Skift Take

Sabre has created a new role of "chief services officer." It might sound like a gimmick, but the concept actually has deep roots in the technology sector.

Sabre debuted in July a new executive title, chief services officer, appointing Cem Tanyel to the role. The Southlake, Texas-based travel technology company elevated Tanyel from being president of the travel tech company’s airline information technology division to the higher perch.

The role of a “chief services officer” is rare in the travel sector but has been prevalent in many technology businesses for years. The job usually entails obsessing about the wants and needs of the company’s enterprise customers and overseeing a company’s professional services team.

“The value of ‘services’ in the tech sector is well established as a set of best practices,” Tanyel said. “We would like to bring this to the travel sector.”

A classic example outside of travel is IBM. In the late 1980s, the tech group’s core hardware business began to slow, so it ventured into the field with IBM Global Services — which became a growth engine for two decades.

Sabre in July brought together its consulting, delivery, and customer care functions for all customer segments. Tanyel oversees these 1,500 workers across 53 countries, including consultants, technologists, care specialists, and delivery experts.

“The combination will help us achieve a high degree of consistency and repeatable quality, regardless of the country where the customer resides or which Sabre product the customer is using,” Tanyel said.

Sabre’s Travel Tech Overhaul

Sabre’s reorganization began in 2017 when it appointed Sean Menke as CEO and president. Menke faced a few challenges. One was improving Sabre’s reputation among its enterprise clients.

Cem Tanyel sabre chief services officer source sabre

Sabre appointed Cem Tanyel chief services officer in July 2020. Source: Sabre

Sabre has long offered software to helps airlines run their operations besides its distribution business. It had built one of the largest air service development firms in the world. It created core operational software, like its SabreSonic passenger services system. It also built business intelligence tools, such as ones that can help airlines pinpoint which codeshare and interline partnerships might yield the most revenue.

Yet Sabre had also developed a reputation among some clients for system glitches and missed project deadlines.

Menke repopulated the C-suite and senior management to tune-up the company’s approach. He made a series of moves, aiming to combine Sabre’s airline- and agency-focused businesses. His goal is to build a new platform to help airlines deliver more relevant travel offers to agencies.

At technology companies outside of travel, the chief services officer typically shifts the top performance metric from revenue toward service — often by tracking progress in clients’ reported satisfaction on surveys.

Unifying Sabre’s Services Teams

The chief services officer will fine-tune how Sabre’s consultants work with a client to help them with their strategies, how a client implements and activates its technology, and what kind of customer service and technical support care a client gets during their day-to-day operations.

“We will strive to not only provide the successful delivery of products that Sabre has performed before but to also take additional actions to achieve consistency and repeatable quality across every customer segment and region around the world,” Tanyel said.

Besides bringing the latest ideas in “services” to Sabre, Tanyel also wants to use technology to improve its client-facing activities. He intends his teams to digitize more workflows.

“Imagine using knowledge bases, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to support each of our care specialists to help our customers better, faster, and cheaper,” Tanyel said.

The company had already used machine translation algorithms to deliver product support content in 7 different languages for its European and Latin America customers. Sabre wants to boost the use of self-service in these languages and extend the effort to its customers in Asia.

Explaining Services

To help further explain what “services” means, Tanyel offered more context. He glossed that there are two types of companies in the travel industry: product and service companies.

“Product companies start with the product and try to figure out how to make the same product work with all customers,” Tanyel said. “There are also pure services companies that start with specific customers, but then the challenge becomes how to make the work profitable and repeatable.”

The value of the services team is to ensure alignment in this spectrum of customer-centricity versus product-centricity.

“The services team can be the shock absorber between the expectations of customers and the platform’s capabilities,” Tanyel said. “They can be the magicians that can help enterprises use technology platforms to help differentiate themselves in the marketplace. They achieve the alignment for the enterprise between the customers and the product teams.”

Tanyel pointed to several companies outside of travel as showcasing the services model.

Tanyel cited RB, the maker of the disinfectant Lysol, as one example that’s recently been in the news, due to Lysol’s work with travel brands like Hyatt during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lysol created a consulting business for advising corporations on how to navigate the sanitation best practices as enterprises during the crisis, signing up Delta Air Lines as a client to gain insights into sanitizing their airplanes and gates to ensure passenger safety.

“Lysol is moving up in the food chain from being a product provider to a solution provider,” Tanyel said. “That move is improving the parent company’s revenues and advancing its market reputation.”

Broader Ambitions

Sabre already generates some revenue from consulting services, but the effort is minimal and scattered.

Sabre’s business model is mostly software-as-a-service, with payments usually tied to bookings or passengers boarded via its systems. But the company does have a small services revenue that it could grow modestly, Tanyel said.

Tanyel also revealed his bigger-picture aspirations.

“Imagine using social media, crowdsourcing, chatbots, and robotic process automation to enable our customers to service themselves for some processes,” he said. “Imagine using gamification and augmented reality to make training and learning more fun.”

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Tags: airline operations, b2b, customer service, passenger service systems, sabre, travel tech, travel technology

Photo credit: A view of the meal service in first class on an Emirates Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. Emirates is one of the largest customers of Sabre's travel tech services. Emirates

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