Call centers vs. personalized teams: Which service model is right for you?


If you ask a travel manager what matters most to them regarding their travel program, they’ll probably say cost savings. But a close second is always service levels, and the discourse rages on about what servicing model best fits multinational and high-volume travel programs. What it comes down to is what they value more: the speed at which someone can pick up the phone or whether they want a team that truly understands their travelers’ needs and their company’s policy.

This is the debate between call centers and personalized teams. Let’s try and settle it.

First thing first…a structural comparison

Before discussing pros and cons, we have to know what we’re comparing. Here are the nuts and bolts:

Call Center Personalized Team
  • Larger work setting and higher volume of agents
  • Agents are divided up among various non-specialized team leaders
  • Calls are answered by any available agent on a first-come, first-served basis
  • Pod-style work setting with a focused group of agents
  • Agents are divided up by specialized teams, possibly by client or industry
  • Calls are answered by an available agent within the assigned specialized team on a first-come, first-served basis
customer service

A personal touch or speed of service?

Personalized teams and call centers offer different positives and negatives regarding their service model. It’s up to travel managers to decide which one better suits their program’s needs, and then seek out a TMC partner that can provide it.

Personalized teams will always come with a more human touch – when your travelers work with the same group of people for all their bookings, the agents will become very familiar with your program’s requirements, such as policy rules, preferred suppliers, unused ticket processing, and more. And your travelers will feel more at ease knowing their bookings are managed by a team that knows them.

Call centers won’t have the same personal touch. Still, they can handle higher call volumes at a faster rate, which may be more attractive to large multinational organizations with travel programs that transact in the tens of millions of dollars.

Which model is more flexible?

It’s been said over and over, but recent events have proven that corporate travel programs need to be agile and nimble in the face of change. Depending on where this falls in your priorities for your program, it can determine what kind of service model you’ll prefer.

When it comes to a personalized team that is dedicated to an industry, segment, or client, it is much easier to adapt to changes in traveler needs or feedback. For example, a client-specific team can receive real-time policy updates and apply those new requirements immediately. This feedback also goes two ways – if agents are hearing the same concerns, complaints, or are mitigating the same problems repeatedly, it can be raised with the travel manager(s). The other important thing to remember is that agents who are assigned to specific teams, whether by industry, volume, or client, tend to have more experience than an entry-level agent and can provide more informed service.

This may be a harsh way to put it (and isn’t necessarily bad depending on your priorities), but to call center agents, your travelers’ calls are just another checkbox in their day. This is the result of a high-volume framework. There won’t be the same feedback loops, and since a call center will be servicing many clients at large, change will be more incrementally and may take more approvals.


Which model is more scalable?

Another important consideration when choosing your support model is how it scales with your organization's needs and costs. 

When it comes to numbers, call centers simply have more staff. A call center can host hundreds of agents in one spot, and the dawn of remote work can even triple those estimations. This means an agent will always be available to answer the phone when the next disruption, crisis, or emergency happens. And, call centers can scale more quickly at lower costs, making them more attractive to organizations where the "bottom line" is the most important factor. This all may come at another cost, though: You won't be able to expect the same level of “white-glove” service as you'd get from a personalized team – an agent might be taking a booking from your organization for the first time, and that first time may also be their last time.

The biggest argument for a call center is that a personalized team won't have the numbers to support travelers, but we need to remember that a personalized team is by no means “small” and can have upward of 40-50 agents assigned to one traveler segment, industry, or client.

Building relationships and navigating nuances

How important is it to you that your travelers feel like they have a connection with the agents servicing your program?

The main difference between an agent from a call center and a personalized team is how well they will understand your travelers and program. Even on a personalized team of 40 people, it is statistically likely that a traveler will work with the same agent time and time again. This is especially impactful for your road warriors. Imagine what you would like better: having to reexplain your requirements and wants every time you call, or speaking with an agent who already knows, and may even remember your favorite hotels or booking procedures?

It’s a simple fact that call centers can’t accommodate this. So, if it’s important to you, then you have your answer on which model is a better fit for your program.

Woman working on tablet wearing green

Which one is right for you?

It all comes down to preferences, priorities, and needs. During your RFP process, make sure to include questions that unpack how a TMC handles servicing, and ask for customer testimonials, referrals, and examples of how they’ve handled specific issues or problems.

To be transparent, at FCM, we use the personalized team model. We’ve found that it’s the best way to bring our travelers and clients the support they need, all while keeping the human connection. This comes at a cost, but the results are priceless. If you want to hear about how we do it, let’s schedule some time to chat.

Give service a personalized touch. Let’s talk.

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