Brad Olson talks with me about his work to velocitize the member experience at Peloton, and creating a movement and a beloved brand.
Peloton is a mission based company that deliberately crafted every element of its experience, from the build of the bike to its delivery, usage and even helping people move their bike from one home to another. Our conversation charts Brad’s path from consultant to Bain, to Starwood hotels and his groundbreaking work at Peloton.
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Peloton is revolutionizing the fitness industry by merging high design with modern technology to provide access to live and on-demand group fitness classes in the comfort of your home.
As head of Member Experience, Brad is responsible for retention marketing, member lifecycle and loyalty, community, social media, email marketing, and member
Prior to joining Peloton, Brad led strategy and global operations for Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), Starwood Hotels’ award-winning loyalty program with over 21
million active members, where he was responsible for design and deployment of all member benefits. Brad began his career with Bain & Company in Chicago, where he
advised clients on their most critical strategic challenges.
A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School, Brad also serves on the graduate board of Harvard Student Agencies, the world’s largest student-run corporation where he worked full time as an undergraduate. Brad lives in New York with his partner, Tom Murphy.
Brad’s career progression
Some of this is mentioned above, but Brad began with Bain and Company because he saw it as an “analytical boot camp.” He was a young person in his 20s presenting to senior executives. One of the notable things was that he learned how to skip ahead in presentations when “someone very senior clearly doesn’t care about the details and wants to know the results.”
He got his MBA, went back to four years of Bain, and then switched to Starwood. He had been a huge Starwood guest during his road warrior consultancy days. He initially joined as Director of Brand Strategy (a typical landing place for consultants), then became Director of Customer Experience in 2014 (predominantly running high member work, i.e. 100 nights+ in Starwood hotels in a given year), then took on Global Strategy and Operations for Starwood preferred guests in 2015. (It was about 21 million active members when he left for Peloton.)
He got a call from a third-party headhunter pitching a “senior leadership role at the world’s most vertically-integrated company,” took the bait, and landed at Peloton.
Because Peloton owns every aspect of their business model, from bike production to software to content creation, there’s a lot of connection and camaraderie around silos, as opposed to warring.
Brad’s initial mission and challenges
In the first month, he talked to tons of people internally — and to customers. One important aspect was vocabulary; he changed the term “customers” to “members.” He did that because he saw Peloton as a community, and the term “customer” can feel very transactional.
The first few months were about understanding member experience and member journey. He needed to ID some “moments of truth” and “pain points.” The company was about four years old, but had only been selling bikes for two years. (Relatively start-up mode at this point.)
In the early going, he drove focus in the organization with data. This allowed him to create situations where specific pain points didn’t seem like his opinion, but could be rooted in factual analysis.
The initial pain points of member experience
The first big one was delivery and assembly experience. Third-party logistics providers did the delivery, and used contractors — meaning the delivery experience was variable. They didn’t end any contracts with third-party logistics, but they structured new agreements where the incentives of the logistics provider were aligned with the needs of Peloton.
They’re also investing in their own delivery networks, i.e. a field operations team in markets where they have the most scale. “That’s been a game-changer for our member experience,” he admits.
This is all crucial for member experience because the most intimate place you can meet a customer/member is their home. In fact, the first thing a Peloton field service team member is supposed to ask is “Should I take off my shoes?” It’s a simple question, but it shows that Peloton cares/respects members.
The field service team members often set members up on the bike and get them going with the first class before they leave, which reduces the number of calls to member support/customer service.
This all came from a culture of “closed loop data feedback,” whereby data — remember, all these bikes are Internet-enabled, so Peloton has a wealth of data — drives decision-making.
EMail marketing sequences
Because Peloton can tell when you’re not riding your bike, they have an email sequence asking people what’s going on. The third email in the sequence comes from Brad itself, and oftentimes they get a lot of responses — “I just had a baby” or “I lost my job” or “I’m moving.”
They respond to each of those email responses. If someone is moving, they pass a card around the office and send it to that member with a message such as “Welcome to your new home.”
“Focus on the moments that matter”
He learned this at Starwood. It’s not about the one-night upgrade in Omaha. It’s about when the points get cashed out for a family vacation.
Peloton has 400K members right now. As that grows, does it get overwhelming? No. Because you need to focus on the moments that matter — which for Peloton include delivery, activation, when people move, etc.
Crafting mission and vision
As Peloton is still relatively new, they did a two-day offsite in small breakout groups (multiple levels) to come up with mission and values. Ultimately they got to four for the entire company, one of which is an obsessive focus on member experience. Four people from the company worked together to craft/wordsmith the final version.
One of the big member experience moments they hit with members is this: when members respond to email, go to social media, or whatever, that often leads to new product features. One recent example is heart rate zones; that came from Facebook group feedback, and it became a product feature on the bike.
The pay-it forward question
“What do you know NOW that you wish you knew THEN?”
- Know what your members want before even they do: This often comes from the data side, as well as conversations. There’s a degree of being proactive here.
- Keep showcasing the quantifiable value of what you do: Helps with career development, as well as decision-making.
- You don’t need to do all the work: Bring together relevant stakeholders and work together to create a better experience; don’t just take on or micro-manage everything.