A Chat with Avianca – The Digital Company Flying Airplanes

How does one of the world’s oldest airlines continue to adapt and innovate in an era of digital communication and data analytics? This was the topic of discussion when we caught up with Avianca CDO & CTO, Santiago Aldana Sanin.

Read the interview below to learn all about how the airline leverages digital transformation and technology to continually improve the customer experience.  


Can you describe your role at Avianca?

At Avianca, I act as the airline’s CDO & CTO. I’m responsible for transforming the digital customer experience and improving operations and employee productivity.

In this role, the main challenge is to enable the exponential transformation of the customer experience, using the best technology to design and provide a whole new travel experience.

Avianca CDO & CTO, Santiago Aldana Sanin

How important is technology in your organization? What role does it play?

In Avianca, the customer is at the center of everything we do, based on world-class talent and the best technology. Digital and Technology play a very important role. We want to be a digital company that flies airplanes.

In order to do that, we started a digital transformation two years ago. Our strategy is based on three main areas of focus: client, operations and enterprise. They all have a single purpose: to improve the customer experience and the productivity of our people.

When researching new tech, what are you looking for?

We look for technology that helps us to improve both our customer experience and our employees' productivity. We seek technology that helps us to offer an agile, consistent and personalized experience to our customers during the whole travel journey.

For example, as part of our digital transformation, we adopted technologies like CRM- Dynamics 365; we started to have 360-degree customer information.

Also, our digital channels are based on Adobe, where we implemented campaign automation and the content management for our mobile application. This gives a better experience for our clients.

We combined Microsoft CRM and Dynamics to understand our customer behavior and offer a more personalized customer experience throughout their journey.

Avianca Multimedia Resources

In the enterprise area, we have enabled Home Office. We are empowering our employees with tools such as Office 365, Skype for Business and Success Factors. We transformed our ecosystem to a Cloud-based architecture, where we are involved in a “Journey to Cloud” project that offers us better reliance and a lower TCO (Total Cost of Ownership).

On the operational area, we have implemented applications to optimize our fleet operations and the management of our crew, using Netline Ops and Netline Crew. At the same time, we empowered our crews by providing them with a new app that connects them with what is happening within the airline.

How important is sustainability for your airline? What measures are you taking?

As a citizen company, we incorporate and strengthen our management practices to focus on the human being. We put people at the center of everything we do; the beginning and end of our business strategy.

With this purpose, we seek to connect our stakeholders with the best social investments in the region, to be transformative agents in the societies in which we serve and to promote action to leave a positive fingerprint on humanity.

This is the essence of the “Avianca Ciudadana” strategy, which brings together different programs for the generation of shared values. It is aligned with the Global Compact principles, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For example, we are the first Latin American airline allied with UNICEF in the region. Through our Avianca.com channel, we offer our clients the opportunity to transform the lives of thousands of children in Latin America.

People can invest in the UNICEF Regional Education Program with a micro-donation engine that Amadeus facilitated to UNICEF called "Click for Change". This allows contributions in money to be made during the online travel purchase process.

When our customers buy a ticket for our destinations, they have the option to support this program.

As one of the oldest airlines, how do you challenge the status quo in order to continually adapt and evolve?

The digital transformation has had a huge impact on Aviancas culture. Our way of working has changed. We seek to be:

  • Innovative: Challenging the status quo in a constant way; thinking differently; understanding the real needs of our customers.
  • Agile: Responding quickly to changes and adapting to new realities.
  • Empowered: With the power to make decisions according to the situation and based on data.
  • Data-driven: Based on data, always bearing in mind the value of information for decision making.
  • Process-oriented: Breaking silos, maximizing efficiencies.

Avianca Multimedia Resources

How have you incorporated digital transformation into your organization?

First of all, we understand that digital transformation transcends technological challenges. It requires leadership and a cultural change.

When we started, we had a hierarchical structure working in silos, with high technological obsolescence. During this time we have taken several steps. We have cleaned the house, executed basic structural issues and redefined processes and structures to put Avianca in a leadership position.

We have also advanced in the implementation of several projects that allow us to achieve our digital transformation. We have improved our ways of working, always keeping in mind our ultimate goal: to improve the customer experience and the productivity of our people.

We want to be a digital company flying airplanes and transforming the experience of our customers. We will not achieve this alone. We are doing it with our strategic allies and empowering the ecosystem to improve our clients' experience.

Speed ​​is an issue that we must continue to improve. The most effective and efficient work is still a challenge, so we must continue in our digital transformation.

Avianca Multimedia Resources

What are the most important metrics for your airline? How do you gauge success?

We have a lot of metrics, but some of the most important are:

  • NPS (net promoter score)
  • OTP (on-time performance)
  • Cask ExFuel
  • Share of our digital channels (sales, reimbursements, claims)

When looking at digital channels, where is your biggest focus at the moment? How are you planning for the future?

The customer is at the center of everything we do, that’s why all our efforts are aimed to improve the customer experience through the customer journey.

We seek to integrate resources such as analytics, predictive models and AI to allow us to make the traveler's experience agile, consistent and personalized. We are making constant changes and adjustments in our digital channels in order to bring an experience to our travelers that go beyond the flight.

How does your airline harness machine learning and AI?

We are integrating data and predictive models to improve analytics and make data-driven decisions. We are incorporating these technologies into our online sales channels to personalize our offer.

We also developed our new beta version of our cognitive Carla, our bot, through which we are developing new alternative digital channels to our customers.

Avianca Multimedia Resources

How do you harness data in order to roll out your customer-centric approach?

We want to build a virtuous cycle of insight gathering through data science, that later fuels human-centered research and design.

We gather insights hoping they will lead us to deploy our human-centered research. Our experience has shown us that a large number of problems are created by not understanding the context of the user.

For example, we analyzed and received a large number of complaints traced to late long-range flights, about our food not being healthy. Normally this would have led to serving healthier choices.

But after our human-centered research through interviews and observing our customers, we realized that they needed to rest. Our food offering during those flights was too heavy and served too late, which impaired their ability to rest.

Therefore we made some changes to the menu and made serving hours more flexible. This led to a smaller number of complaints.  

What’s an innovative strategy you’ve rolled out that you’re most proud of?

The most important thing is that we make a customer-centric innovation. We are co-creating with the client to give them what they really want.

We have gone from merely solving the functional need of our customers (being transported from one city to another) to solving their emotional needs (being present with family, making a sales quota, completing dream travels, etc.).

To do that, we have had to deploy capacities deemed illogical in an IT/Digital team before, such as bringing anthropologist, historians, data scientists and communications expertise to the team.

As a priority, we want to make our customers happy. Thanks to our approach, we have started to notice a true sense of customer-centricity in certain areas, where complexity is not pushed to the customer, but performed internally and deliberately.

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Joseph Vito DeLuca

Chief Marketing Officer at Yieldr