Account management is a difficult role. An account manager needs to be an expert in their field, part therapist, part problem-solver, while always on the lookout for potential savings. A true road warrior travelling the country to spend time with their clients, while always representing the business.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Strategic Account Manager Trish Williams, who you may know as one of the leads of Clarity Studios’ new feature film, The Haircut, not coming to a cinema near you.
The feel-good film details how Clarity can save you money on your business travel, without sacrificing the quality of service. Something Williams has a lot of experience in.
Kyle Daniels: Hi Trish, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today.
Trish Williams: You’re very welcome.
KD: Let’s set the scene for the audience. The Haircut is about saving you time and money on your business travel. Can you really save both?
TW: I would like to think so. It depends on how you view both, and what their values are to you as a business.
KD: What do you mean?
TW: At its simplest level, a good travel management company, and in turn a good account manager, will always aim to save you money. That’s a given.
The time element is the removal of needing to chase the best deal on your travel because let's be honest, if you’re shopping around to shave £30 off your journey that will be a considerable waste if you value your time at £100 an hour. So, it’s about giving people the confidence that they are always getting the best available rates.
Another way to look at saving time includes products and services that value yours. A booking tool that works seamlessly across multiple device platforms, a dedicated mobile app that manages your itinerary and houses your e-tickets, a risk tool that instantly notifies you of the latest global travel risks and communicates with your travellers. It’s much more than just offering the cheapest flights, although that always helps.
KD: How long have you been in account management?
TW: About 13 years now, nine of which have been spent with Clarity, and more than 20 years overall in the travel industry. It actually makes me feel a little bit queasy saying those numbers out loud!
KD: Is there a particular part of account management that you enjoy the most? Let’s try and steer away from the obvious saving people money answer!
TW: Haha! To be honest, I love relationship building. Meeting new people and striking up positive relationships. I’ve been fortunate enough to maintain a lot of these relationships for many years as clients extend their contracts with us.
KD: And how do you maintain that trust for so many years?
TW: It’s finding the right balance of formal vs informal. If you look back over the last 18 months, for example, we’ve found ourselves embracing more of an informal side of the relationship.
I’ve had clients appear on my screen with a towel wrapped around their head because they’re running late, I’ve seen their kids having tantrums, their dogs going berserk at the postman, we’ve belly-laughed and on the flip side, I’ve been a ‘virtual’ shoulder to cry on when they’ve experienced heartache.
We’re all human and it’s good to get to know your clients on a personal level. It means that when we do meet, we can engage in personal conversations that feel genuine. We value the time we spend together, and it also means that the advice and guidance I can give as an account manager is trusted.
KD: It seems that trust is the biggest requirement for being successful in the role.
TW: It really is, and it goes both ways. Without trust, you won’t get honesty, and that’s what we’re looking for as account managers. We need total honesty to tell us whether people are on policy, or whether there’s an issue with the service. If the relationship isn’t strong enough, you only find out that stuff after the fact and usually as an excuse to end things.
KD: You touched on it a little earlier, but how has your role changed over the course of the pandemic?
TW: Ironically, in a world where increasing turnover and margins is probably more important than ever, our own objective, within account management, is to demonstrate to our clients how they can spend less without compromising on the outcome. This is true pre- and post-pandemic, however, the strategies have definitely changed.
Pre-pandemic, typically, our advice and the areas that our clients would direct their focus towards were booking behaviours such as advanced planning, avoiding peak travel times & peak hotel stay days of the week, considering indirect flights on long haul trips, restricted vs fully flexible fares, introducing preferred supplier programs and more!
During the last 18 months, this focus has switched massively and more than ever we’re encouraging clients to question the need for travel in the first place. We’ve used this time to further enhance our technology solutions to enable travellers to make informed and sustainable choices when booking those business-critical trips. We’ve introduced risk assessment solutions to support a return to business travel. We’ve encouraged our clients to utilise these quiet times to ensure that they have a policy that remains fit for purpose, but ultimately has their traveller well-being at the very core.
We’re supporting our clients with enhanced management information enabling them to analyse why people are travelling, if they can travel less by staying longer, as well as considering where video-based technology can replace same day/repetitive trips whilst ensuring the outcome isn’t compromised.
None of this is new though. For example, our ‘Hearts & Minds’ manifesto which was released a couple of years ago is a prime example of where we focused on exactly these kinds of areas.
However, the pandemic has now brought this to the forefront of our client's priorities, and we’ll continue to support them.
KD: What’s the most important thing that a company like Clarity can bring to a travel program?
TW: We all know what a travel management company can and should offer but you should ask yourself questions such as:
‘Do I really have peace of mind’? ‘Do I have a travel partner who has my back in any eventuality? ‘Can I pick up the phone, day or night, and speak to a real person who has my safety and well-being in mind’? ‘Do they communicate effectively with me and keep me informed when something changes in the industry? ‘Am I confident they can guide me on complex subjects such as Brexit, immigration rules & regulations as well as restrictions? ‘Will they help me in my role to be more efficient and achieve our objectives?
Clarity’s values are very clear. We listen to our clients and truly understand what’s important to them. We adapt our service and continue to be flexible in this ever-changing world. We work collaboratively together to deliver real, tangible results.
KD: Final question. What does it mean to be nominated for Account Manager of the Year at this years' Business Travel People Awards?
TW: Incredible. It’s an honour and privilege to be nominated by my colleagues and to be in a category with some truly talented account managers from across the industry. The fact that we have people to celebrate within the industry after such a difficult 18 months is testament to the industry’s ability to bounce back and still support our clients wherever they need us.
You can hear Trish speak more about account management on the latest episode of the Absolute Clarity podcast, available on all major podcast platforms, and by clicking here!