The importance of personal selling in the airline industry

In many marketing situations the challenge is to fit personal sales into a strategy where other different channels are used as well to stimulate the relationship (Peelen & Beltman, 2013). Personal sales is a very important channel to build the commercial one-to-one relationship with customers. Although personal sales is often regarded as costly the costs only become an issue when the sales process itself is transactional and little value is added by the sales agent.

Since not every customer would like to purchase their airline tickets online or through a travel agent, personal selling is still an important sales approach for airlines. In the airline industry most airlines still use transactional sales. In transactional sales the customer is basically already aware of what they have purchased and how it is used and their only interest is getting a good deal for the product or service they purchased (Peelen & Beltman, 2013). Because of the fact that transactional sales are short-term sales, where the customer gives little thought about future purchases it would be wise for airlines who wish to incorporate a customer engagement strategy into their organisation, to take it upon themselves to use the consultative sales approach instead.

With consultative selling the airline’s sales agents must first develop an understanding of the customer’s needs, and then create a solution to help the customer achieve their objectives. This is usually service or solution-based (Tabita, 2012). The consulting itself becomes valuable to the customer and the sales agent becomes the customer’s partner, helping him to buy, rather than just selling the product without adding any extra value or emotion. The airlines sales agent uses a personalised approach, tailored to meet the individual needs of the customer and to inform them of the ways the product will benefit him. The customer is given the opportunity to ask questions, and the salesperson addresses any concerns he has about the product. In the figure below there is a clear overview of the three different sales approaches and the value each approach has for the customers.

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-09-52-07-pm(Peelen & Beltman, 2013)

When a sales agent has understood the customers needs and concerns and personally guided the customer through the buying process not only does the customer begin to feel emotionally connected to the product and the company but the company gains the trust of that customer and in turn receives personal information about the customer for their customer data system. For those customers who want that one-to-one approach and the ability to express their concerns, needs, wants and ask questions to which they get an immediate and direct response personal selling will always be the number one option in which the consultative approach would be the approach for airlines to provide the most value to the customer while building a relationship with them.


Peelen, E. & Beltman, R. (2013). Customer Relationship Management (Second Edition). Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Tabita, J. (2012). Transactional vs. Consultative Selling: Knowing the Difference Makes All the Difference. Retrieved 8 October 2016, from



Improving customer data by monitoring social media sentiment in the airline industry

Customer engagement is all about building lasting relationships with your customers. To do so it is of extreme importance to know each one of your valuable customers and to know how to best approach them. Since social media has become such a huge phenomenon and it is safe to say that a large part of the population uses the online network and social media regularly, it is important for companies to have a high level of online interaction as well. By monitoring customers through social media, companies are able to get to know their customers on a personal level rather than just as a ‘buyer’ (Peelen & Beltman, 2013).

Understanding why customers make certain purchases is much more important than whether or not they make a purchase at all. Therefor, social listening is important for businesses as it is, “the act of monitoring and analyzing digital conversation in a bid to understand what customers are saying about a brand, its competitors and its industry” (Griffith, 2016). Companies are able to collect subjective data, as customers share personal information, opinions, interests and are able to react to other posts via social media. It is therefor important for companies to follow the interactions and possibly even interact with their customers on these different social media platforms.

When it comes to the airline industry, social listening can be a very important tool as well. Airlines can use social listening to get ahead of an impending problem, show agility and a willingness to make sure customers are happy. It can also pinpoint a specific problem and find topics, products and/or services of a particular interest to their target market (Griffith, 2016). For example, customers may tell their airline whether they prefer an aisle seat to a window seat or if they would like to have the vegetarian meal instead of the beef but some things, however, like the fact that you always have a croissant and an apple juice in the airline lounge, you might not have told them. Lately, though, airlines have a way of knowing your preferences, even when you don’t tell them and we can thank social media for that (Carrington, 2013). Because of the speed with which an airline staff member can respond on social media, social media has also quickly become a favored platform for airlines’ customer service.

Southwest Airline, for example has made “knowing our customers on a much deeper level and trying to appeal to their preferences” a critical part of its strategy (Hickins, 2015). The airline understands that social media has created new ways to communicate with its customers and engage with them on time-sensitive issues. They have therefor created a Social Listening Center where solving pressing customer service issues such as lost luggage and providing “one-contact resolution” to whatever problem customers may be having, as opposed to having to e-mail or call (Hickins, 2015).They basically use their Social Listening Center to listen to all customers comments, questions and complaints all the time, be it while passengers are at home, at the airport or even in-flight and use this as an opportunity to deepen it’s relationship with it’s customers. Other airlines could definitely learn a thing or two from Southwest Airlines when it comes to social listening.

Consumers all over the world are basically swarming to the different social media platforms to ‘like’, share and post all different kinds of information, from photos to opinions, to personal interests and much more. Social listening enables airline companies to monitor, analyze and start understanding its customers on a personal level. If airlines wish to further engage with their customers it is important for them to incorporate social listening as a tool to collect more personal data of their clients, as there is a whole lot to learn from the content they will find on the different social media platforms.



