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Upwardly Mobile

Jacob Guerra and his team bring old-fashioned customer service to the industry’s newest endeavor.

Author A.Averyl Re


Jacob Guerra sounds like a typical guy in many ways. “I’ve always loved the airlines,” he says. “I was one of those people who like to watch the planes take off at the airport. And one of the things I like about working for an airline is that, any interest you have, there’s always a place for you.”

As senior manager of retail systems for United, Guerra has found atypical ways to use his love of the airlines for the good of customers. He works on the eCommerce team, enabling customers to buy and personalize their travel using channels such as united.com, the airline’s mobile apps and airport kiosks. There are two prongs to eCommerce’s function: the aesthetic of those channels and the computer systems that make those channels come alive for customers.

“My team works to give customers the best flight options and the tools to have a great experience when buying tickets electronically from United. Then we focus on whether or not we have consistency. Whether you’re on your iPhone, on the website or on the phone to our contact center, we want you to have consistency across the board.”

Guerra grew up in South Texas, earned a degree in Economics from the University of Texas at Austin, then headed straight to the airline, where he worked in revenue management for a year before moving to eCommerce four years ago. He says he finds his current position to be continuously challenging and interesting.

“ECommerce is one of the most rapidly changing aspects of our industry—or of any industry,” he says. “Customers expect us to be on the cutting edge, offering them the best tools so they can get the best bang for their buck.”

The numbers bear this statement out. In the five years Guerra has been with the airline, the percentage of tickets sold or redeemed through eCommerce has grown by 33 percent. And it’s not just purchases that draw customers online. The number of check-ins completed through eCommerce channels has grown by 29 percent since 2011. In fact, due to the growth of smartphone usage, check-ins through the mobile channel have grown by more than 300 percent in the past three years.

“Customers say we’re the best in the industry in the way we enable them to redeem miles online to shop for travel,” Guerra says. “With us, customers can buy a ticket or redeem an award with more than 30 MileagePlus partners. We’re constantly looking at how we can improve that experience. Our mantra is, if you want to go anywhere in the world, we want to make sure you can buy that ticket on united.com or our mobile app and that the process goes smoothly.”

To that end, Guerra and his colleagues have totally revamped the online shopping experience for United’s customers.

“We’re a collaborative group by nature,” he says. “We don’t work in cubes. We have long tables.” And that convivial collaboration pays off. When he’s not helping provide customers with tools to firm up their travel plans, Guerra likes to take to the air himself. “I like to go discover different cultures and find out how people live. Every year at New Year’s, I go to a different place to see how they ring in their new year.”

So far, he has celebrated the new year in Sydney, Bangkok, Madrid and Amsterdam. Where does he hope to welcome 2014?

“That depends upon which flight has an empty seat,” he says. “Berlin is on the short list. There’s also Scotland. I hear Edinburgh does a great new year.”


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