Solve All Your Problems with Mobile

By Alan Minton, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Cornerstone

Does anyone else feel that mobile phones are being billed as the next great cure all for businesses large and small? It seems that the single key to corporate riches is a sound mobile strategy.  Think I am exaggerating?  How many of you have seen the Geico ad with the talking pig on a plane checking his insurance policy updates on his cell phone?  I recently conducted some grueling and seriously unscientific research and discovered I know absolutely no one who checks their insurance policy regularly. So how is the Geico app going to sell more auto insurance?

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand the allure of the mobile market.  There are roughly 6 billion cell phone subscriptions in the world and slightly more than 1 billion of them are smart phones. This is an enormous marketplace and if you can get your product in front of all these people in an engaging way then you are bound to make millions. site down . Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems with this very broad assumption.

First, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a business man in Beijing. He said – “Everyone thinks ‘If I only could get a dollar from every Chinese person then I would have more than a billion dollars’. The problem is that every Chinese person does not have a dollar” In short understand your market better before you make revenue predictions.  That is sound advice. We need to be careful not to confuse possible with probable.

The second issue is that of channel limitations.  Not every channel is suited to every product.  Anyone remember how the internet was going to produce the demise of the financial planner or real estate agents?  Sure, eTrade and others provided a new channel for those who were willing to rely on their own understanding of finance to make investment decisions, but many still rely on certified financial planners to manage their 401ks and IRAs.

Now let me be clear, I think the Travel space, particularly the leisure Travel space, is ripe with opportunities for consumer-facing mobile apps. All you have to do is read the recently released PhoCusWright study that predicts U.S. mobile leisure/unmanaged business travel bookings will more than triple from 2012 to 2014, when mobile bookings will reach US$25.8 billion. However, I am concerned that corporate travel professionals are looking at the mobile channels as their savior.  Just last week I received a question from a customer wanting to know what our mobile app technology plan looks like. At first glance this seems like it is an acceptable question.  But with additional consideration I am afraid this exceptionally ambiguous question was the product of channel confusion.

I know there are many good travel apps that are excellent. Here is a link to CNN recommendation of the top 50 travel apps.  I use several of these myself and each time I attend a travel industry event I enjoy perusing all the cool new ideas based on mobile technology.  Yet I am curious as to how these apps help us address all of the pressing challenges facing corporate travel professionals.  For example, one of the most common questions we receive at Cornerstone from corporate travel managers is, “How can I be sure my data is accurate?” We answer this question via our Data Confidence Index™ where we analyze a company’s travel data based on 51 metrics so that they can feel confident about their data quality and thus the business decisions they make based on this data.  I am not sure a mobile app is the right solution for this type of a problem.

So here is my conclusion/recommendation.  Use the technology that is best suited to address a specific problem.  Be aware of the new mobile apps and their capabilities and limitations. Don’t be so reluctant to use hosted solutions to tackle some of travels larger and important challenges.

Think I am a technology Luddite?  Let me know.  And if you have some favorite mobile apps you want to share, post them here. 

Rainy Days Demand Better Service

By Alan Minton, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Cornerstone

You know how people say to not write an email or blog post when you’re angry? Screw ‘em. I am writing anyway.

Let me set the stage. I have a meeting in Chicago from 9:30 until 4:30. I made a reservation on United that would get me to Chicago by 8 and back home by 10. I chastised other meeting participants for coming in the night before and incurring hotel and dining expenses. I am the efficient business traveler who is a sound financial steward of my companies travel budget. Then it started to rain in Chicago and I became the jerk who showed up late to his own meeting while everyone else was prepared and ready to work.

It started this morning when I got up at 5 and was going to go running, take a shower and be at the airport on time. I picked up my phone to select some inspiring tunes form my 2.5 mile amble and noticed that I had a message from United and Tripit. I opened the United message and this was what I got.

As of 3:08 a.m. on July 19, United flight UA1575 from Columbus, OH (CMH) to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) on July 19 is canceled. To see available options, go to united.com/flightupdates, access an airport kiosk or see a United representative at the airport.

