One Step Ahead

Aligning With Market Transformation To Achieve A Solid Customer Sales And Service Strategy

Airlines must continually evolve to meet market demands. In doing so, they need a technology partner with a vision and a suite of customer sales and service solutions that are not only well suited for today’s savvy airline travelers but that will evolve to support an airline’s future growth and long-term strategy.

The next time you think about going to Las Vegas to win big money, consider this: the odds of getting a royal flush on your first hand in a game of poker are one in 649,740. A royal flush is the rarest wining hand in poker, and some professional and leisure gamblers have spent a fortune trying to obtain one.

While most individuals cannot afford to gamble away their life savings for a winning hand, some businesses gamble valuable resources by making impromptu decisions based on outdated and/or inaccurate data. Airlines are particularly vulnerable. Their business environment often fluctuates erratically in response to rising costs, competitor actions, operational disruptions and passenger demands.

How much is your airline willing to gamble to stay one step ahead in the game? One of the best investments an airline can make to increase its flexibility and agility is to partner with a technology company with a vision. Passengers’ demands, especially, will continue to become more discerning and challenging, and implementing solutions that meet these customer-centric needs is essential.

In response to the new challenges and expectations posed by their customers, airlines are reinventing themselves, and they expect their technology partners to lead the way.

SabreSonic CSS Framework

SabreSonic Customer Sales & Service enables airlines to execute their unique customer strategy using advanced technology and robust analytics that support smarter decisions. Built on a flexible platform that integrates with any third-party system, the technology delivers several key benefits to airlines including revenue generation, cost reductions, increased productivity and enhanced customer experience.

An airline’s customer sales and service strategy is the nucleus of its sales operation and drives much of its operation. It is with this understanding that SabreSonic® Customer Sales & Service (CSS) was launched in 2008 and continues to evolve based on customer needs and market demand. SabreSonic CSS is an integrated, end-to-end customer sales and service solution. Its core capabilities enable airlines to:

  • Acquire customers;
  • Manage inventory and reservations;
  • Provide check-in from the Web, kiosks and airports;
  • Support emerging partnership models such as family carriers and equity investments.

During the past five years, SabreSonic CSS has made tremendous strides in the marketplace, attracting airlines as diverse as Etihad, LAN and Virgin Australia by enabling them to execute their unique customer strategies through a strong core reservations system that enables configurability, stability and efficiency. The solution helps them achieve the highest levels of performance. Naturally, evolution is necessary as customer experience and innovation expectations change.

For SabreSonic CSS, the next obvious direction is to focus on evolving to meet anticipated market demands, including:

  • Customer centricity (driving the highest value to both the traveler and airline),
  • Total revenue optimization (maximizing profit on each and every flight),
  • Airline retailing (personalizing the sale of ancillary air products and third-party products while optimizing the sale to increase revenue for the airline),
  • Integrated platform (data, rules, security and pre-built components available for any application),
  • Mobility and Web services (enabling airlines’ guests to receive information whenever they want it),
  • Hassle-free airport experience (reliable, fast and comprehensive service for optimal customer satisfaction).

Seamless, Personal Guest Experience

A number of airlines from around the world, such as Etihad and LAN, leverage SabreSonic CSS solutions to execute their unique customer experience strategies, offering their guests a seamless experience with a personal touch.

Customer Centricity

The most successful customer acquisition strategy centers on customer experience. Airline guests want an effortless experience that is simple, responsive, highly contextual, proactive and personal. They expect it across all channels. This reinforces the need for every reservations system to be customer centric. In other words, an airline needs to understand the various complex touchpoints along the customer journey and automate certain interactions to guarantee a service level that is unique to the airline’s brand.

In Ascend 2013 Issue No. 2, “Customer Journey Mapping: A Walk In Customer’s Shoes” describes how customer experience leaders at Sabre Airline Solutions® conducted research, organized workshops and validated initial findings to reveal that the journey — from awareness, booking and check-in to post-journey — includes as many as 26 steps. That means there are at least 26 touchpoints, or opportunities, for an airline to make a lasting impression on passengers and reinforce its brand.

On the other hand, there are also 26 instances to displease passengers by not providing the levels of service they expect. For example, an airline customer’s loyalty status might not be recognized, he or she may encounter cross-selling offers that are of no interest, or he or she is assigned a window seat when an aisle seat was requested. Treating passengers like they are invisible or insignificant clearly undercuts every customer acquisition strategy.

The foundation of a customer-centric view is a thorough understanding of passenger data. Airlines collect an overabundance of data. However, that data is isolated in multiple systems across the infrastructure. Sabre Airline Solutions experts see a future of building an integrated platform that links disparate systems together, which represents a unified version of a customer’s experience throughout his or her journey. Building intelligent analytical applications around that customer data hub enables more efficient customer acquisitions, smarter merchandising and real-time dynamic packaging.

The most valuable benefits of a customer-centric strategy include:

  • Increased revenue by focusing on the most profitable customers,
  • Long-term retention of passengers by personalizing every step of the journey, creating a differentiated service model,
  • Improved methodology of customer-value scoring through fact-based customer segmentation.

