WestJet: Taking care of agents from coast to coast
(Photo above: Members of the WestJet Sales team at the 2017 Travel Agent Partner Awards [STANDING from left to right: Tim Paul, Mike Miguel (retired), Jill Cutting, Michelle DaSilva, Leah Irvine, Todd Lindey, Matthew Djorsev, Candice Thomas, Shannon Cunningham, Kim Tobias, Emily Spadafora, Nadir Sunay, Joshua Knox, Christian Roussin, Robert Dungan, Kim Barbisan; SEATED from left to right: John Pease, Julia Tsang, Jane Clementino, Lyell Farquharson, Sharon Harrington, Erin Mooney)
Not to put too fine a point on it, there is a heck of a lot going on at WestJet these days. So, it seemed like a good idea to reach out to Jane Clementino, Director of Agency Sales and let her tell you the latest in the ongoing WestJet story.
In this Exclusive Question & Answer session, Clementino talks to Canadian Travel Press about WestJet’s relationship with its travel agent partners; new product and service developments that agents should be watching out for in the coming year; what makes WestJet different; and, in Clementino’s own words, the fact that WestJet believes that: “it’s our partners that will help us get where we want to be as an airline.”
So read on…
CTP: How would you describe WestJet’s relationship with the travel agency community and how do you see it developing and evolving moving forward?
JANE CLEMENTINO: We see our relationship with the travel agency community as being very open and honest, and it will stay that way as WestJet evolves. Travel agents are an extension of the WestJet team, and we’re always looking to strengthen those partnerships where we can. We pride ourselves in actively seeking their feedback before making any agent-related decisions and use what we’re hearing from our partners to leverage change.
What we’ve learned from the WestJet Travel Agent Advisory Board (TAAB) and from conversations with our partners is that travel agents care most about how easy it is to work with us, how they’re compensated for their hard work, great customer service for themselves and their clients, strong marketing tools and effective communication. When we’re thinking about making enhancements to a product or launching something new, we will keep the factors that contribute to a travel agent’s success top of mind. We will do what we can to make it easier for them to do business with us. In other words, we will continue to think like a travel agent.
Something we’ve been committed to doing for several years now is soliciting feedback through an industry-wide biannual travel agency survey. We just completed our most recent one in early 2018, and we’re so pleased with the results.
Nearly 80% of respondents said they were extremely likely to recommend WestJet, and these numbers have remained strong year over year. There is a very high level of satisfaction with our Travel Support Team and our service.
Travel agents reported that we are helpful, supportive and go the extra mile. Through these surveys and our regular contact with the TAAB, we feel like we have a good pulse on what agents are looking for. This survey helps us make sure we’re doing the right things for their business.
CTP: Efficiency and profitability are two of the key things that agents are constantly talking about these days, and they look to their supplier partners to help them in each of those areas. How is WestJet addressing the needs of agents in these areas?
CLEMENTINO: The WestJet Travel Support Team (TST) is a great example of one of the ways we support the productivity of our TA partners. The TST is dedicated to working with travel agents, and we hold ourselves to a very high level of service. During peak times, we adjust the number of available TST agents, so we can be there for whatever our partners need. We also recently added a Virtual Hold feature that tells the travel agent how long the wait time will be and offers a convenient callback option.
The results of our TA survey showed the highest call centre agent scores for flight bookings than ever before. Our TA partners said they find our TST agents friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. Travel agents can get the help they need quickly and efficiently, which means better profitability for them because they’re not spending too much time on the phone.
We’re also using feedback we received from the TAAB and our partners to put in place some product and service improvements. Since we formed the TAAB three years ago, we’ve already completed more than 30 major accomplishments that the trade was asking for.
Some examples include a self-serve option for travel agents to easily book pre-reserved seats for their clients on our website and new features on the WestJet Agent booking site like the ability to make multi-city and open jaw bookings.
In 2017, we revised our 24-hour change/cancel fee after hearing from our partners that our existing fee structure didn’t work for their clients. Recently, we introduced an updated process for the redemption of companion vouchers by Gold WestJet Rewards members that is much easier for our travel partners. After our most recent TAAB meeting in Cancun, we created a new action list and will be working on implementing these items next.
Something travel agents may not know is that we pay commission on the residual amount when their clients redeem WestJet dollars on a WestJet Vacations booking. It’s important to us that we reward our partners for their continued support and hard work.
CTP: It has been a year since we last talked. Can you give me an update on: WestJet Vision 2022; WestJet Encore; agreements with other airlines, like Delta; WestJet’s Business Product; and WestJet’s network.
CLEMENTINO: We’re making great progress on our Vision 2022 and toward becoming a global airline. Both our 2017-2018 winter schedule and our 2018 summer schedule were reworked to offer improved connectivity, enhanced schedules and more convenient departure times. These changes are helping us build our three-hub strategy in Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver. The schedule improvements we introduced in our winter 2017 schedule increased connectivity in Calgary and Vancouver by nearly 50% and in Toronto by close to 25%.
Our new schedule will be very attractive to business travellers, as we now offer better time of day coverage and enhanced departure times year-round on our transcontinental routes. We also recently enhanced our Premium Economy product, with new premium food choices and an international wine selection available on board.
