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Business and Leadership Executive Q and A

Executive Q&A: Christopherson’s COO Talks About Delivering the Right Service Experiences for the Future

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.

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Business and Leadership Business Travel Choice Humanitarian Press Release

Christopherson Receives CHOICE Humanitarian’s Corporate Impact Award

SALT LAKE CITY – June 23, 2021 – Christopherson Business Travel received the Corporate Impact Award from CHOICE Humanitarian at their 13th Annual Breakfast of Humanitarians, held June 17.

For more than 25 years, Christopherson has supported CHOICE Humanitarian’s mission to end extreme poverty in remote and under-served communities around the world.

According to CHOICE Humanitarian Board Member and Volunteer Chief Financial Officer Bret Backman, the corporate impact award “recognizes a corporate partner that has really gone above and beyond in supporting CHOICE and its programs. Christopherson Business Travel has been a committed business partner of CHOICE Humanitarian for more than 25 years.”

Through a commitment to quality-of-life improvements in the broader community, Christopherson enables voluntary employee contributions to CHOICE and provides a 2:1 match. The company also sends a rotating group of employees on a week-long, international humanitarian expedition each year. 

“They firmly believe [in] sharing the wealth and taking care of the global community,” continued Backman. “Christopherson also offers travel services for our expeditions . . . through their CV Humanitarian Travel [division] and helping get the best prices for our travelers and also returning part of the proceeds to CHOICE.”

Christopherson’s involvement with CHOICE began when CEO Mike Cameron participated in one of their expeditions to a small village in central Mexico with two of his brothers, three of their sons, and their father. After experiencing how CHOICE carries out its model in the field, Cameron selected CHOICE as the non-profit organization Christopherson would work with and became a corporate partner. 

“We’ve had all sorts of opportunities to be blessed as a family by serving and participating with CHOICE,” Cameron said. “There is no better way for your employees to build relationships than to go on a company humanitarian expedition.”

Cameron also notes that “as a father and grandfather, it is incomprehensible to watch children go to bed hungry.” He concluded his award acceptance with a quote from his granddaughter, Alyssa Murray, after her CHOICE expedition to Guatemala: “I thought I was going to help end poverty and change the lives of people, but in the end they changed mine. They taught me how to be happy, they taught me how to be happy with very little. We all have an opportunity to come together and learn from each other.”

ABOUT CHRISTOPHERSON

Christopherson Business Travel, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, is the independently owned leader in business travel management, digital travel tools, and business travel resources. With more than 350 team members located across the country, Christopherson supported $687 million in annual travel bookings in 2019 for more than 1,000 successful companies and organizations. Christopherson is an affiliate of BCD Travel. To learn more, visit cbtravel.com.

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Business and Leadership Business Travel Executive Q and A

Executive Q&A: Christopherson’s CRO Shares What Companies Really Need From TMCs

Next up in our Executive Q&A series is an interview with Christopherson’s new Chief Revenue Officer, Kathleen Roberts. She shares her thoughts on what organizations really need from corporate travel management companies, the value of partnership, and the opportunities that lie ahead for the business travel industry.

 

Kathleen Roberts, CRO at Christopherson Business Travel

Q: As we come through to the other side of the pandemic, there seems to be a shift occurring in how organizations manage their business travel. Can you share your insights on what you’re seeing as you help these organizations find solutions?

A: The majority of business trips taken during the pandemic have been business critical. As companies prepare for a broader return to travel we are seeing increased interest in traveler safety and well-being, as well as the employees’ overall disposition to traveling again. The sharp decline in 2020 travel budgets is leading to increased awareness from finance and leadership around the value of each trip. And while the industry has made significant advances in duty of care, there are new expectations emerging. These factors are leading to an increase in pre-trip authorization requirements, ease of access to planning tools and travel vendor safety information, and improved risk-management resources.

Q: What seems to be most important right now for organizations as they revamp their travel programs?

A: Travel policy. Historically, travel policy review often centered around cost-savings and reimbursement. The current environment requires a more holistic approach involving additional topics and stakeholders. HR, security, and legal teams may become involved or at least topics relating to the areas of traveler safety, risk management, and liability.

Q: What do you think is the greatest value a travel management company (TMC) brings to the table to meet these pressing needs?