The expansion of a customer data hub to accommodate customer-value scoring enables airlines to understand their passengers in terms of both value and needs. Although every airline has its own segmentation strategy, it’s difficult to understand the profitability of every customer segment. Evaluating real-time data throughout the journey in a single view provides airlines with the intelligence to set retention targets for each segment, pursue strategies of serving low-value passengers and offer differentiated service to high-value, highly profitable customers. The main goal is to generate long-term customer loyalty and, of course, total revenue optimization.

Total revenue optimization is truly the “last mile” of airline retailing, bringing together the perfect balance of price and inventory to enable an airline to charge the right price, at the right time, to the right customer.

Customer Centricity

Airlines with a keen focus on customer experience need comprehensive, integrated technology that acquires customers, manages inventory and reservations, provides a variety of check-in options and supports strategic partnerships. SabreSonic CSS offers everything an airline needs to transcend its customers’ expectations while generating additional revenue and reducing costs.

Airline Retailing

Commoditization of the air transportation experience and unrelenting competition is forcing many airlines to look for innovative ways to diversify their product offering and drive supplemental revenues, all while fostering customer loyalty. Much current activity is focused on unbundling existing products, associating these with value-added services and re-packaging into a more attractive whole — often a broad catalog featuring base and ancillary products. In pursuing this approach, airlines are seeking to shift from a typical service provider strategy to more of a retail-oriented model.

This emerging airline retailing model requires a platform of enhanced solutions. Strategic investments in this area are focused on delivering new solutions specifically to support retailing and integrate seamlessly with an airline’s current sales and service approach.

Sabre Airline Solutions has made broad strategic investments in this area including:

  • Comprehensive air retailing and offer management: The merchandising and dynamic packaging solution vision focuses on utilizing customer data to increase the share of wallet from each customer; combining branded fares and air ancillaries with third-party products such as car and hotel.
  • Dynamic packaging: The capability to bundle air ancillary products, such as prepaid bags and seats, with third-party products and services such as car and hotel. Packaging can be defined through configurable rules based on a range of business needs.
  • Experiential segmentation: An airline can better target smaller customer segments. Ideally, targeting is personalized and includes one-to-one offers that have been talked about for years and are now becoming a reality due to advances in technology.
  • Total revenue optimization: Airlines can achieve total revenue optimization by changing the way they forecast and optimize inventory by leveraging new data sources around ancillary sales (both air and ground) and then optimizing the price for all those products. Essentially, this enables airlines to have a one-on-one conversation with individual passengers by dynamically offering branded fares, ancillaries and third-party content in a personalized way, based on their customer value score.

Expanding Web And Mobility Services

Undoubtedly, the Web is the most popular channel of interaction for airline passengers. The movement to smartphones has exponentially increased the amount of data shared, especially with the integration of social media. For airlines, integrating social networking into itinerary management will become a standard expectation. However, there is a much bigger movement toward “destination shopping.”

Destination shopping leverages both Web and mobility services to radically change the way leisure travelers think about their next vacation. Currently, customers book their trips with a standard set of criteria — such as destination city and date. With destination shopping, passengers can evaluate destinations by a set of criteria such as price, community ratings through their social media contacts, weather, etc. This becomes very attractive to passengers who are more flexible with dates, price-conscious and heavily influenced by their social communities. This solution places customers in the driver’s seat, giving them more freedom in how and where to travel, as well as with whom they share that information.

Expanding Web and mobility services provide airlines with key benefits, such as:

  • Utilization of airlines’ existing Web channel to offer passengers a completely flexible shopping experience, revolutionizing the way they think and plan for trips and vacations,
  • Personalization of the shopping experience by allowing passengers to set their own criteria,
  • Full integration into social networks to promote user communities and content sharing.

Hassle-free Airport Experience

The airport is where a passenger encounters an airline in person, sometimes for the first time, so it is imperative that an airline’s airport systems are reliable, fast and comprehensive, enabling all staff to focus on the customer. This is optimized through seamless integration to the core reservations system, maximizing efficiency from booking to fulfillment. These efficiencies include:

  • Complying with government security and industry mandates and supporting appropriate CUTE and CUPPS industry standards,
  • Providing multiple check-in channels so passengers can be processed away from the airport and check-in counter, reducing airport-related staff and equipment costs,
  • Offering passenger self-service checkin channels, including kiosks, Web and mobile check-in, and enabling revenue collection through ancillary services via all check-in channels,
  • Managing schedule disruptions quickly and proactively by considering the impact on customers and creating alternative itineraries, taking into account the commercial and operational value of each customer,
  • Supporting all major airline alliances as well as new partnership models.

These departure control services require a comprehensive platform that automates customer-facing airport business processes. Investments in this area include:

  • Scalable reaccommodation capabilities to automatically reaccommodate passengers through multi-day irregular operations, focusing on the highest value customers first,
  • Preparing for the airport of the future through integrating with third-party security and authentication systems such as biometric devices,
  • Innovations around targeted and automatic seating, automated document verification, ancillaries, and EMD in check-in path.

According to the 2013 Airline IT Trends Survey by SITA, 58 percent of airlines are expecting IT spend to increase this year, jumping to 1.52 percent of revenues. How will your airline allocate its IT budget for the upcoming years? Will you be betting or investing? Choosing the right solutions provider to help your airline align with the market transformation and support your unique customer strategy is key to staying one step ahead.

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