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Powering up for change

npower

CWT and npower present their story to a packed audience at this year's Business Travel Show

Carlson Wagonlit Travel and npower over-turned a traditional working model and started afresh in a successful collaboration to deliver significant cost-savings to the energy company's travel programme.

Background

As part of a company-wide cost-cutting exercise, npower’s travel team was asked to find 20-30 per cent savings. All major suppliers, including travel, were invited to npower's head office in Swindon in April 2015 to present a detailed proposal about how they could cut costs from their offering.

For the incumbent travel management company, CWT, this coincided with an RFP, so both processes had to run alongside each other.

The energy company re-awarded the contract to CWT and the two businesses collaborated to implement an entirely new operational structure, which required a major change management project.

Challenge

CWT and npower had a mature relationship, which included a well-functioning team of dedicated CWT agents embedded in the npower offices. To achieve the savings that npower was looking for, CWT advised removing the implant and driving adoption of the online booking tool (OBT).

The company's travellers were already using the OBT for 70 per cent of all eligible bookings. This would need to rise to 90 per cent to meet the cost-savings target.

Travel manager Jo McQuade decided to mandate use of the OBT. As her team provides travel services not only for npower but for five other operating businesses owned by RWE and Innogy group in the UK, she had to take them on the same journey.

The biggest challenge was gaining stakeholder buy-in from all divisions, including those without the same financial imperative to change behaviour. Without their support, the necessary high online adoption figure would be extremely difficult to reach.

The goal was to change the behaviour of 6,000 travellers across six operating companies, who would have to adapt to the loss of the implant and make all eligible bookings online. This required a change management project of epic proportions.

Solution

The biggest cost saving was achieved by changing the operational structure – closing the implant at Swindon. Some of the implant agents had worked with the client for 20 years and it was important to Jo and CWT that they were well taken care of. Fortunately, on this occasion, it was possible to secure positions for all the individuals within the CWT network. More than half the team now work at home, continuing to serve the energy group's travellers for complex fares that are not eligible for online booking – retaining their expertise and client knowledge.

In addition, npower decided to change its GDS to Amadeus to align with its existing OBT, cytric, so the remaining 'virtual' agents were trained on the new system.

Jo needed the support of six operating companies, including npower, to ensure the success of an OBT mandate. Gaining stakeholder buy-in was easier than she expected thanks to excellent groundwork done previously. This included:

  • Engaging with all the operating companies for 12 months previously around the financial impact of traveller behaviour
  • Educating the divisions about best practice


"I had put npower in a strong position to accept change," says Jo. "The prior engagement ensured we had the behaviour right because that is then driven with the culture of the business, for example, booking further in advance and booking the best rate on the day. I could demonstrate that cytric would add value."

When the time came to phase out the implant and mandate online booking, Jo's relationships with stakeholders was already strong.

She adds: "I described the value-adds and said, 'we're at 75 per cent adoption, we can step off the cliff and get to 90'. They all agreed because they understood where we were going."

Having invested in regular hour-long engagements with stakeholders early on, the educational part of the journey was complete; now, continuous development is assured with 15-minute catch-ups to inform parties of any changes.

Online adoption was driven by the mandate and clear, consistent messaging. CWT shared information about best practice and other client successes, and CWT Programme Messenger was used throughout the campaign to deliver targeted notifications.

CWT agents were empowered to pushback if travellers called them to make a booking that could be made online. Jo collaborated with CWT senior programme manager Neil Radley to create a script that would allow the agents to supportively guide travellers in the right direction.

Even though the OBT hadn't changed, a training video was created and refresher training offered to any travellers or bookers who needed them.

Result

RWE and Innogy group's total travel operating costs for the year ending December 2017 were down 24 per cent compared with 2016. This was despite a 2 per cent increase in transaction volumes.

Of the eligible tickets, the group now has an online booking rate of 95 per cent.

Client verdict

Jo says: "The biggest success was that our travellers embraced change. They are the end-user, using cytric and the travel service. It's important to remember to wear their shoes.

"Of course, we had some teething problems, but we worked closely with CWT to resolve them and customer service rates went sky high again. We did some heavy analytics, which were great because they enabled us to change cytric to fit better."

As well as npower, the other divisions are also benefiting from cost-savings – not only from the reduction in operating costs but also from travellers making informed choices through the OBT.

Jo adds: "The tool is customised with our parameters, policy and rate caps. A lot of things that the travel agency was doing, we've had the capability to build into cytric, so I haven't lost too much from the human interaction of advising and informing."

Conclusion

Underlying the success of this project was a great relationship between npower and CWT, and an open working relationship between Jo and Neil.

Neil explains: "After more than 20 years, removing the implant was a step into the unknown for them. It was about trusting our partnership and what CWT would do to support them.

"From a programme management perspective, it's great to work with a client who is not afraid to be challenged in a positive way."

Jo concludes: "It's great to still be working with the same people, but they're in that position because they came out of the tender with the best fit for us."