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"Personalization can mean delighting customers on the next trip because maybe they had a less-than-satisfactory experience the last time," he says. "Or understanding what their shopping and buying behavior was when on your site the last four times ... and making an offer that is relevant to him or her."
The best piece of advice he ever got when starting out, he says, is to "stay close to the customer."
That's why he spent much of his time monitoring customer feedback on Twitter.
"You have this opportunity to get instantaneous feedback now that you couldn't get five to 10 years ago," he says. "We have this opportunity as we roll out products, a particular model ... we get a lot of immediate feedback, and it helps us understand what those customers want."
But he also made it a point to get face time with customers, even if the feedback was not all positive.
"While those may be more painful meetings than visiting the happy customer, they're the ones that give me the opportunity and visibility into where we need to improve," he says.
Gilliland believes any CEO of a travel company also has to address problems facing the entire industry.
"Unfortunately, since 9/11, the duration of travel has grown very dramatically. So you see getting from point A to point B from your doorstep to someone else's has increased dramatically," he says. "There's a lot of friction points in between, and we need to figure out how do we maintain security at levels we've enjoyed in the last 12 years or so but also improve that process?"
He's spent much time pushing for programs to expedite the entry process into the USA, such as visa waivers for travelers from certain developed countries and Global Entry for registered international travelers to speed though customs.
He also supports government investment in the Next Generation air-traffic control system, which will make routes more precise and reduce congestion in the air by tracking planes with a satellite global-positioning system.
"I'm not sure the CEO has to stand out," he says. "The way I view the CEO's role, in many respects, we can be advocating for the industry."
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