WestJet Encore helps us connect guests all over the country to our three hubs. With the addition of WestJet Link, our regional air service that operates under a capacity purchase agreement with Pacific Coastal Airlines, we are adding yet another spoke.
Our joint venture with Delta is another way we will expand our network even further. This partnership will increase travel choices between Canada and the US. Our guests will have access to an extensive transborder route network, world-class airline products, enhanced frequent-flyer benefits, shared airport facilities and amenities, and a more seamless travel experience.
All these investments and network extensions provide Canadians more options and create additional complexity in the marketplace which drives many travellers to seek counsel and advice from travel industry professionals.
Through research we conducted this year, we found out only half of Canadians aged 18 to 75 took a flight in the past 12 months. As we expand globally, we will contribute to lowering the cost of airfare which will increase demand. With these growth opportunities, we’re making it easier for more Canadians to travel for a reasonable fare. We will continue to offer our signature caring experience and an expanding network, which helps bring in repeat sales for our travel partners.
CTP: How has the travel agency community responded to all the changes that are taking place at WestJet? Do they understand what is going on at the company and where WestJet is headed?
CLEMENTINO: We’ve been very open with our partners about where WestJet is headed. Our Business Development Managers are always out on the road communicating with our TA partners, our Commercial Managers are informing our partners’ leadership teams, and we are diligent about sharing important information about our changes on the travel agent resource site.
We’re also so proud to have been named Best Overall Supplier in the Baxter Agents’ Choice Awards last year. Since this survey is all based on travel agent votes, we think that shows agents are responding well to how we’re evolving and are supportive of where we’re going as an airline.
CTP: What does WestJet have planned for the coming year in the way of new programs or services?
CLEMENTINO: This coming year, travel agents can expect the launch of our Biz web booking tool. Agents and small to medium companies will have access to this free, easy to use, GDS-friendly booking tool. We also plan on developing our Premium Economy product. We want to attract more business travellers, so we will focus on our Business Travel Program which offers travel discounts to our corporate partners.
Last year, we started providing marketing materials and assets to our partners that makes it easy for them to promote our sales on their social media channels. This has been very well-received so it’s something we will keep doing. We plan on launching a self-serve waiver code program that will increase productivity as TAs won’t need to call in to the TST for these types of requests. We will continue to come up with tools like this that make their job easier.
In 2018, we will share the interior of our new Boeing Dreamliner aircraft which will offer lie-flat seats. We’re really excited about this, and we think our partners will be too.
CTP: How does WestJet differentiate itself from its competitors and how does that differentiation help travel agents?
CLEMENTINO: Something that will always remain true about WestJet is that we are caring at our core. We show the same level of care to our travel agents that we do to our guests. We treat travel agents like they are part of the WestJet family, and believe it’s important to recognize them for their significant contributions.
To show our appreciation, we offer things like exclusive TA discount rates and Friends and Family deals. Last year, we hosted Travel Trade Expos in 32 cities. We’re committed to seeing more and more travel agents each year in cities all over Canada. We want to have as much face-time with our partners as we can so we can thank them for everything they do and hear first-hand about what’s important to them. We support our partners through whatever they need and try to offer the best possible guest experience.
CTP: What’s the take-away for agents – what should they have “top-of-mind” about WestJet?
CLEMENTINO: Ultimately, we want agents to know that we value their partnership and appreciate their support. We will continue to find opportunities to treat them and not just train them. We do this at our annual Travel Trade Expos. Though these events are a great learning opportunity, it’s also our way of thanking them for everything they do. Our annual Travel Partner Awards are another way we celebrate our top performing partners and thank them for their contributions.
We also want them to know that their feedback is invaluable, and we use it to make improvements that will make their job easier.
This year, for example, we are changing the layout of the WestJet Vacations brochure and adding in some new sections that our partners asked for. And, we’re releasing it even earlier to better support them.
We’re industry-recognized for our on-time performance, but we also deliver a great guest experience. During the hurricane season, we adjusted our service levels to accommodate all the change and cancel requests. We stood by our travel policies and offered many guests refunds, but also worked hard to get guests home safely. When travel agents book with us, they know their clients will be well taken care of and will have a great experience from start to finish.
As we evolve, our relationship with the travel agent community will become even more important. We believe it’s our partners that will help us get where we want to be as an airline.
Agents’ Choice 2018 takes off with WestJet
As a primary sponsor of the 2018 Agents’ Choice Awards readership survey, presented by Canadian Travel Press, Travel Courier and PressToday, WestJet is offering a round-trip flight for two guests departing from any WestJet destination in Canada to any WestJet destination including Europe.
And this just in… WestJet is also sponsoring the Cocktail Reception at the first annual Agents’ Choice Awards Gala.
For a chance to win this prize – or others – simply take part in the Agents’ Choice Awards survey at www.travelpress.com/aca-2018
Closing date for voting in Agents’ Choice 2018 will be April 6, 2018.
(Photo below: WestJet Business Development Managers and Jane Clementino [From left to right: Jane Clementino, Joshua Knox, Emily Spadafora, Shannon Cunningham, Matthew Djorsev, Denise Saunders, Melissa Wallace, Kim Barbisan, Christian Roussin]