A GSSA should be a solutions provider to both the airline partner and the forwarding client as the world comes out of the Covid period, believes Neville Karai HAE Group managing director. “It will be the most agile companies that offer the most options that prevail,” he says.
Karai forecasts those agencies that prevail will, in ten years’ time, be a hybrid of a number of roles in the industry: “We think GSSAs will be a digital distribution channel for multiple airline partners to access a territory’s potential customer base, a hub if you will – a one stop shop for multiple service providers and offering API-type integration to as many service partners as possible for shipment options.
“We believe the GSSAs’ responsibility will grow into dynamic pricing, capacity management and linking a number of carriers inventory and network partners to maximise the return for the carrier and give the customer competitive options.
“The GSSA will provide more services to the airline as we believe the airline base will grow as well – examples are back office, data management services and finance and accounting – more carriers means more competition for GSSAs also. We also think GSSAs may get into payments handling to a greater extent than they do today.
“Competitive GSSAs will also be asked by their customers to provide more solutions, especially in the SME space. We also believe that GSSAs will take a greater role in underwriting capacity for their airlines so they can resell to their customers as they compete with each other.
“In summary, although the role of GSSAs is evolving, they will always be vital.”
In the future, a GSSA will have to have a strong digital presence not just in sales, believes Karai, but good product knowledge repositories, constant contact availability to the customer and a fixed presence that its airline partners need them to present to the market.
There has been an evolution in the industry; customers want more information, more background, and want to make an informed choice. The GSSA is key to that on behalf of its airline partner, he notes.
“It would be a dull industry if AI took over! However, for dynamic pricing, showing options and the mundane tasks of FSU and status updates and full data capture it has a role.
“For negotiation, product differentiation, and product knowledge, the human role will always be there; we have seen the same in our training business. However, the traditional sales role will need to modify and evolve into more product specialisation, responding to the pull of the customer, rather than a push from the GSSA.
“We think network events and more co-ordinated customer interaction will be more key than they ever have been as we have learnt to work and in many cases been successful in our video conferencing customer contact world,” Karai says.
Build back better
The majority of cargo, of course, goes in the bellies of passenger flights. What can cargo GSAs and GSSAs do to help their principals recover from the pandemic? How can they help to build back better?
Karai says: “The GSSA has a key role in ‘build back better’. They should offer their airline partners more services as I have alluded to before. Cost reduction opportunities exist too as airline cargo departments look to come out of the pandemic leaner and greener, we can help them offshore, digitalise the interface to their customers, and increase sales through marketing and direct engagement.
“I think consolidation of GSSAs will continue but only where it adds value – it is not inevitable. The very small agency, local heroes as we call it, has a vital role in our industry for the customer to interact with owners of business on the ground. It makes a special relationship and human interaction happen.
“There are many airlines out there for many GSSA partners and one size does not fit all. Our business is still a human one and will continue to be just that.”
HAE represents over 20 airlines worldwide, through offices in North and South America, UK, Ireland, UAE, Kenya, Egypt and South Africa. New offices are under formation in Italy, China and Hong Kong. The company has a Global Solutions Team based in the UK, a training team also in the UK and cargo handling activity in the UK and South Africa. It also has offshore service teams in Poland and Kenya. Worldwide, there are some 400 staff in the HAE team. The company is hiring as its products, services and office network is growing, Karai reports.
The agency’s longest represented client joined in 1997, the year the agency was launched. As yet, HAE has not lost any client to a move to take GSSA functions in-house. However, Karai has no complacency as to retaining his client base.
He says: “We are not complacent enough to think a carrier will not rethink its strategy, but in a post-Covid-19 world we think we have a lot to offer a carrier in addition to cargo sales.
“We are getting more strategic in targeting principals where we can add value to their business and where we do not conflict with carrier portfolios. We also have a network of carriers who we regularly update how we are growing and if we can help them.
“Our digital road map includes AI, but not to the exclusion of other digital strategies. Our industry has much it can put in place to benefit from AI that it hasn’t done already.
“Increasingly, we are able to offer market leading sales intelligence – we do not just make bookings, we sell! We measure number of quotes, missed opportunities for the carriers, we subscribe to market data and analyse it to the benefit of the carrier and customer alike.
“Our reports and dashboards of activity are automated so we can offer dynamic pricing, capacity management, quote conversion analysis and where opportunities can be targeted.”
Karai concludes: “We have a growing offshore team that allows our in-country teams to target sales and then pass over parts of the workflow to the offshore team, who are also highly trained and customer focused. This allows us to be competitive when we are bidding for new contracts.
“We offer integration with our systems and minimise the number of times the data is rekeyed in. As well as this, we offer smaller carriers additional services to sell the customer so the customer can buy from them and service his clients.”