Carrington, D. (2013). From tweets to GPS tracking: How airlines are getting to know you better. Retrieved 30 September, 2016, from

Griffith, G. (2016). Get to know customers better by monitoring social media sentiment. Retrieved 1 October, 2016, from

Hickins, M. (2015). Southwest Airlines Adds Social To Its Customer Engagement Strategy. Retrieved 12 October, 2016, from

Peelen, E. & Beltman, R. (2013). Customer Relationship Management (Second Edition). Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.


Linking customer life events to the relationship marketing strategies of airlines

By taking important events in customers’ lives into consideration, the relationship policy of airline companies can be further fine-tuned. These companies need to start considering what is going on in the life of each of their customers, what are the critical meaningful periods, when do important changes take place and how can we be relevant during those periods? (Peelen & Beltman, 2013). These occasions could prove to be extremely beneficial to both the company and its clients. Customer engagement could be taken to a whole new level for the airline industry.

The organisation will have to begin considering what in each customers’ feelings, thoughts and actions could be relevant to the value that they might provide. The Empathy Map in the figure below is a good model to use at this stage, devised by Osterwalder and Pigneur (2010). This map is designed to develop a certain level of customer focus by encouraging an organisation to consider the world through the eyes and ears of the customer. It creates a more complete understanding of the emotional, physical and social experience that the customer is undergoing. (Peelen, & Beltman, 2013).

(Peelen & Beltman, 2013)

American Airlines for example maintains a comprehensive frequent flyer program that rewards customer loyalty with the promise of free flights, upgrades, and discounts (Marketing-schools, 2012). But if they were to create closer relationships with their clients they may be able to adapt their programs to offer more specific rewards that create more value for the client. If they were to take their clients most important life events into account they could offer rewards, such as they are already offering, but then for the meaningful periods in their lives rather than just offering rewards based on how frequently they fly.

An example of this could be, if one of their frequent flyers has just gotten married, they may be searching for a honeymoon destination, the airline could take advantage of this life event and offer a deal on a flight for 2 to a particular honeymoon destination. The relationship between company and customer then deepens as the company has provided a unique opportunity and value in the customers’ life.

Airlines that implement customer life events into their relationship marketing policies will be able to create more value for their clients. These organisations show their clients that they are taking their feelings, thoughts and actions into account, thus creating a closer bond with their clients while optimizing the customer satisfaction.



Marketing-schools. (2012). Relationship Marketing: Explore the Strategy of Relationship Marketing. Retrieved 23 September, 2016, from

Peelen, E. & Beltman, R. (2013). Customer Relationship Management (Second Edition). Amsterdam: Pearson Education Benelux BV




Internal organizational barriers and challenges within the airline industry

We all know that in the aviation industry, good customer experiences are of extreme importance because, without customers the airlines would not exist. But you should also look at it from another perspective – the internal perspective of the airline company. In order for an airline company to be able to create a good customer engagement strategy they shouldn’t only focus on marketing and IT but first and foremost focus on the company functioning extremely well as a team and establish a company culture. The team is what counts, not the individual and all employees should be dependable.

In the airline industry the execution of a CEM strategy is often inefficient. The employees do not always have the tools to provide consistent levels of service to customers. They often do not have the competencies necessary for a CEM program to be truly beneficial to both the customer and the airline (Boland, Morrison & O’Neill, 2002). Employees know what they are doing but they do not go any further than that; the Why and How is what is lacking. Employees are often not inspired or engaged enough in the company to properly execute a CEM strategy.

In a customer centric organization customer-facing employees need to have the right mindset and competencies and must be in a position to decide on and do what is needed. All employees have to be part of a team that is formed around a common set of values, norms and a clear mission (Peelen & Beltman, 2013). Employees must be engaged in the company and must have knowledge on the individual customer, without this there will be no real connection between company and its customers. Engaged employees are generally more productive, more committed to settling disputes peacefully and are more loyal to their company in general (Alpert & Roberts, 2010).

The employees who do not have direct contact with the customers should also know the customer’s profile and should know exactly where and how to get this individual customer knowledge and always keep it updated. They should also have good communication and cooperation between all departments of the company. If the company does not do this it loses the ability to customize the offering and to develop and exploit customer knowledge effectively and efficiently. It is a necessity for a company to establish a strategic link between engaged employees and engaged customers if long-term growth is the goal.

To conclude, the company’s culture is one of the most important parts of customer engagement as it refers to the internal aspects of the organization such as its goals, values and internal behavior. All employees must understand the company’s framework of operations, the value it delivers and how it is delivered.


Boland, D., Morrison, D., O’Neill, S. (2002). The future of CRM in the airline industry: A new paradigm for customer management.

Peelen, E. & Beltman, R. (2013). Customer Relationship Management (Second Edition). Amsterdam: Pearson Education Benelux BV

Roberts, C., Alpert, F. (2010). Total customer engagement: Designing and aligning key strategic elements to achieve growth. Journal of Product & Brand Management Volume 19 (3), 198–209.