Since I used to lead the JetBlue customer experience, people often ask what is behind the JetBlue experience magic. Or, as one of our clients refers to it, the “JetBlue Simple.” So the fundamentals that went into creating that signature experience is often on my mind. Then, this week I found a Federal Government document that details a recommendation for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to become more customer-centric, and to offer a better experience to the American public. That’s when it all clicked in a way I want to share with you today. Because, whether you are part of a government organization, a member of the aviation industry, or work in another industry, the fundamentals I keep returning to will help simplify and improve your customer experiences.
The USDA recommendations include customer experience improvements across three categories: process improvements; technology improvements; and training and content improvements. These three pillars are the very backbone of The Petrova Experience. Like many organizations, USDA faces complexities related to designing customer experiences across these three pillars. I do not know if the USDA will implement any of the recommendations. But I do know an airline (another organization that deals with complexities and regulations on a daily basis) that has mastered all three customer experience drivers, and it shows. That airline is JetBlue Airways.
Bad processes are the root cause of bad customer experience. There is nothing worse than inefficient workflow as the standard operating procedure. Further, it is hard to change processes once they are codified and trained. Unless an organization commits to reviewing the experience from the inside out, the entrenched bad processes live forever.
In Bulgaria, for example, there is a process to get a call every time a consumer places an online order. Yes, you heard me! Bulgarian e-commerce companies are loading their operating costs by paying for transaction processing on two channels. We all know a phone call is the most expensive channel. But since this is the entrenched process, it is difficult to change.
Let’s look at an example closer to home for our US audience. Samsung has a process that gives customers money to fix a broken phone. That seems good, right? The problem is, Samsung only gives that money AFTER the phone is fixed. In other words, the process omits the step of providing a QUOTE to the customer that he/she can accept or reject.
JetBlue Customer Experience Puts the Passenger at the Center of Design
One reason JetBlue customer experience is great, is that we thought about individual passenger experience. Then we designed processes accordingly. The Bill of Customer Rights emerged from this thinking. The Bill of Customer Rights supports customers who are delayed or have cancellations due to controllable reasons.
When we were designing the user experience for the self check-in and self bag-drop experience, we deliberately asked for the PNR to start the journey. PNR is a unique, easy-to-find, 6 digit code. We did not ask for the ticket number like KLM did. Unlike the PNR, an airline ticket number is a hard-to-find, 16 digit number that is cumbersome to type. See, the “JetBlue Simple” experience only happens when customer-friendly processes support the technology.
To design seamless experiences, content is not king. Process is king!
Customer Experience Technology Improvements
So, how do process and technology connect to create better customer experiences? It starts at understanding and improving technology at the most basic level. The information collection phase is one of the most underused – and misunderstood – technology improvements of a transaction journey.
An intuitive pre-population of information serves both the employee and the customer equally. It eliminates typing errors, creates faster and easier experience for the customer, and yields satisfied customers. Yet, this feature is missing from too many digital experiences.
What is really surprising is that I used this technology tool 14 years ago in Keyspan Energy (now National Grid). The technology is not complicated. Basically, it involves connecting a few databases. Let’s take another look at JetBlue customer experience to see how we took this into account to improve technology.
When you go to the JetBlue app, the first screen is prepopulated. On it, you see your loyalty number and your latest points balance. In one click, you can access details of your next trip, including your reservation number. I used to think seamless access to this type of information was a given. Unfortunately, even this basic information is hard to find on other apps.
Human-Centered Technology Design Challenges
As we audit experiences across travel and other industries, a few other things surprise me, too. First, most airports do not think it is worthwhile to invest in apps. Second, on the whole, most apps provide the customer with INFORMATION only. In other words, these apps fail to enable the customer to DO anything with the app. Customers cannot make a transaction that has a personal value. They can’t purchase something the need on the go. Nor can they access customized, actionable information.
Make no mistake, not only the travel industry leaves human-centered app design opportunities on the table. Too many industries fail to utilize even basic technology. When The Petrova Experience dove into the fertility world this year on behalf of a client, we discovered many antiquated record keeping practices. Did you know processes across the cryo storage world are still done with pen and paper?
When I go to my dentist, even today, I sign in with pen and paper. And the office is on 5th Avenue! It’s not just healthcare, either. Real estate management companies are not investing in modern security systems, let alone using them to improve experiences in a post-COVID world.
JetBlue Customer Experience Technology Connects Passengers to Information
On the other hand, we built JetBlue’s customer experience with innovative technology. But, importantly, we also built it from the optimal use of that technology. This is an important point.
Anyone can install kiosks in a physical space (like most casino consultants in Las Vegas recommend). However, the magic happens when you design an experience that leverages the technology. The difference is throughput of 1M people a day with no queues vs. long lines after 7-hour cross-country flights because the kiosks “are not being used… due to a technical glitch.” It happened in Vegas… I won’t let it stay there.
JetBlue is a leader in customer experience. Because we never let a technology hurdle trump seamless and optimal customer experience design.
Training and Content Improvements: Lessons from JetBlue Customer Experience
Many organizations think they have training covered. Yes, most companies offer employee training. But remember, the devil is in the details. There are different types of training. And they are all important. One is technical training. This teaches employees how to resolve customer problems. It gives employees the tools they need to do their jobs.
Unfortunately, many organizations omit technical training like this. They may assume that hospitality and customer care are intuitive, or do not require specific training. However, customer-centricity and hospitality are intentional behaviors that need to be standardized and taught. Yes, some people are naturals at this. It seems like they are born knowing how to express care. However, all of us need a little help and guidance.
Add to that the complications that come from going international. This includes encountering different meanings of words and gestures. Did you know, in Turkish a “white lie” is called a “pink lie”? Details like this make a difference when it comes to training. Unfortunately, training is often one of the first costs to cut.
When designing JetBlue customer experiences, we new to invest in training. Initially, the airline lacked hospitality standards training for its two thousand flight attendants. To underscore the commitment to customer experience, JetBlue invested in training flight attendants and expanded training to all airports employees. The airline spent millions of dollars on initial and reoccurring training. And the impact was big!
Training Benefits Employees and Customers
Depending on the airline, frontline employee turnover varies. This makes training management a real art. Even organizations who invest in training can make mistakes at this phase. It is important to pay attention to WHO you train. Often, there is no customized training for leaders. This results in customer experience problems and missed opportunities. After all, in the case of leaders, their “customers” are not both the external customers and the employees.
When leaders do not receive training, customer service erodes from the inside out. Yes, leadership training tends to be more expensive. But it is also true that one well trained and developed leader can transform a whole division of an organization. JetBlue understood this. We trained leaders at every stage. As a result, leaders understood servant leadership. And they practiced it daily. By the time I left JetBlue, I had completed four trainings. This included a program that was like a mini-MBA for leaders who were recommended by their leadership for further development. Show me another aviation company that offers that!
The Petrova Experience is made of former JetBlue employees. One of our aspirations is to help organizations that also want to deliver exceptional customer experience to their customers. We know getting there is a journey. We also know how to navigate the path to become a customer experience leader in your industry. It requires funding. It requires commitment. And it requires focus and governance at the executive level. Are you ready to start your journey with us?