Meet Nichole Lavalle, who joined Reed & Mackay as US Director, Client Success, in November 2022. Nichole joins us for a Q&A where she unveils how she believes client success in corporate travel management, in 2023 and beyond, will be rooted in travel management companies and clients building solid partnerships.
Tell us about your career background – how did you get into corporate travel?
I fell into it! When I graduated in 2008 with a degree in economics and finance it was at the time of the financial crisis. So I returned to study before starting a career in managing restaurants, becoming general manager of a restaurant group in Massachusetts, before moving to New York. While working in restaurants provides great customer experience, I wanted the chance to use my degree. After connecting with a friend who worked in the hotel industry, I started my first travel role in data analytics at a TMC.
I learnt all about the corporate travel industry from the director and eventually became an account manager. After working at another TMC, I then switched from agency side to the buyer side, where I stayed for almost five years. Now, coming back into the world of a TMC, that buyer experience has given me a unique perspective; it was really eye opening into what clients want from their TMC and what customer success management looks like.
Why did you want to join Reed & Mackay?
I knew John Keichline – Reed & Mackay CEO US – from a previous role and he reached out to me directly about this role. I hadn’t been looking to move as, when I was working buyer side, it was as the company’s first-ever global travel manager. But when John explained more about the role of US Director, Client Success at Reed & Mackay – itself a new role in the US for the company – it was an exciting opportunity to transform and recreate what client success and customer support looks like.
I like understanding challenges, finding creative solutions, and John stands by his team. He understands that while I don’t have a traditional background in travel services, I’ve been in the industry for quite a while now and he’s putting his trust in me to create the path that’s truly my own and bring my team along with me. Having buy-in from the CEO to recreate what client success means? That’s really appealing.
What excites you about corporate travel right now?
Coming out of the pandemic, it’s levelled the playing field; agencies are reimagining what account management means. We’re thinking more proactively about what the client will need and what travel is going to be.
Are clients happy to embrace this? They’re reimagining things too after COVID-19. One of my favourite quotes is you can’t expect to see change if you never do anything differently. Here’s a chance for us to do things differently and show our clients what success looks like.
What do you believe are the top priorities for clients in the US right now, and why?
I was on client side, coming out of COVID-19, and the standard that I expected coming out of the pandemic changed. Yes, at Reed & Mackay we have the smart tech and global reach but we’re going above and beyond that.
As an agency, we’re becoming more well-rounded as a team, especially on the account management side. We have fantastic personal service and have passionate, smart people in the business, who are not only looking to advance the company, but also to advance themselves.
To really wow our clients, that’s going to come out of the client success team developing themselves to ensure they’re learning more, whether that’s about sustainability or about being data driven.
With the current economic outlook, are clients keen to hear about best ways to make cost savings in business travel?
We hear different things from different clients. Some are looking to find cost savings for their business trips; some are really focused on sustainability and ESG. For example, we had a client say they wanted to start using more minority-owned hotel properties. Where before we would have recommended a travel booking based on location and rate, clients now want to know who owns the property, what is their sustainability plan etc.
This is what we will have to focus on too…looking at how we can further the client’s corporate strategy, bringing ideas to the client before they even think of them.
Do you see the travel manager’s role evolving – is it becoming one of increased responsibility?
It’s not necessarily taking on more responsibility but it is about becoming more well-rounded. So it’s not surprising that clients are asking for us to do the same, push barriers, make things better. We need to evolve alongside the client. It’s moving away from only the day-to-day running of a travel programme and increasingly focusing on the client relationship and truly being a partnership.
What are your priorities for clients in 2023 and beyond?
As corporate travel continues to bounce back, I’m re-envisioning what it means to be an account manager, and what client success means. We’re placing a high priority on partnerships, having a voice and becoming an industry expert for our clients. We’re being proactive in our approach, really getting into understanding the travel data, seeing where those trends are and where we can make changes.
Finally, what are your top three destinations that you would like to travel to?
Just ask me and I’ll go anywhere – I absolutely love to travel! I’ve been to Asia, South America, Europe, Africa, but an area I haven’t been to yet is the Middle East. It’s an area where the culture is so unique and interesting and I’ve yet to experience it. As Reed & Mackay has recently opened an office in Abu Dhabi, maybe I’ll get the chance to go!