Concur’s Sultan (left) and Delta’s Sear discuss:
- The history of the initiative between the two suppliers
- The relationship between Delta’s NDC philosophy and the upcoming platform
- Working with other suppliers
Delta Air Lines EVP of global sales Steve Sear joined a conversation with Concur Travel president Charlie Sultan and BTN editors about on SAP Concur’s new booking experience, which is set to debut in a few months. Delta, once a vocal critic of what was perceived as Concur’s lagging updates, was a close partner with Concur on the booking tool’s development. This is the second part of a conversation with Sultan at the Global Business Travel Association convention in Dallas in August; read the first part here. An edited transcript follows.
BTN: What brought Delta, which had been a Concur critic, to the table on this initiative?
Charlie Sultan: I think Delta was very, very interested in ensuring that they could display all the products they were making a lot of investments in. Jeff [Lobl] was frustrated and Delta was frustrated because we simply weren’t moving fast enough to display everything they wanted. We were trying to work through it, but we were in the midst of trying to migrate everything to a new platform. It didn’t make a lot of sense to invest time and money on the legacy platform. It wasn’t a lack of desire on our part to do the things Delta wanted. It was just a matter of prioritization and time. As we are now getting closer to rolling it out, we’ve now been able to deliver on the things that were important to Delta.
We talked to all of the airlines. We talked to a lot of customers to figure out what they wanted, and Delta was the most interested in working collaboratively with us to help share their insights [and] help educate us on what was working well for them and what they thought the corporate travelers were telling them. We took a lot of their feedback to heart as we were developing our new UX.
Steve Sear: Distribution is always the topic. We were starting to get a little bit of energy from our advisory boards, both our corporate and agency, [prior to the pandemic]. Then Covid hits and everyone was like, “give me an electrostatic sprayer and Purell.” So we went on a hiatus with that. As we came out of [Covid], all of a sudden [there was] feedback from customers—”We need a better experience”—and that was back to distribution in many ways. Like we do with any of our partners, we had to figure out how we can do this. We’re not Concur. Concur is not Delta, but we’re actually great partners. So, we helped figure out the ultimate [goal] and then started a journey. That’s why we share their enthusiasm on the launch. It will be better for the industry, and it’s going to be a better experience for customers.
BTN: Delta was strong on the Next Generation Storefront initiative in 2019, and Concur didn’t go down that path. With Delta being a big supporter of this change at Concur, did Next Generation Storefront come into it?
Sultan: We talked a lot about it at the time. And the challenge for us was, Delta was very vocal; they wanted it. They had worked really hard with what goes in column one, column two, column three. We talked to the different airlines, and they didn’t like the way their own stuff was being mapped. So, that was a challenge for us. As we talked to customers, they weren’t exactly [sure] why this would get mapped here instead of there. For that reason, the industry in general sort of went off Next Gen Storefront, but I think the elements of Next Gen Storefront that everybody liked were the ability to see multiple fares at one time and the ability to compare. That’s actually what you see when you look at our display now. You’re seeing three or four fares for each carrier. You can see if it’s an economy or a basic economy or an economy plus. Those elements of Next Gen Storefront are still alive.
BTN: Steve, what are the three most important things that you think are reflected in the Concur tool from a Delta point of view?
Sear: It’s not our design and it’s not a standard, because there’s no standard in [global distribution systems] or even in [New Distribution Capability]. But having a collaborative approach got us to the point where we were very excited about the design that’s being launched. It’s something that we know our customers want and need. That’s first and foremost.
While we were all anxious for this to be out sooner than later, I liked the fact that it was thoughtful and deliberate. We were going to get this thing out when it was really going to be useful and provide value, not just put technology out [that] may not be ready. … The new displays are going to be a game changer in terms of what the customer experience is, so that’s second. Third, if we’re measuring our own customers and net promoter score and satisfaction, we know this new product will help elevate that. So those would be the three I think about. It’s collaborative, it’s timely, and it’s going to provide value.
BTN: Where does Delta’s NDC strategy fit into this?
Sear: We’re on a journey with NDC, and our own vision is fully launched within Delta. We expect to, working with all of our travel management companies and GDSs and [other] entities, be able to ultimately get that rolled out in 2024. [The effort] is less about the NDC technology per se. It is more about our customer experience. We don’t want to have products that aren’t well received and are not providing value. When we launch, we expect to have great products. We’re going to have better displays, and we’re going to have better service. And we’re not going to launch something that the TMCs can’t service or corporations are confused about because maybe it’s complex. We’re going to do it the way we always do it. Customers [tell] us what we need to do or what they’d like for us to do and then we respond. That’s been our mantra for 10-plus years.
We were actually the first airline to create bundled fares in 2014 with Comfort Plus, and we put it in the EDIFACT path in order to make that experience better for the customer. That’s how we approach this as well. We want to make sure the customer mindset is first and foremost when we design and launch a project.
BTN: Was it a mandate for Concur to be ready before you launched NDC, given Concur’s position among your clients and the desire for usability?
Sear: I’m not sure it’s that exact binary, but yes, we were going to do this at the same path that the customers are on. We hear that the technology isn’t ready today, but when we launch it, we’ll provide it and it’ll work. “Keep it simple” is one of the core tenets.
BTN: Is Delta working with other online booking tools as well and trying to get the same experience across those tools?
Sear: We’re working with the three primary GDS related OBTs as well. That’s what our customers have asked us to do. Concur is the largest though. And Charlie and his team have been at our advisory boards, so we’ve been doing this hand in hand. Some of those early sessions weren’t endearing, but they were incredibly productive and really set the stage for what we were doing.
Sultan: I thought you gave them all the pitchforks to bring to the meetings when you had us there.
Sear: We really applaud Concur for joining us in some of those sessions as well so that they can see how important it is to us that our customers see we’re engaged with the industry and we’re not going to be passive in this evolution. And we do think it’s an evolution, not a revolution. And that was kind of the spirit of this partnership.
BTN: Conversely, are there other suppliers that Concur is working with, not just limited to airlines?
Sultan: We’re always talking to suppliers. We’re always talking to our customers as well. A nice thing about Delta’s advisory panel was [getting] a really good cross-section. Most attendees were our customers, but some weren’t. They had their own perspectives, and it’s always great to get different perspectives on things. We also worked quite a bit with United and American. There were just many more frequent meetings with Delta, and I think Delta was just a lot more passionate about the topic and wanted to keep engaged with us longer.
BTN: What was the most challenging piece of sort of being able to get that content out there?
Sultan: I think when you talk to customers, the issue you’re going to find is that you’re never going to get a hundred percent of customers to agree on something. You will get some customers who say, “I only want my travelers to see lowest logical fare and nothing else, and they will only book what I tell them to book, and they don’t even know something exists unless I tell them it exists.” You’re never going to get all customers to agree on something. So, it’s a matter of being able to listen. Even all the suppliers, your example with NGS is perfect, right? Not all the suppliers agreed on NGS. And so it’s a matter of saying, OK, well, what don’t you agree with, what don’t you like about it, how can we take the elements that everyone does like and incorporate them in?
And then, can the technology support that? If I’m going to go do a shop in Sabre, is Sabre going to give me everything back that I need to display it? And if not, do I need to go to Routehappy to go grab the rest of the information, do I need to go somewhere else to get it and is it available? Once you bake all those attributes together, you say, okay, what is the best possible outcome that we can deliver that meets the most people’s needs? That’s where we ended up.