Next up in our Executive Q&A series is an interview with Christopherson’s Chief Operations Officer, Nathan McClellan. Nathan shared his optimism for the future of business travel as well as what’s needed in order to deliver the right service experiences for that future.
Q: In a recent leadership meeting, you outlined three things management team members can express to effectively lead their teams—reality, vision, and hope. Can you share a bit more about how those three things can help us all as our industry recovers?
A: I have always liked the quote attributed to Napoleon who said, “The leader’s role is to define reality, then give hope.” Reality is seeing the world as it actually is. Defining reality creates trust within the organization that its challenges are known, understood, and quantified. This need not be bleak, nor should it be covered up.
A leader’s role is also to give hope. Hope provides confidence that positive outcomes are achievable. When leaders cast the vision for employees, outline the path forward, and set clear expectations, hope is felt.
As the travel industry recovers, new challenges arise. Every leadership challenge has its own set of constraints. Constraints catalyze creativity. People are the source of creativity. When people understand the problems and are engaged in their work, good things happen. Defining reality and giving hope fosters this environment. This simple leadership skill can turn into a very tangible competitive advantage.
Q: Why do you feel hope and optimism for the future of Christopherson and business travel in general?
A: Conducting business face-to-face remains as essential for companies now as it did before the pandemic. It is true some travel will be displaced through technology and virtual interactions. However, business conferences, networking events, sales calls, special projects, consulting engagements, and recruiting trips, to name a few, still have value.
Company policies regarding when travel will take place are evolving, but travel itself is a mainstay. Companies will leverage future travel as an investment in their business with a clear ROI, as opposed to simply viewing it as an expense. This type of purposeful travel recognizes that personal relationships enable companies to transact business.
I am optimistic for our industry because of the power behind these relationships. Travel is a key component for building and leveraging relationships.
I am also optimistic for our own company due to the investment we are making to meet the expectations and demand of the future while also reinforcing our own relationship-based service model.
Q: What changes are you seeing in operations as recovery begins and business travel rebounds?
A: The service industry is shifting from a transactional model to a consultative model. This is true whether engaging in a digital or human channel. Travelers are increasingly comfortable with technology to book their own trips. This is ideal for simple itineraries. When things become more complex, customers want the confidence of working with a trusted professional.
A next generation travel advisor cannot simply be an order taker possessing technical proficiency and industry knowledge. They must also be problem solvers, offer useful advice, consult proactively, and take ownership of the traveler experience.
A next generation digital experience will use predictive analytics to streamline the interaction, anticipate customer needs, match preferences, and optimize the traveler journey.
Q: Christopherson has communicated that it’s undergoing a human and digital transformation. Both of these things affect operations. How are you and your team positioning your side of the transformation?
A: Operations is an exciting part of a company where the human transformation and digital transformation come together to create the best possible service experience for customers. Many companies have perfected the human experience, and others have mastered the digital experience. Few, if any, are able to deliver on both. Enter Christopherson Business Travel.
Our investment in the digital transformation is two-fold. First, we are investing in the technology used at traveler touch-points to make things easy for our customers. Second, we are investing in behind-the-scenes technology to facilitate the service experience. This is how the human transformation and digital transformation come together. The easier we make it for our employees to take good care of our customers, the more likely we are to consistently achieve this goal.
In addition to our technology enabled human transformation, we have also restructured our organization to focus on the human-to-human customer experience. The tenets of our coaching framework enable advisors to create positive connections with customers, create trust and confidence, and create value. This approach seamlessly integrates both the digital and human components of our business transformation efforts.
Q: Why is accessibility/availability so important for customers and how is Christopherson making it happen?
A: Our goal in operations is to provide the right service in the right moment. We don’t choose those moments. The customer dictates the terms of an interaction. They determine when to contact us, in which channel to contact us, and whom to contact. The role of operations is to be available to provide an excellent experience whenever, and wherever those interactions take place.
Online interactions are managed through automation. Offline interactions require a human touch. Metrics like accessibility and availability enable Christopherson to more accurately forecast our staffing needs to accommodate anticipated business volume. They also ensure we do a better job matching the utilization of our existing staff to the contact arrival patterns of our customers. This translates to a better experience for customers who can quickly have their needs resolved.
Our travel advisors are the ones making this happen. We have invested heavily in creating an environment of intrinsic motivation where employees use self-discovery and self-management to maintain high levels of engagement. Engaged employees give discretionary effort to their work and exude a love for what they are doing. Our customers notice the Christopherson difference.
Q: What is your vision for the future of Christopherson’s operations?
A: Our vision in Operations is to continuously improve our capabilities. It’s one thing to talk about continuous improvement, and another to build the kind of infrastructure where it permeates our DNA. Someone once said, “a good customer experience anywhere changes customer expectations everywhere.”
The service experience of the future is evolving quickly. Walker Information, an experience management consulting firm, has noted that the furiously fast pace of innovation will continue and that customers expect companies to keep up.
Our vision at Christopherson is not only to keep up, but to set the pace. We can’t do this by relying only the things that have made us successful so far. We are never done getting better. This environment of constant refinement requires a commitment to change across the entire organization. Accomplishing this vision starts by increasing our advisor capability, followed by expanding our customer capability, and finally by growing our operational capability.
Q: Nathan, thank you for sharing your thoughts about Christopherson’s operations. One final question just for fun: What’s your favorite travel destination and why?
A: The more I travel, the more I learn about the world around me. The more I learn about the world around me, the more I want to travel. It is a virtuous cycle. Traveling to Thailand exemplifies everything I love about travel. It’s rich in natural beauty and culture.
For western societies, Thailand has been a well-kept secret—although I think it is starting to get out. In addition to the jungle scenery, mountain terrain, vibrant cities, and delicious miniature pineapples, I am most impressed with the people. Thai people are some of the most down-to-earth people I have ever met. Yes, the country as a whole is amazing, but it is the people that make it beautiful. Through them, I have been inspired to become better myself.