“Follow the sun” is a service and support model designed to address customer’s needs regardless of geographic location or time-zone.
The follow the sun model is certainly not a new concept – nor is it unique to corporate travel management or the travel industry. Follow the sun is also used in software, technology, and other sectors as a customer service model.
While the follow the sun model may make sense for certain types of organizations and corporate travel management programs, there are several areas to consider if you are looking to adopt this concept with your current travel supplier or travel management company (TMC).
Where do I begin?
The first step is to ask what is driving your company’s desire to embark upon a follow the sun model. Is it control? Consistency in service? Faster response times? Cost savings opportunities? Are your employees asking for this? Are you simply looking to create a solid multinational or global organization?
Organizations should first make sure they standardize their travel program before they look at a follow the sun model. “The follow the sun model is not a shortcut to standardize and globalize a travel program,” says Nicole Wilcock, Vice President, Radius Travel. “If that is your motivation, you may want to step back and evaluate your overall program.”
“There is a lot that can be done if you are looking to globalize your travel program,” continues Wilcock. “The first step is to standardize a global travel policy and implement it across the organization to ensure compliance and governance. Once the foundation is in place, the next step is to work with your travel management company (TMC) on reporting needs, service expectations, service level agreements, and global data improvements, as well as ensuring you are on a standard servicing platform to get economies of scale.”
If your travel program is globally fit-for-purpose, implementing the follow the sun model may be something you want to consider. Here are a few areas to focus on that will help you determine if this will be the right decision for your travel program.
The overall infrastructure that your TMC has in place, including consistent phone and email platforms, common GDS, mid and back-office systems – in a dedicated environment – can make the follow the sun approach easier to consider and possibly lend to a lower-cost model.
However, internal processes rather than the operational components provided by the TMC can create a more significant impact on the success of this model. When employees are familiar with a global work environment and the company culture is one where self-service or shared services is the norm, the follow the sun model can be easier to mandate. However, a model that feels like a “one size fits all” approach can be challenging to gain employee buy-in.
A follow the sun model must also be led by senior-level management who keep open lines of communication with employees, set expectations, and report back on the value it brings to the organization in your company’s regions. These leaders also need to take a critical look at the global travel split. If this split is unequal per region, employees in one area may feel they are losing more than they are gaining by using different resources with varying skill sets.
Typically, companies with a condensed footprint and high volumes which allow for a dedicated staff will find this model successful. Companies that require a lot of concierge-level support for their travelers may have service level inconsistencies if the agent pool does not carry the same knowledge throughout all regions.
At the end of the day, your company needs to ask: what is in it for your end-users – the travelers? Are they going to see the value, and is your service consistent globally?
Service and content consistency
Service consistency may be hard to achieve across vast regions. Language barriers, cultural nuances, content fragmentation, data security, regional expertise, in addition to governmental regulations and technology offerings, are difficult to standardize across regions. Level setting expectations on what the end-user will receive is critical. “In the current global environment, the level of travel advisor consultation required is higher than ever,” says Wilcock. “It is a lot to ask a travel advisor to know all of the ever-changing local and governmental details that are happening in other countries and be able to react quickly and efficiently in a time of crisis.”
Additionally, having access to consistent content throughout all regions can be difficult. Supplier deals will vary across regions, and getting these loaded and accepted globally can prove to be a challenge, giving an inconsistent experience and potential loss of savings. “Content differs even if the agency uses technology to emulate the booking between regions. For the best experience, every transaction needs to feel as if it’s second nature to every travel advisor,” said Wilcock.
Language barriers can cause issues in achieving a successful service model. English should be considered the common language used globally, but English is not the same in every region. Travelers need to understand that the use of certain terms combined with accents can potentially slow a conversation down, causing critical information to be lost in translation.
Data protection is more important now than ever. Sharing traveler data throughout many regions globally will likely put data protection and compliance teams on high alert. Having conversations upfront with security teams will prove beneficial.
Find what’s right for you
The follow the sun approach is not impossible for the right type of organization with a global program in place and with the internal resources to support this approach. There are many areas to consider before implementing the follow the sun model. Organizations should make sure that in the long run, this will be the best fit for the future of their travel program.