused on user experience. Road warriors and jet-setters can book a trip, on average, within two minutes, automatically apply preferences and loyalty memberships, and access the records, information, and tips they need throughout their trip.

At the end of the day, building this type of technology is not for the faint of heart.

In the past, I’ve used the better part of 15 apps in a single business trip: all the suppliers, finding restaurants, hailing rides, planning routes, even messaging apps to collaborate with others I’m traveling with. Legacy stovepipe apps solve the problem they were designed for, but they can’t learn and provide users with something better.

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