WhatsApp and NDC, these are the two major “technological” subjects to which the Vice-President and General Manager France of American Express Global Business Travel returned, in the context of an interview he gave us during the last TEUs.
TMCs today have to manage crises that follow one another at a sustained pace…
Yorick Charveriat: We sailed for years in an environment that was ultimately quite easy. We knew more or less what his level of activity would be throughout the year. In terms of numbers, we could almost anticipate periods of strikes. This is no longer the case since the health crisis. And digitization appears to be one of the solutions for managing peaks in activity. With the explosion of the Omicron variant, for example, almost overnight at the end of last year, we went from 4,000 calls per day to 8,000. As a result, longer waiting times. We went to our customers, advising them to cancel their tickets via chat rather than calling us.
We were indeed the first country in the world, within Amex GBT, to launch this service on Whatsapp, at the end of last November. And our customers have really used it. Since Omicron, we have recorded around 5% less calls, which may not seem like much, but really relieves the service. We are now hoping for a snowball effect. But this shift is not everyone’s business. Indeed, it very often responds to a company policy. Some do not want WhatsApp, especially large groups, which are sometimes reluctant for privacy issues.
Have you set targets for reducing the number of calls?
Today, a quarter of the calls we receive are requests for modifications. For rail in particular, an issued ticket could not be modified online. It has now been possible for a few days with Neo (Amex GBT’s proprietary online booking tool, ndr). We hope to eventually reduce these calls for modifications by at least half. With our tools, customers avoid off-line transactions, especially the new generations who have no desire to make phone calls. There is therefore no longer any need to reinforce the teams at peak times, which will allow us to save money.
The other big technological subject of the moment is of course NDC…
We are working a lot on this new format. The investments have been enormous, for years. You must not miss it. NDC will indeed bring a lot of value. But it must be done in the rules of the art. This format has remained a rather vague concept for quite a long time. We invested in Neo to make it work. But the impact remains strong offline, especially since our agents have to use a new tool on Amadeus. Thus, you have to call when you have made a reservation online and want to modify it. Across six journeys studied recently, we found 67% more talk time on NDC than on classic GDS.
We were therefore quite justified in going to see Amadeus and Air France. First to tell them that we believed in it, that many people worked there in the company. But we also asked them for a number of short, medium and long-term developments to make the tool work. I also went to explain to them the impact it was going to have, not only for them but also for us. I calculated that we needed to hire 83 “full-time equivalents” to compensate for the difference in service quality. We were thus able to obtain from Air France the postponement of the GDS tax (13 euros per segment, editor’s note) planned from May 1.
The airline has in fact postponed it recently to September 30. Is this a more realistic date?
There is still a lot to develop. And I would remind you that you also have to train all the employees once the developments have been completed. Travel agents switch to a graphical environment. And we have to create the training tools. Air France, fortunately, knows how to put itself in our shoes. We have a real partnership relationship with them. But this is also linked to the fact that we have precisely broken down all the steps to be taken, the 172 points to be worked on, more or less complicated, divided between Air France and Amadeus. To move forward more quickly, we make checkpoints every week with the two companies.
With NDC, we understand the interest of the airlines, not always that of the TMCs…
There is indeed a double challenge on the side of the airlines, lowering distribution costs and distributing enriched content. We also believe in NDC and not in subterfuge to circumvent the format. Interest in TMC? Eventually, depending on the negotiations entered into with such and such an airline, each of them will be able to have access to content that the others will not have. This is for example the case of Lufthansa which has long applied a GDS tax. Last year, we entered into an exclusivity agreement allowing our Neo customers in Germany to have access to the company’s NDC and to “light fares”. Our long-term interest? The new format, if we manage to manage this shift well, will be a strong differentiating factor.