San Diego – Southwest Airlines is redesigning its approach to corporate relationships. No longer relying on individual salespeople to look after all of an account’s needs, the carrier is assembling teams to handle contract implementation, analytics and customer service.
“We know we were not easy to do business with,” said Dave Harvey, recently promoted to vice president of corporate sales, during a panel discussion here last week at the Global Business Travel Association convention.
Asked later to elaborate, Harvey told The Company Dime that “the larger multinational companies tend to have a way they like to do business and some of the technology and process that is tried-and-true Southwest isn’t the most conducive for their process, their back office, how they like to transact and how they like to get service. So if we really want to get a fair shake at that business we have to do things differently. We have to up our game when it comes to service.”
On the front end of corporate relationships, senior director of corporate sales Matt Smith has a growing team of salespeople. “In terms of field selling, we are 60 percent bigger today than this time last year,” he said. Then there’s a 16-person inside sales team that did not exist a year ago, as well as a sales analytics team.
Back in the Southwest fold after some time at nuTravel, Rob Brown is building a new B2B channels team. His group will look after distribution as well B2B services. “There are ways we can service our top corporate customers better by giving them concierge-level service,” Brown said. “We’ll be working with Matt and his team to make sure all elements negotiated into contracts on the front end are serviced on the back end in a seamless way.” This set-up, Brown said, means subject matter experts in a particular discipline can focus on that discipline.
“Ultimately, for our global and more strategic accounts, they’ll also have a partner that helps on the agency side or GDS side from a relationship management standpoint,” Smith said. “That’s a big departure from how we have done things in the past.”
Smith said the airline expects to add four times more new business customers this year than it did last year. It’s still mulling whether to use Sabre’s Prism for crafting corporate contract terms.
Next on tap for Southwest is new service to Hawaii. It expects to start selling those flights by year-end. Harvey said there is more transient business travel in and out of Honolulu than many realize, and plenty of intra-island business commuting. Hawaii also represents a huge opportunity for reward points redemption.