With CRM Upgrades, Airlines Speed Contracting, Enhance Client Visibility - Business Travel News

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With CRM Upgrades, Airlines Speed Contracting, Enhance Client Visibility

May 16, 2013 - 03:35 PM ET

By Jay Boehmer

American Airlines is in the midst of revamping the customer relationship management tools used by its sales force, including a CRM solution developed with software provider Salesforce.com. AA vice president of global sales Derek DeCross said the new tools will speed contracting for travel procurement professionals, hasten the resolution of problems experienced by accounts and allow AA to better coordinate with joint business partners.

"We have overhauled and invested like we've never invested before on the sales technology side," said DeCross.

AA in this regard has some kindred spirits; two competitors, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, in recent years also have invested in CRM systems, a broad category of web-based software that, among other functions, facilitates and automates client contracting, enables targeted marketing programs and supports customer service. Airlines contend these systems not only ease dealmaking and account management, but help to discern the nuances of individual corporate accounts and tailor services to their needs.

AA's Salesforce platform will be the gateway through which account managers access client information, including Prism reports that monitor corporate marketshare performance. AA executives said the carrier is rolling out corporate CRM software in conjunction with joint business partners, and also examining how to incorporate software used by ally British Airways to hone marketing campaigns to relevant clients.

"Putting together a joint business program these days takes lots of coordination with JB partners," said AA Eastern sales division vice president Jim Carter. "You have guidelines, policies and approvals. This is one place where it will all sit. It doesn't matter how complicated the deal design is, from A to Z you'll be able to watch your way through this process. Where it's been approved, what's waiting for approval—it just brings better corporate dealing. It's more robust information and it's faster to market."

Steve Smith, vice president of Americas passenger sales for AA partner Japan Airlines, said his carrier for about a year has used Salesforce and seen "greater efficiency in communication and response times."

Delta launched its Salesforce system in 2007, and has been "evolving how we leverage the tool for quite a while," said managing director of sales operations Kristen Shovlin. The platform enables Delta to plug in Salesforce apps, as well as tools from third-party developers, she said. Delta account managers use Salesforce to access "account profile, contracts and a lot of different account information," including Delta's SkyPartner reports, which detail client metrics on ancillary spending and customer service.

For multinational accounts, the CRM tool gives Delta account managers a "one-stop shop" to access client information, connecting "our representatives who manage relationships in Asia, in Latin America, in Europe, specifically on the global side with joint-venture partners," she explained. "We can go to one source so we don't have different information out there."

Delta during the past two years also has integrated Salesforce tools with sales support centers, so "the people who support these relationships have access as well," Shovlin added. "Account managers can put information in so the support center knows and the support center can put in information about what's happening with the client directly to that account managers."

United has its own suite of CRM tools, which "is really a collection of systems [that] more intelligently tether together information," United executive vice president of marketing, technology and strategy Jeff Foland said in a recent interview with The Beat.

This tightens the nuts and bolts of account management and contracting and supports airlines as they delve into "data-oriented products" and the ability to deliver "right offer, right time, right place, right price," Foland said.

CRM gives United "the ability to tailor packages at an enterprise level, not just a consumer level," Foland said. "It translates back into the way products have been designed, rolled out and executed over the years, which has changed quite a bit with the whole notion of unbundling as well as rebundling, packages and new products. These CRM capabilities will better enable us to stitch that together for good visibility at various levels.

"In terms of how those models ultimately translate into commercial relationships as we go forward," he continued, "there's still a lot we have to learn and a lot the market has to learn and decide about that."

This report originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Travel Procurement. 

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