A: Partnership. By using a TMC, organizations are able to consolidate travel spend, vendor negotiations, risk management, policy compliance, data, and reporting into a trusted partnership. They gain integrations with industry-leading technology, improved traveler experience, and significant cost savings. We’re able to customize travel programs that align with our customers’ culture and corporate objectives. We’re then able to quantify the value of our partnership through detailed scorecards and traveler surveys.

Q: You’ve worked in travel for a while—what are the biggest opportunities you see today in business travel?

A: Consolidation. The pandemic has organizations of every size evaluating how they purchase and manage travel. Existing customers that allowed outside booking methods are directing travelers to utilize our services to ensure program consistency, compliance, and consolidation. Prospective clients with travel budgets of various sizes and who have not previously worked with a TMC are eager to engage with us. They found themselves facing numerous challenges at the start of the pandemic and are seeking a better solution post-pandemic. Providing the benefits of a managed travel program and assisting them with developing solutions that address organizational requirements, improve the traveler experience, and help them prepare to return to travel is absolutely rewarding for both parties.

Q: Not only have you worked in travel for a while, but you’ve been with Christopherson for 15 years now. How has the company changed or evolved?

A: Growth. I joined the Christopherson team in 2006 as they became the largest travel company in the state of Utah with $125 million in annual bookings. We ended 2019 at nearly $700 million and in the top 15 travel firms nationally. While 2020 was a detour from our revenue growth, we successfully implemented 96 new accounts last year, most of which have yet to resume traveling. With a solid financial plan in place, we have maintained our momentum and growth strategy.

Q: As a sales executive, you traveled frequently before COVID. Why do you think travel is so important for doing business?

A: Relationships. Virtual meetings have provided valuable connection throughout the pandemic, but they’re not a substitute for in-person interaction. The following scenario may be overused, but it’s a valid point: “Once the person who presents over webinar loses a deal to the competitor who presented in person, they’ll get back out on the road.” This applies beyond sales to include most business interactions. The Global Business Travel Association reported in their January 2021 survey results that 49 percent of business travelers are currently “somewhat willing or very willing” to travel for business. As the vaccine rollout continues, I expect that percentage to increase.

Q: And finally, just for fun, what are your favorite business and leisure travel destinations?

A: Business travel has taken me to exciting places that I may not have otherwise experienced. Memorable business trips in recent years included traveling to interact with Christopherson team members in Colorado and Alabama. I’ve also enjoyed amazing leisure travel experiences. Some of my highlights include Africa, Australia, and Europe. But I think my first post-pandemic, international vacation might be my most appreciated. I’m ready to travel again!

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Business and Leadership Business Travel Executive Q and A

Executive Q&A: Christopherson’s CEO Reflects on the Past, Present, & Future

As we begin a New Year, we took the opportunity to sit down with our CEO, Mike Cameron, to reflect on the challenges of 2020, learn how Christopherson is currently doing, and get his take on what he sees for the future.

 

Mike Cameron, CEO of Christopherson Business Travel

Q: Mike, as you reflect on the last year, what are your thoughts about what we’ve collectively been through? 

A: Early on I used a metaphor with our team that enduring COVID-19 would be like driving through the long tunnels in Switzerland where there is no obvious end in sight but you have confidence that that part of the journey is temporary and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been just as confident there will be light at the end of this tunnel. The vaccines have definitely created some visible light.

When the pandemic hit, we had to be decisive, conservative, and compassionate. We immediately made a pivot from our growth strategy to a protection strategy–one that protected our people, our clients, and our customer experience–while also protecting our cash.

Although it has been painful, I’ve had a calm feeling during the past ten months that our strategy was solid, our liquidity was adequate, and we were going to come out stronger and better than before the pandemic began. Fortunately, we are still ahead of the plan.

Q: What did you find to be the most difficult aspects of the year? 

A: As a family owned company,?we had?to reach deep into our souls?to?accept the reality of what was happening?and?find?solutions that would be as compassionate?as possible,?but?also?realistic to ensure that the company would survive. My wife and I had to make?the most difficult?decisions we’ve made?in our 30 years of owning the business. It was gut-wrenching to ask our team members to embrace sacrifices that would impact their personal lives in dramatic ways.

We took decisive action and made the necessary furloughs, layoffs, and pay cuts all at once in that first week as the pandemic wreaked havoc in the U.S. We got some bad press for doing so, but we have since been able avoid making any more significant personnel changes relating to the economic pressures of COVID-19.

