How to...

Implement a self-booking tool

Biogen has had great success with the adoption of its online booking tool, reports Gillian Upton. Read on to fi nd out how they managed it


THE 200 or so travellers working for the UK division of global biotechnology company Biogen enjoyed a white glove experience when booking travel. They picked up the phone, dealt with an experienced and dedicated travel consultant at their long-term TMC, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, and they handled the rest.

Company culture at Biogen is firmly non-mandated and the focus is on traveller wellbeing. Four years ago, however, the global leaders at the Boston-based company announced that all territories must adopt online booking.

Travellers had only just adjusted from an on-site dedicated implant at their Maidenhead offices, to an offsite CWT airport office at Heathrow. How were they going to make this even bigger leap from the cocooned world of offline to booking travel themselves?

“It was a big cultural difference when this decision was made,” says Rob Coomer, Senior Programme Manager at CWT.

Senior Programme Manager at CWT. “The client was initially sceptical but we knew we had to launch the tool and get traction. We knew arrangers were willing to follow instructions but we expected pushback from the travellers booking for themselves,” adds Coomer.

Read on to discover how Biogen UK and CWT made a success of the implementation

STEP 1: THE CHALLENGE. “Biogen generally does not mandate anything,” explains Karen Carter, Biogen’s Senior Manager, Facilities, who lead the implementation project from a site perspective and drove adoption of the new tool. “You have to get people on side and get their commitment to do something because they want to rather than because they have to.”

The travellers, mostly travelling between the Zurich and US Biogen offices, made use of the dedicated CWT offline team while the travel arrangers – mostly executive assistants – looked after travel bookings for senior employees.

It was both the travellers and the EAs that needed reassurance that the changes would be beneficial. Biogen and CWT worked closely together from the outset to ensure the tool would work in a way that suited all Biogen travellers.

A key message to communicate was that Biogen was not withdrawing the agent on the phone.

STEP 2: THE STRATEGY. The company devised a three-pronged attack revolving around the customisation of the online booking tool, testing the tool and then training the end users.

The tool, Amadeus e-Travel, was selected for its simplicity and low cost, and also its more colourful and appealing interface. The look and feel made this particular OBT more intuitive.

Carter worked closely with CWT to build it in such a way to eradicate any stumbling blocks that might deter travellers from using it. Feedback from bookers’ offline experiences helped formulate the customisations required.

A pilot group of three bookers with the most significant volume of travel then tested the tool for a few months before going live. Feedback allowed the tool to be customised further.

“There were only a few tweaks to ensure that everything was visible,” says Coomer. The first batch of travellers were trained in a classroom-style setting at Biogen’s premises. Then Carter became the trainer for the remaining travellers, offering in-house training for a couple of months until use of the new booking tool became standard practice.

There was also one-to-one training for anyone who got stuck, usually around setting up his or her profile correctly. “It’s a simple matter of investing 15 minutes with them and then they’re on their way,” says Carter. All new employees are trained as part of their induction programme at Biogen.

“Four months later, when the CWT project team and I were as certain as we could be that there was nothing that would trip the user up, we went live,” explains Carter.

“Experience told me that if the bookers had trouble using the tool they simply wouldn’t use it. We marketed the tool as something that would be beneficial and user feedback has been good.”

STEP 3: THE RESULT. Between 77% and 82% of all bookings are now made online and the adoption rate shot up to 82% within the first six months and has stayed there.

“It’s a very impressive result,” says Coomer.

“If there had been no client engagement it would have been very slow growth.”

Carter receives dashboard reports every month showing who is still booking eligible trips over the phone, so the adoption rate will improve. Those travellers not engaging with the tool are targeted with one-to-one training on how to use it.

The other key successes have been a halving of the TMC cost as the number of calls and emails to CWT have dropped dramatically. Also, the time it takes to make a booking has halved. Offline bookings used to take an average of 7.5 minutes whereas online takes three to four minutes.

“Karen has done an amazing job in driving online adoption,” says Coomer. “The figure of 82% adoption would have been considered very good in an environment where use of an OBT is mandatory. For this to happen in an environment where it isn’t mandated makes it an excellent outcome.”

Anticipating and counteracting the pushback was the key to the success of this booking tool implementation.

“In my experience an OBT doesn’t just happen,” says Coomer. “Karen’s investment of time and effort at the outset quickly paid dividends, resulting in travellers who were willing and confident in using the tool.”

All Biogen markets around the globe are now online and the UK is hovering at the top of the list for adoption rates.

“It’s made all this effort worthwhile,” says Carter. She is justly proud of the success and knows why it worked so well. “The key to the project’s success was thorough preparation before the system went live,” she says. “We made sure there were no blips and kept close to the people who were having issues. I don’t let people say, ‘I tried it once and couldn’t figure it out’.”