Surf Air Uses CRM to Help the Business Take Off

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print

This members-only private airline turns to a sophisticated CRM approach to track prospects and existing clients and use that information in a strategic way.

The Internet and mobility have pushed the boundaries on what's possible and created entirely new business models that weren't imaginable even a decade ago. One company tapping into the opportunity is Surf Air, a members-only private airline launched in 2013.

The company operates executive aircraft out of private terminals and offers 90 flights daily to 12 destinations. It provides near-instant booking through a smartphone and a concierge that meets customers at the airport. "You bypass the headaches, hassles and delays of long lines at security checkpoints," says Justin Hart, vice president of member acquisition at Surf Air.

Making the business fly is no small challenge, and information technology is at the center of everything. "The goal is simple, effortless travel, and we have worked hard to introduce a revolutionary approach that offers a monthly price for an all-you-can-fly approach," Hart says.

The airline currently operates 12 executive Pilatus PC-12 aircraft within California and Nevada, and it is continuing to add planes and destinations. It offers plans that start at $1,750 per month.

"The infrastructure already exists," he says. "There are 20,000 airports in the U.S., and only about 28 of them are congested. The rest of them are quiet airports."

Providing Top-Notch Customer Service

The company already has 2,000 members and it's growing rapidly. The challenge, not surprisingly, is providing the highest level of service. Consequently, Surf Air turned to the Salesforce1 Mobile Platform in order to manage which passengers are assigned to which flights and to optimize performance.

A customer goes to Surf Air's Website or taps a button on a mobile app to order a flight. The process takes about 30 seconds.

"The CRM component is critical," Hart explains. "We have a wealth of data about customers, their behavior and usage patterns. We can understand whether they are underutilizing the service or whether they can use it more efficiently. We want them to get the most out of it so that they will remain customers."

Understanding a customer's usage patterns is only part of the story, however. Surf Air also allows members to issue guest passes for family, friends and colleagues, and they can take guests along at a reduced price. "It is important to track these [guests] and work to convert them into customers as well," he adds.

The Salesforce system automates a variety of tasks, including reminders and email alerts. It also ensures that agents are armed with the latest and most complete information about customers.

"This is a very personal business, and it is a subscription service," Hart says. "We do not close deals and attract new customers by simply having someone go to the Website. They need to speak with an agent."

Likewise, existing customers need to speak to agents on a regular basis. "We have the ability to connect the right information with the right person," he adds.

"The business takes a Netflix subscription model and applies it to flying," Hart explains. "The ability to track prospects and existing clients allows us to take all the information and use it in a very strategic way."

This article was originally published on 2015-10-02
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
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