Decisive action early on also gave us the luxury of steadily improving things over the last 11 months. It allowed us to avoid the alternative of asking our employees to face continual rounds of layoffs or “death by a thousand cuts.” I believe this helped make our team’s morale more positive, and thankfully, we still have more than 50% of our team intact even though our bookings are less than 25% of 2019’s.

Q: How do the challenges 2020 brought compare to previous challenges Christopherson and the travel industry have faced?? 

A: Previous challenges, including the airline commission cuts that began in 1995, the launch of Expedia (the first major online travel competitor) in 1996, the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, and the financial collapse in 2008 were nothing compared to last year. We were able to adapt and navigate the other four major challenges with relative ease. In 30 years we never had a non-profitable year or even a half-year until 2020.

That said, we’re prepared to lose money, or as I like to call it, “make investments,” in 2020 and 2021. We hope to be profitable again in Q4 of 2021 and for sure by 2022. In either case, we’re prepared to make whatever investments are necessary.

Q: Did anything positive come out of 2020 for Christopherson? 

A: There has been so much positive that came out of our most difficult year ever. We started with a focus on managing the travel crisis, taking care of our people, and stabilizing the business. As soon as we felt confident that we had a solid plan for long-term viability, we started investing in strategies to be leaner, smarter, and better.

To be leaner, we created a smaller footprint with less office overhead. To be smarter, we eliminated costs that didn’t create value and replaced some of the technology we previously built with best-in-class, third-party alternatives. To be better, we began reinventing a better digital and human customer experience.

Q: How does Christopherson stand today as a company? 

A: We now have more people working on our team than we had after the initial layoffs and furloughs. We’ve called some team members back, and we’ve also recruited from outside for the digital reinvention in which we’re investing. We still have the liquidity to weather the rest of the storm.

Q: What do you think are the greatest impacts the pandemic had on the travel industry? 

A: The most significant by far is the human cost. The layoffs, furloughs, and compensation reductions have impacted tens of millions of people in what was previously a fairly stable, robust industry. There are countries and even U.S. states where travel and tourism was their leading economic driver. It has been devastating for everyone.

Q: What are your goals for Christopherson in the coming year and beyond? 

A: Two weeks before the pandemic began, we had just announced a billion-dollar booking/sales goal. Frankly, it didn’t seem like much of a stretch, based on our 30-year trajectory. What a difference two weeks makes! We know we will be back on track soon to reach that goal. We’ve had bit of a detour, but our journey forward will be more secure with us being leaner, smarter, and better.

Q: In your opinion, what should companies do to position themselves for success in 2021? 

A: At a high level, don’t forget about the people that helped you become successful and don’t forget about the strategies that made you successful. While many of the cost cuts everyone made were necessary to survive the crisis, don’t assume that they can all be permanent. Some will be because we had to become smarter.

To that point, even travel cuts, which were made for safety reasons and did provide budget-cut benefits, will not likely all be permanent. While we probably won’t see many people traveling for a one-hour internal meeting because Zoom is a much better alternative, when it comes to winning new business, organizations will quickly see the ROI on travel when a competitor does their presentation in person and you do yours on Zoom. We may also find that where some organizations bring their teams together for collaboration, engagement, or performance rewards, and others don’t, Zoom may be a losing strategy when trying to outpace competitors. Ultimately, no one knows how much travel will be forever reduced.

Q: What new opportunities do you think the pandemic opened up? 

A: The pandemic accelerated digital adoption. It transformed business forever and created both the need and the opportunity for travel management companies, or any company really, to accelerate and transform their own digital and human customer experience in order to remain competitive.

Those who have the ability to meet that need will be more successful than others. Those who can find the right blend of both a digital and human customer experience service model will grow faster than others. We can no longer do business as usual.

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Business and Leadership Travel Industry Travel Management

Increasing Compliance With Your Millennial Business Travelers

In case you haven’t noticed, the Millennial generation have recently become the butt of  jokes at conferences, twitter chats, and professional gatherings. Millennials, or Generation Ys,  are the most recent generation to enter the workforce. Currently in their early 20s – early 30s, they are putting the traditional workforce into a spin with their differing work styles and priorities. Whether you are from the camp believing they have a productive work ethic or they are self-entitled children, we as a society need to learn how to adjust our work environments to productively work with them. As Carolyn A. Martin and Bruce Tulgan, authors of the book ‘Managing Generation Y’ said “Organizations that can’t – or won’t customize training, career paths, incentives, and work responsibilities need a wake up call.”