I then opened my Tripit email and they shared the same info plus a link to alternative flights that met my date and time preferences and quickly identified an American Airlines flight at the same time. I attempted to book online but was told that since it was within 6 hours of departure I had to speak with an American agent. AARRGH!

After futzing around with the United site and attempting to rebook I decided to call. My pleasant welcome greeting explained that my hold time was going to be 30+ minutes. I put the phone on speaker and hopped in the shower. I then, shaved, got dressed, made coffee, got in the car, drove to the airport, parked, and got in 50+ person line at the United counter. Then I got a live person on the line. The gentleman was very pleasant and apologetic about the cancelation. While we did not share the same primary language we were able to discover that I had been rebooked on the same flight the next day. I explained that unless he had a time machine it would be a bit of a challenge to leave tomorrow and return today. I shared with him my discovery of the American Airlines flight and he made an effort to book me on that flight. I left my United line and got in the American line. Almost immediately a pleasant older lady with an iPad came up to me. I explained my predicament and she let me know the American flight I wanted was delayed but there were seats. She put me in the priority line. At that point my nice United rep explained that he had me rebooked on my American flight. I told this to the hip grandmother and she walked up to the counter and produced my boarding pass in minutes.

Now I understand that weather is unpredictable and that flights get canceled and delayed all the time. It is this very frequency that puzzles me. If flights are affected by weather every day I would think there would be a better way to handle cancelations.

Well there is but it requires you to book on Expedia. You see for the last several years Cornerstone has been powering the Expedia schedule change service. So if I were to have booked on Expedia versus the airlines direct site in a misguided effort to potentially save a couple of bucks I would have received an email or a call, whichever one I preferred, informing me of my predicament with suggestions for a resolution.

But I didn’t and now here I sit with egg on my face, nourished with Mountain Dew and M&Ms watching two ladies groom their impossibly small dogs while my team commences work in the windy city and prepares to serve me crow at lunch….. If I ever get there.

Travel Serendipity

By Alan Minton, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Cornerstone

There is nothing like using a Peter Allen song title from All That Jazz to do a setup for a tech review but I am a fan of obscure cultural references so this is what you get.

Recently the travel trade media has run stories on “new” technology capabilities offered by Yapta and ExpertFlyer.

Yapta’s claim to fame is they can search the GDS for a better fare on a flight thus ensuring the traveler receives the best deal. Pretty cool.

ExpertFlyer provides their customer’s with the capability of searching for a better seat as defined by the travelers preference. Again, pretty cool. In fact, both ideas are really cool and provide a measurable value to almost any traveler.  After all, who doesn’t want to save money and avoid the dreaded middle seat?

Here is the part that these stories forget to mention.  Any travel agency that has used a mid-office system like Cornerstone’s iQCX or those offered by the two technology companies recently swallowed up by Concur have had this ability for the past 20 years. On top of that, IQCX’s FareChecker and SeatChecker modules are managed by a business rules system, meaning that you customize the search for a virtually unlimited set of possibilities.

For example, what do you do when the price drops $100?  You say yes and celebrate your savings, right?  To quote Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.”  What if the change fee on the airline is $150 and the service fee is $25?  If you accept the “better” fare simple math will tell you that you are out $75.

If you read the fine print in the ExpertFlyer article (“If a better seat is found, agents are alerted through the application in the Sabre workspace or through optional email alerts. It is then up to the agent to re-assign.”) you learn that manual intervention has not been removed and thus potential labor savings have been reduced and opportunities for errors still exist.

In short, valuable capabilities that have been available for more than two decades have been repackaged and seem to be all the rage even though more than 300 Cornerstone customers have these capabilities available on the nearly half billion reservations we will process this year.

I am looking forward to the next story about a technology that can monitor waitlist to help travelers get the flight they need/prefer so they can do their jobs better and more efficiently.  Anybody want to talk about iQCX’s WaitlistChecker? domain maps Pashto to Urdu