In their professional life, business travelers and expense managers alike want the same, seamless customer-centric experience they’ve become accustomed to in their personal life. More than half of the respondents to Business Travel News’ Expense Manager Survey rated ease of expense report preparation most important. Usability now trumps cost savings and compliance.
The number of respondents who ranked usability most important has jumped nearly 50 percent since 2013, the last year Business Travel News conducted the survey. When it comes to the feature that would make travel expense management software more user friendly, receipt imaging took the top spot for both travelers and software buyers. Second place was split. Travelers chose pre-population of credit card data, while buyers selected customizable reports. Even in their differences both groups indicated a feature that would make their respective experiences better.
“A few years back, it was about compliance and cost savings,” SAP vice president of product management for travel and expense solutions Hendrik Vordenbaeumen told Business Travel News. “Now [clients] are trying to focus more on the traveler … [and] an end-to-end [solution that gets] data from different sources and creates the expense solution more or less on the fly so the traveler doesn’t have to do too many things.”
Compliance may no longer be in the spotlight, but it’s still an area of focus. A recent study by TSYS and the Global Business Association found “controls and compliance” was one of the areas most in need of improvement. Finding ways to better compliance could be considered part of improving usability for travel managers.
Smartphones are now an essential part of conducting business. Seventy percent of the travel managers surveyed by TSYS were interested in using mobile apps to help manage expenses. Everyone may be interested in mobile, but users want a full-featured experience similar to what they would experience from a desktop or laptop. Sandy Hicks, assistant vice president at the University of Colorado and chief procurement officer, highlighted a specific shortcoming for Business Travel News. The university is currently using Concur’s travel and expense management software. “In the desktop version, it’ll have all the days sitting in there, and you can click on meals that were provided and it calculates everything for you. It works great. It would be nice if it were over on the mobile app,” Hicks said. “It’s on the roadmap, but until we can do the end-to-end, the app isn’t as good as it could be.”
Travelers and managers are both requesting a more feature-rich digital expense reporting experience, but plenty of businesses are still using paper-based systems. Small businesses are the most likely to use manual reporting. Research from PayStream Advisors revealed 63 percent of small businesses have yet to move to electronic systems and 9 percent of large corporations lag behind. Waiting costs time and money. The average manual expense report takes an employee 30 minutes to complete and costs nearly $27 to process. A report entered into a travel expense management system takes half the amount of time and costs almost 30 percent less to process. American business travelers took 482 million trips last year. Imagine the savings.
Little Changes, Big Payoff
Ease of use and cost savings aren’t mutually exclusive. As noted above, the University of Colorado already uses a travel and expense management system. For the 2014 fiscal year, the 5,000 cardholders spent almost $33 million on travel. The university made an effort to make the program easier to use, addressing both expense reporting and travel booking. Putting usability first saved the university $260,000 in the first year, according to Business Travel News. How did they do it? Small changes that put users first.
One of those changes was increasing the threshold for purchases requiring a receipt to $75, which means users have to keep track of fewer receipts. Covering the $6 transaction fee charged to users by one of the university’s preferred mobile travel booking tools drove usage up 3 percentage points, chief procurement officer Hicks noted. She added that the university covers the fees through the savings generated by the streamlined program. Other changes designed to make users’ lives easier such as shifting liability for travel cards from individuals to the school, also had a positive effect on the bottom line. Centralizing the card program earned the school a rebate.
Embracing innovation has been tough for some travel managers. But when framed as making the procedures easier for all of those who use it, simplified T&E management tools could make choosing new school over old school more attractive.