Millennial Generation Characteristics

  • Millennials expect everything to be customizable to their preferences. If they don’t like their profile picture on Facebook, they change it. They can have just about anything shipped directly to their house. It’s how our world works now; almost everything is customizable and instantaneous. The difference is they’ve grown up with the expectation that if you don’t like something, there is always another solution available.  
  • They are on average highly educated, but value a higher work-life balance. This often makes them appear lazy and lacking respect when they take long lunches or work from home.
  • Growing up with computers and quickly advancing technology, they are quick learners to new technology and can easy adjust to new protocols or changes in the company.
  • They value experiences, especially travel. Millennials can make the best roadwarriors. Every city they enter is new and full of promise.
  • Sharing these experiences are highly valued. Why go to a new city and not take pictures?
  • Communication is important, but not in the traditional sense. Good luck getting them on the phone. They are more apt to sending a email or text than leave a voicemail.

Millennials and Reporting Compliance

Regarding travel management, Millennials have the highest rate of non-compliance. According to Tim Hines, the presenter at a Rocky Mountain Business Travel Association luncheon, they average 46% compliance. Compared to Baby Boomers, who are on average 80% compliant, the difference is concerning. If Millennials are always connected, why are they so bad at reporting their travel expenses? Well, the devil may be in the details here. Often the reporting process is lengthy or slow. For a group that expects results instantaneously, this can be a giant hurdle.   If you need something done, it should have a quick and easy approach.

6 Tips For Improving Compliance Rates:

  • Allow customization of the reporting platform and the ability to make adjustments.
  • Make the process as automated as possible. Use text alerts or automatic updates.
  • Enhance traveler experience, possibly with incenetives.
  • Leverage social tools, like Concur, TripIt, or Airtinerary.
  • Explore alternative communication methods like Twitter, Google Chat or Slack. Providing additional channels may open up lines of communication you didn’t know was needed.
  • Put them in charge of creating a new system for regulating compliance. They are quick to learn new technology. If they are responsible for finding something that will work for them, compliance will certainly be higher.
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Business and Leadership Travel Industry

Christopherson Is A SAP Concur Preferred Partner

One of the key differentiating factors for Christopherson Business Travel is our SAP Concur Preferred Partner status. Though this is one of our most beneficial components, it is often overlooked by prospective travel managers or business travelers. Working closely with the leading spend management provider allows us to further provide our clients with easy and affordable online travel management solutions. Their cloud-based services allows for updates and upgrades automatically. Combine that with our top-of-the-line integrations to our own travel technology means our clients are always supported, no matter the situation.

What makes a SAP Concur Preferred Partner:

  • Fully aligned with SAP Concur’s mission and vision, and consistently collaborate with the SAP Concur team
  • Market leaders in the industry, committed to driving innovation for their clients
  • Fully supportive of SAP Concur’s business traveler suite of solutions
  • Connected with SAP Concur sales and business development teams to ensure complete alignment
  • Proactively engaged in key industry events and initiatives

We were one of the first SAP Concur Preferred Partners, an exclusive membership that includes only 25 partners worldwide. SAP Concur Preferred Partners achieve the platform benefits of full, open technological integration. This enables us to offer our clients comprehensive service and the ability to evolve with the industry and our client’s growing travel needs. We currently manage more than 800 sites for more than 650 companies using SAP Concur.

Christopherson is a longtime direct reseller of SAP Concur, our clients are assured of high-quality service, responsive interaction, and an on-time implementation and transition. Most importantly, Christopherson has two specialized teams to build, customize, and maintain our client booking sites. These teams are ready to provide prompt and insightful assistance to travelers with navigational and system questions via phone or email.

“Christopherson Business Travel was one of our original TMC Partners to earn the Preferred Partner designation. This is due primarily to their leading edge in-house technical capabilities and their ability to successfully build out an API to Concur which allows for a robust data exchange process. Christopherson was also one of the first agencies to be TripLink certified and they are an active participant on our Preferred Partner Advisory Board. Their Executive team from the CEO down are some of the finest and well respected professionals in the industry and I truly enjoy working with them as a Concur TMC Preferred Partner.” —Will Elliott, Senior Alliance Manager, Concur