It occurred to me that as we continue to work with clients who are moving assignees at different levels of seniority and experience, that our industry as a whole has tried to commoditise what we do to such an extent that we have forgotten the simple fact that all assignees are not the same!
I appreciate that there are different policies that need to be applied to different business needs, just as I appreciate the fact that the cost of an assignment is significant. As companies have globalised, the need to move talent around the world has increased significantly.
This has led to an increased focus on the cost of assignments, as the threshold for more scrutiny and procurement in the decision process has been surpassed. Furthermore, it has highlighted to businesses just how much relocation assignments actually cost.
Does One Size Really Fit All?
More often than not, mobility industry service providers have been faced with some difficult questions in terms of what they should charge for their services, especially under greater fiscal scrutiny from potential clients. It is generally accepted that there has been a reduction in the fees that the industry can charge for delivering what is, in fact, becoming a more complex service.
What has been the industry’s response to this? Simple – they have followed the easiest route; they’ve reduced their prices and looked for increasingly innovative ways to reduce the costs of delivering a service to their customers in order to maintain a strong profit.
There is evidence that the “stack them high, sell them cheap” mentality has pervaded the mobility provider market. However, this mindset does not come without consequences, as we have seen recently with the acquisition of the once mighty Cartus being bought by the once commercially challenged SIRVA, amongst many of the additional consolidations we have seen in recent years as companies struggle to make the financial dynamics of their business’s work.
The challenge, as I see, it is that they have applied a “one-size-fits-all” rule to employee relocation on the basis that the needs of a graduate millennial relocating for the first time will be equally well-matched to a senior executive assignee.
I have a problem with this approach simply because expectations of these two assignees are likely to be wholly different, as are their needs.
Let’s think about these two individuals for a moment; one is setting out on their journey and is willing to make sacrifices to further their experience, both professional and emotional. The other has reached a certain stage in life and has come to expect some things, such as higher levels of service, as a given.
By example, it’s highlighted by the difference between choosing to stay in a Premier Inn as compared to a Four Seasons hotel. They both deliver the same thing; a warm, comfortable bed away from home, but the experience is vastly different – as is the cost.
When your Executive Vice President or CEO travels independently, for vacation for example, which are they more likely to stay in? Why, it’s simple; they come to expect a certain standard of service that they are unlikely to receive at the former. The same rules can be said to apply for air travel and the differences between travelling Economy compared to Business and First Class. (I am the first to appreciate that some CEO’s will travel Economy Class and stay in budget hotels for business, but they are the exception from the general rule of thumb.)
If we transfer this approach to relocation, do the same rules apply? Emotionally, you would think yes but the reality is that there is no differentiation. In other words, a long-term assignment is a long-term assignment. Corporations have, however, tried to accommodate these differences by adjusting policies to make them more holistic. And within that, they can choose to differentiate or segment cost by the level of allowances they apply between the more junior and senior assignees. It’s safe to say that these can vary significantly between the two. However, when it comes to choosing the provider to deliver the programme, there is no such segmentation. Most Corporates have a chosen global provider that they initiate all their assignments to, on an agreed programme that has no such differentiation, and the relocation assignment experience is left somewhat to chance.
Does Technology Enable or Replace?
The chosen vehicle for delivering innovation in this space has been technology, which drives self-help. It’s great for the relocation companies who don’t have to invest in the expensive and complex resource of what we would call, “human capital,” but maybe not so great for the person who has come to expect, or dare I say, “demand,” the Four Seasons experience.
Of course, technology is important across the board, but there are some things that technology just can’t replicate, at least not yet. For instance, when it comes to delivering a customer service that is rooted in an emotional experience, technology simply falls flat on its ability to deliver.
There are countless examples of experiences at the Four Seasons being measured not by how easy it was to book a room, but how they have had challenges met and overcome by human beings who have simply cared to find a solution and deliver it.
On the other hand, technology is simply a means to an end – it is not at a stage where it can provide a solution to a problem at a more personalized level. As an example I received a damaged parcel recently, I went online to “chat” with the courier company, I opened a chat and wrote “I have just received my package unfortunately it has been badly damaged” the response? “We are happy you have received your parcel!”
I accept that I generalise, but relocation companies are relying on similar technology and the same individuals within their organisations to meet the needs of all assignees, no matter what status or level they have, and I just don’t think it is possible.
The Final Take – Relocation Is A Mix of Simplicity & Complex Logistics
For me, I believe that the mobility stakeholders, be it Corporate Companies or Service Providers need to recognise that all assignees are not the same, and there are some for whom the budget experience is perfect and others for whom only a Four Seasons experience is good enough.
For the same reasons that Four Seasons doesn’t run budget hotels and why there some airlines that focus on the budget traveller, and others who focus on business travellers; I would suggest that there should be a similar segmentation within the relocation space.
There will be companies that invest in technology and AI bots, which will deliver a supreme “budget” experience, but similarly, we can also expect more conventional companies who are able to deliver to the “tailor-made” experience. And who knows – perhaps we’ll even see some who try to bridge the gap?
Corporate companies that relocate their talent around the world have to decide if their drive to a “one-stop-shop” is simply one step too far. They need to determine if they, too, should segment their population and appoint the correct supplier to the correct population.
In fact, this is exactly why we set up Heart Relocation; we recognise the need to create an experience, and we always approach the customer (assignee) with the same mindset at the Four Seasons.
Heart Relocation is not a company, it is an experience.