Over the last year, American has undertaken a complete reimagining of its sales programs. It slashed half its staff, eliminated discounts for mid-size companies, ended all waivers and favors, and all-but-forced agencies to use new and unproven technology to book. If that’s not enough… get ready for more. The
sales “Modern Retailing” team — as American has now deemed it — is about to get smaller and less effective.
As American has seemed to prefer over the last several months, the airline continues to drip out news of this transformation, leaving people to wonder when the next axe will fall. The first rumblings of further change came about in October when the airline decided that it would eliminate its entire sales support team.
The sales support team was the bridge for agencies that needed help with problems that they couldn’t handle on their own… but problems that weren’t big enough to rope in the account manager. American had already slashed hours while Delta and United continued to offer very good, 24 hour support, so it was at a competitive disadvantage.
This phone number led to some very hard-working agents who were set up to be able to handle the specific needs of agencies. These people are all out of a job by the end of this month. But don’t worry, they haven’t been fired… they’ve been “sunsetted.”
I know it’s long, but here’s American’s full statement on this.
We are evolving many of our commercial offerings, enabling us to better serve the marketplace and support customer preferences. This includes the ability to book and manage travel directly through digital channels including aa.com, the mobile app, and SalesLink, through which retailers now manage their customers’ travel. While we are sunsetting a small number of roles that were previously part of our retailing support team, customers will continue to receive support from our roughly 5,000 travel professionals within our Reservations team, who are experts at helping our customers with their travel needs.
American Airlines is committed to helping customers manage travel with confidence and ease. Since 2011, American has empowered travel advisors to self-service our mutual customers’ travel through the digital SalesLink platform. Today, retailers can self-service more than 90% of their needs directly through this industry-leading platform which we continue to enhance to deliver exceptional service to empower our customers through the latest technology.
There is so much to pick apart here that I don’t even know where to start. So now, all those people with great knowledge and ability to help agencies with their specific needs have been sunsetted. (I cringe just typing that again.) The phone number stays, however. I’ve been assured that the regular reservations team is being trained to handle those same problems.
Raise your hand if you think they’ll be fully capable when they take over in the next couple of weeks? That’s what I thought. What agencies need is very different than what passengers need, so it makes sense to have a small, dedicated team to handle that work instead of just pushing those calls to clog up general reservations.
Part of the problem here seems to be that American thinks its self-service product is fantastic and can solve everything. The phone number is only for those fools who can’t figure out how to use these stellar tools, so let’s just make that problem go away by getting rid of the trained agents. But that’s not reality. In fact, the self-service offering — called SalesLink — can’t handle even some of the most basic of functions.
Let’s say there’s a schedule change and you, the agent, want to revalidate a ticket to match it up with the new flights the client picked. American’s SalesLink can handle that… but it will error if you’re booked in C or R class because those used to be upgrade classes years ago and American never bothered to fix it. The lack of investment is concerning when there are now fewer options to get help.
Of course, if agencies really need to escalate, they can try working with account managers, but there are so few left. And now, American seems to be trying to purge even more. Here’s a statement from last week on the next round of changes.
Business is best conducted face-to-face, both with our business partners and across our organization. To better facilitate real-time collaboration across the airline, our domestic Modern Retailing team will be centralized at the Robert L. Crandall campus beginning next summer. As is the case today, team members will continue to be encouraged to meet with their customers face-to-face, wherever they may be.
We are evaluating the structure of our Modern Retailing team to best support our customers. As we have more clarity on the roles and responsibilities of the organization, some team members will invited to reinterview for their positions.
When you think of sales people, you think of a team that is usually distributed into the airline’s important markets. Hubs all have salespeople in town, because it’s very easy for them to grab lunch, visit the office, etc. It’s also easier when they live in the same city to understand what matters to these companies.
Now, American is making the entire sales team relocate to Dallas/Fort Worth, arguably a place where it needs the least sales effort because of its massive presence. But somehow the airline thinks that it’s more important to have people in the office to get face time with the bosses than it is to have them out in the field.
Sure, American says that both iares important, but it’s obvious which is more important to American here. It will be much harder for these people to get out in the field and do their work. Yes, they work for an airline, but it will have to be a structured visit every time.
The final insult in all of this is that “some team members will invited to reinterview for their positions.” Oh my, so even if people are willing to move to DFW, they may not have a job there. I would imagine this would all but push out the last of the field sales people unless they already live in the DFW area. That’s probably American’s goal with this.
I continue to find American’s moves absolutely baffling in this regard. Yes, there is a bold vision of a completely different way of selling air travel, but it’s an enormouse change. The airline is trying to take on everything all in one year instead of trying to use baby steps. If there’s ever a decision that the airline should reverse course, every one of these moves makes it harder and harder to do that in a timely manner. You can’t just re-create a national sales and sales support team overnight after completely decimating it.
It all comes down to a religious belief that American has found the way of the future. If it’s right, then good job, AA. I just don’t share that vision.