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As airlines strive to effectively and profitably serve today’s tech-savvy consumers, there is a need for flexible ways to distribute their inventory, create offers, and personalize passenger interactions. Airline tickets are being booked directly with the airlines, as well as via a myriad of intermediaries such as online and traditional travel agencies, corporate booking platforms, and mobile applications. And as channels in the airline distribution ecosystem continue to grow and diversify, airlines must offer their customers a consistent brand experience across all channels and points of sale.
“Airlines are constantly burdened by how to deliver consistent experiences across all channels,” said Rodrigo Celis, senior vice president of commercial solutions for Sabre, a leading travel technology company. “Having a multitude of distribution channels is ultimately beneficial, yet increasingly complex when airlines want to be able to deliver a unique experience across every touchpoint.”
With a multitude of distribution channels comes numerous opportunities to collect data. Savvy airlines can take advantage of this data to deliver unique, but consistent experiences to their customers. For example, using past transaction information, an airline can identify a customer and understand his or her preferences and spending habits. This often presents untapped opportunity for airlines, but according to Celis, “airlines don’t always know how to use [the data].”
“No longer can airlines focus only on volume and try to understand how many flights they should send to New York’s LaGuardia Airport,” said Celis. “Now, they must consider a variety of other factors, such as types of customers traveling to LaGuardia, to then determine what schedules and what products they should be funneling to the customers travelling through that airport. Intelligent retailing means that airlines need to be able to tailor their products and services to match the desires and expectations of each individual customer. Now, more than ever, I believe airlines must really understand their customer base and apply data-rich insights to offer products and services that drive an exceptional customer experience.”
But personalizing offers and presenting customized bundles to customers isn’t going to be enough to differentiate airline brands. Timing is key to driving conversions during the buying process. “Airlines will need to take advantage of the intelligent technology solutions that will allow them to gain actionable insights in real time. This will ensure that they reach the right customers at the right time, with the best offers and at the right price points,” said Celis. “For an airline to execute on this, it must be flexible in how it packages and distributes offers and, perhaps more importantly, flexible with the types of technologies it leverages to make the offers a reality.”
Sabre’s Commercial Platform, for example, facilitates flexibility and enables airlines to intelligently reimagine their retailing. “Most airlines don’t use a single technology solution provider to power all of their departments, products, and offerings,” added Celis. “They typically use a combination of technology partners, as well as in-house systems. They also use a combination of legacy or older systems and modern technology platforms. By leveraging various providers, they can use best-in-class systems for each and every function. However, the reality is that standard system integration and communication across the entire enterprise is problematic. That’s where flexible technology solutions come into play. They enable varied airline systems to connect and communicate regardless of their origin or if they are a legacy system or a modern system. Flexible solutions complement an airline’s current systems, provide capabilities the airline doesn’t have, and accelerate innovation.”
For example, SabreSonic Digital Experience, a comprehensive offer management and e-commerce solution, allows airlines to develop fully responsive websites for searching flights, purchasing tickets and ancillaries, and managing post-booking change, can be seamlessly integrated with Adobe Experience Manager, the content management system from Adobe.
This flexibility to integrate with an industry-leading content management system means that airlines can reduce their time to market and deploy personalized user experiences with more ease. Furthermore, this integration helps airline brands take advantage of a responsive user interface and provide a consistent, yet unique brand experience across all direct and intermediary digital channels. That means travelers will be more inclined to interact with this brand because of the great online experience they had, irrespective of what channel they used to interact with the brand.
Sabre also undertook another initiative to ensure that flexible technology and solutions were being deployed to improve in-person experience as well –– especially at the airports. It brought together nine airlines to understand employee needs and expectations and designed SabreSonic Digital Workspace, an agent interface that allows the frontline airline staff to personalize every interaction.
During the development of Sabre’s Digital Workspace, Sabre found out through interviews and research that many agent interfaces in the past required agents to go through at least 12 steps, many that might not always apply to the situation that the employee was trying to resolve. Most of the time, the rigidity of the system prevented them from circumventing some steps to be more efficient.
Digital Workspace allows agents to handle exceptions with a maximum of two to three steps for any domestic travel scenario. By leveraging a common customer view provided by Digital Workspace, agents can improve their efficiency by up to 30 percent, significantly cutting down on the time it takes to get a desired result for a customer.
Another example of how Sabre is enabling flexible solutioning is via Sabre’s API Hub, which airlines can use to configure and deploy the latest retailing capabilities across all their digital touchpoints swiftly. “Sabre API Hub’s approach to creating and deploying new technology solutions reduces time to market and our customers are already seeing some real advantages by leveraging our modern API technology,” said Celis.
When it comes to building, deploying, and leveraging flexible solutions, “it’s essential for airlines to reexamine their customer, product, and technology strategies and build a framework with intelligent retailing and flexible solutions in mind,” said Celis. “Naturally, this won’t happen overnight. There has been a lot of innovation in airline technology during the last few years, and that’s extremely exciting. We’re making the solutions they use smarter by incorporating artificial intelligence, machine learning, data, and analytics into our solutions.”