The Art of the Meaningful Nudge

The Art of the Meaningful Nudge

Why did a traveller opt for one fare, flight or hotel over another? How do travel programmes encourage on-policy bookings and more responsible travel behaviour? The answer might lie in behavioural science, tech, and the ‘nudges’ that prompt travellers to make smarter travel decisions.

In layman’s terms, behavioural science is the discipline of understanding how people behave and how they make decisions about what to buy, why and when (and for whom).

Nobel laureate Professor Richard Thaler has been hailed as the ‘godfather’ of behavioural science. In his book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness (co-written with Cass Sunstein), he writes: “The more choices you give people, the more help with decision-making you need to provide.”

And with bookers and travellers faced with a legion of travel choices, it follows that they might need a little help and guidance.

Thaler and Sunstein suggest there are numerous opportunities to ‘nudge’ customers to make choices, and as Bonnie Smith, GM FCM, explains, today’s online booking platforms use these nudges to steer people to make better choices, be it around cost, policy guidelines or sustainability goals.

“In a corporate travel programme scenario, the decisions your travellers make on a daily basis can have a significant impact not only on your organisation’s bottom line, but also on traveller wellbeing, productivity and morale,” says Smith. “The good news is that a solid travel policy coupled with an intuitive platform can make a significant difference – both on booking behaviour and your programme’s effectiveness.”

Gamification and a ‘nudge’ in the right direction

Online gaming is one of the fastest growing industries on the planet, and the application of game-design elements and game principles are now being used to enhance other systems – including online booking tools.

Put simply, today’s online booking platforms use gamification to make the user/booking journey intuitive, seamless, engaging and fun. The best platforms are quick and easy to navigate, and can even incorporate points and incentives to reward employees for policy compliance.

They also use prompts, pop-ups and other subtle interventions – based on insights from psychology and economics – to influence people’s booking behaviour. One example? Visual guilt, which is based on the premise that when an employee sees lower fare options they find it difficult to overspend. Guilt kicks in and their conscious won’t let them go for the more expensive option, especially when they know they can be called out for missed savings.

Similar to visual guilt, the ‘decoy effect’ is also useful. By offering three on-policy choices instead of hundreds, the decoy effect eliminates decision paralysis (which often happens when you have an overwhelming number of options) while at the same time guiding travellers to the preferred choice. How does it work? Instead of giving travellers the choice between two hotels, for example, they’re given a choice of three – at three different price points. This situation leads to the vast majority of people choosing the middle-priced option (the decoy) rather than the most expensive or the cheapest. In a way, it’s not too dissimilar to why the most popular choice of wine on any restaurant menu is always the second to cheapest!

In both these examples, behavioural science is used to drive cost savings but as Smith points out, nudges can also help travellers make the right decision when it comes to traveller wellbeing, duty of care and sustainability.

“We’re using tech to streamline the booking process – and eliminate any additional stress down the line,” explains Smith. “For example, by auto approving any booking that meets policy requirements and sounding an alert when one doesn’t. In this way a traveller instantly knows when they’ve strayed off policy – and they can immediately rectify the situation.”

Automated pop-ups inform travellers if they’re travelling to a destination which requires additional approvals in terms of the company’s duty of care policy and can even nudge them to make greener travel choices.

“Alerts and pop-ups are used to ‘green flag’ more sustainable choices, for example, direct routes, while new features can show CO2 emissions at every point in the itinerary, including air, train, car and hotel,” says Smith. “It’s not about manipulating travel bookers or bending them to your will, rather it’s about giving them the right information – at the right time – so they can make the best decision to suit their needs.”

For Smith, the biggest difference between today’s tools and those previously in use, is that the industry has done away with the notion of ‘features for features’ sake’.

“What matters now is not the bells and whistles, but the user-friendliness, intuitiveness and ability to customise tools to suit individual needs. The tech is quick and clever and all ‘nudges’ are there to drive your travel programme forward. Importantly, customers aren’t concerned with how it all works – just that it solves their problems and makes the end-to-end travel journey as seamless as possible.”

This includes offering them sufficient choice (too much, and they feel overwhelmed, too little and they feel limited), and giving them a gentle nudge in the right direction.

Are you ready to nudge your business travel in the right direction? Let's talk.