During a breakout chat conducted at Aviation Festival, London, Alison Taylor, Chief Customer Officer, American Airlines, shared some of the airline’s changes to its retailing strategy as it adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the strategies has been offering customers menu options to book ancillaries and services on-demand on the day of travel, such as requesting wheelchair assistance, adding a lap child to the booking, getting a day pass for the airline lounge, or booking preferred seats.
“Even now, you can buy flagship dining—which was only ever for our first and business class—for that day for that airport. They’re opening at JFK, Miami, and soon they’ll be LA. We’ve tried to become more nimble at the options we offer for the customers and how we deliver those offers. Of course, NDC always helps us with that.”
“We want people to be able to purchase where they want to purchase”
Taylor said the airline had employed an “educational” approach to merchandising, informing customers on the options available to them more than pushing a sale or a particular sales channel. “We want people to be able to purchase where they want to purchase. It could be via GDS, or it can be direct. That’s not for us to worry about. We just want the customers to be able to purchase it, but it has enabled some things for us on the retailing side that we’ve never done before.”
Rich content options available through ATPCO and Routehappy have helped the airline get creative in presenting offers to different customers. “We had rich content that we could supply whether you’re a leisure agency, corporate agency, or corporate direct. For us, that freed up that content. We have a lot of leisure operators absorbing that into their systems, making sure that it’s enabled through ATPCO and NDC. That has helped us to deliver the content they needed. We dealt with some cruise lines as well. [The COVID pandemic has] broadened the audience that wants that [rich content]. They had to have a lot of information available to their customers on travel, health protocols, safety, wellness, and the leisure agencies needed that quickly. We could do that by working with Routehappy and ATPCO… We’ll continue that journey now, but it was very much at the forefront of the pandemic because the leisure operators needed to inform their team members and also the travellers.”
Taylor shared that the pandemic has also resulted in a marked shift in buying habits and preferred sales channels and increased the demand for customer support teams.
“One of the things that we needed to do for returning customers—who were younger—[was to simplify enrollment].They weren’t going to fill out a whole screen of forms.”
“It’s quite different depending on the country, of course. When you talk about American Airlines now, one of our major markets is the US, without a doubt. In the US, we have seen that many of our travellers are buying through agencies because they need that extra helping hand, and they want the servicing aspect of being able to travel. I’ve been seeing many operators here while I’m in the UK, and they have seen that shift as well. So I’m sure we’re not the only ones. But, at the same time, we have seen new customers, booking on AA dot com, and new customers becoming AAdvantage members. We had to change our AAdvantage Program very quickly. One of the things that we needed to do for returning customers—who were younger—[was to simplify enrollment]. They weren’t going to fill out a whole screen of forms. They just needed a one-click to join the AAdvantage Program and become members. We did that very quickly. It’s something we’ve been talking about but hadn’t done. We did it in a matter of weeks, which greatly helped the number of young millennial memberships for AAdvantage. Also, even our corporate brand card—we have MasterCard, Citi, Barclays, of course, very strong here in the UK. We even had to change how we talked about our partnerships onboard and on the ground, changing the scripts to appeal to a different audience when we send to different channels…[Another] shift for us was people needing more servicing. We have large servicing centres, and we added almost 3000 [staff] to reservations. Because those that did book direct, and all those agencies, just needed more servicing. The calls were much longer. The calls to our reservation teams are five times longer than normal because they’re asking about border closures, border openings, and of course, what you’d expect about [travel health] protocols.”
“…recognize our customers and understand what they may need without constantly asking them the same questions again”
Personalization continues to be a priority for American Airlines, Taylor shared. “Personalization has been on our roadmap for a while—this is really important for us so that we can recognize our customers and understand what they may need without constantly asking them the same questions again. It even means—eventually—we can serve up different surveys for them as well…We just want to be customer-centric in using our data. I’m going to give you an example. If we know that you never buy flowers on Valentine’s Day, why are we serving you up via AAdvantage, something to do with a florist, right? So [we want] to make sure that we’re relevant at every touchpoint. Maybe we also know that you don’t open emails at a certain time. We can be relevant with that in our communication or the offers we are providing you, whether on the ground or in the air. It also helps us to adapt our offers. We want to get to the stage where we know that if you’re in your seat, we can utilize our IFEC data and understand what you watch, so we serve that up to you more naturally. That’s down the track, but those are the things that we’re working through. We’re working through with AAdvantage Program on entertainment, understanding whether you enjoy lounges, as well. Data enables all of that. Our customer journey is very important to us. My title is Chief Customer Officer because we want to put the customer at the forefront, not just commercial or business deals, etc. This is important for us. We’re completely enhancing our AA dot com app to make sure that we’re at the forefront of that. What the app will eventually serve you up will be more personalized as a result.”
By Marisa Garcia