German-based J. Wagner GmbH (WAGNER) is an industry-leading provider of a wide range of painting solutions, from user-friendly tools for the at-home DIYers to sophisticated solutions for industrial surface finishing. As a medium-sized company with 500 employees making up the WAGNER group in Germany — and another 1,700 around the world — the WAGNER team works smart and nimbly to build personal connections with clients across the globe.
Like all global companies, WAGNER has felt the significant impacts of reduced and halted business travel in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To keep business running while also putting employee safety first, the team has been working closely with Egencia to understand best risk management practices and continue to plan for the future of business travel.
Building a foundation for emergency-readiness with Egencia
As an Egencia client for the past two years, the WAGNER team has worked to build a business travel programme that helps their employees make quick, informed booking decisions and ensures that they have the information they need at the ready. And at the heart of their growing and evolving travel programme is the combination of modern technology and a relationship with Egencia’s team of experts.
Initially, WAGNER Group began working with Egencia with the primary goal of simplifying their travel programme. Carina Hertkorn, WAGNER HR Manager Policies and Projects, explained, ‘Before working with Egencia, we booked all of our trips through several companies. It made transparency in the booking process very challenging. Now we book everything through one platform and the data we need is all in the Egencia system’.
Currently, the feedback from WAGNER travellers is that the technology is simple and easy to use. But after implementation, during the ramp-up process, some employees were challenged by adjusting to the new system. ‘Travellers were used to calling an assistant or supervisor to book everything over the phone. With Egencia it can all be done online and that confused some people at first — we relied a lot on [our account manager] Ms Lang to help us onboard our team quickly’.
Egencia account manager, Christiana Lang, explained that one of the essential elements of successfully onboarding travellers at WAGNER was clear, regular communication, ‘We held regular bi-weekly calls to discuss challenges the employees were facing. We also checked in directly with the travellers who had the highest rates of booking offline to see how we could support them. Additionally, I was able to show the team the achieved savings by booking trips online instead of calling an [offline booking] agent’, she explained.
After just six months, WAGNER Group reported a 79 percent online adoption rate company-wide and, after a year, the team reached almost 88 percent online adoption.
Modernising their travel programme also emphasised the need for one internal point of contact for travel. Previously, the travel management duties were distributed amongst a few employees, but there was no subject matter expert. In early 2020, before Covid-19 broke into a pandemic, Franziska Marschall was designated as the Travel Management Specialist. ‘It was the best decision we made’, says Ms Hertkorn, ‘other medium-sized companies that don’t have a full travel management team should consider doing the same — it’s so important that travellers have one point of contact, especially in situations like [the pandemic]’.
Locating business travellers in a crisis using Egencia technology
Quickly achieving high adoption rates meant laying the foundation for increased visibility into traveller location and the ability to optimise risk management. Although no company had an easy time managing business travel when news of the pandemic broke, having employees on the Egencia platform meant that WAGNER had almost immediate access to data regarding their travellers’ locations.
‘We heard about the pandemic quickly because we have a subsidiary in China’, said Ms Marschall, ‘things began moving quickly as new countries were declared unsafe’.
With employee safety top of mind, one of the first tasks in response to the growing pandemic was to locate travellers. Ms Marschall said, ‘With Traveller Tracker, we had current data available on traveller locations and a clear view of planned and cancelled trips. As new countries were categorised as ‘high-risk’, we could quickly locate travellers and help them get back to Germany’.
Another essential element of managing the first few months of the pandemic was providing clear and consistent communication between Egencia, WAGNER and their employees. Egencia sent daily travel manager update emails with information about events impacting travel such as government lockdowns, global severe weather events, ongoing impacts to the travel industry and important information to watch. Ms Lang also helped to set up travel guidelines and messages in the booking tool so that only trips that fell within the updated guidelines could be booked without additional approval.
Egencia is helping J. Wagner get back on the road
Like all companies who depend on regular business travel, WAGNER Group is concentrated on getting back to regular operations. Ms Hertkorn explained, ‘We have quite a complex sales structure — lots of people need to work with clients in person internationally and domestically. Without business travel, it’s much harder to win new business and we can’t repair or install machines for existing customers. We need to travel in order to maintain the relationship standards we hold ourselves to’. And with these critical business operations in mind, Egencia and WAGNER are working together to get travellers safely back on the road.
For Egencia, effectively supporting clients during this unprecedented crisis has meant getting creative and going the extra mile. ‘One of the most helpful activities Egencia has organised for us is a round table made up of six regional companies’, explained Ms Marschall. ‘I’ve been able to talk with peers from other companies who are in a similar position, and we share best practices for managing business travel right now. Our account manager also attends to help facilitate those meetings to answer questions and discuss new safety features and tools’. She added, ‘I’m looking forward to continuing the round table, even when business travel is back to normal — it means a lot to have outside support’.
Currently, the team is picking up business travel again in Germany and a few nearby countries. ‘We’re located in southern Germany, so we’re able to travel by car to some customers in France and Italy’, said Ms Marschall. We’ve provided each of our employees with a PPE package, so they have the gear they need such as face masks, gloves, etc. to travel safely. We’re making decisions based on the daily travel manager email updates from Egencia and, of course, the Robert Koch Institute which is the German government’s institution monitoring the pandemic’.
Even though there’s a lot of uncertainty ahead and work to be done, the WAGNER team has a positive outlook on future business travel and their relationship with Egencia. Both the support they’ve received from their account manager and the innovative technology that’s putting safety first is giving the team confidence. Ms Hertkorn shared, ‘We’ve done a good job managing the situation, and the communication with the Egencia team has been a huge benefit for us. We couldn’t have managed the pandemic at this level without Egencia as a partner’.