We all love to complain about air travel. And thanks to technology, there are increasingly more places than ever to scream into the void. But the surfeit of technology platforms can make it difficult for airlines to track and address complaints. One airline thinks it has a solution. Starting this year, JetBlue is overhauling its customer service operations to integrate more modern communication channels like email, SMS text messages, and even Twitter and Facebook. And its doing it by adopting a new software platform that consolidates all these channels into a single feed.
“Seventy-one percent of customers use at least three channels to communicate.”
The airline is partnering with a startup called Gladly, which provides a spiffier, more modern looking web app for customer service operations. Its also investing an undisclosed sum into San Francisco-based firm through its venture capital arm. Using Gladly, JetBlue will be able to track customer emails, phone messages, and texts, as well as tweets and Facebook Messenger conversations, all without having to rely on the old system of case and ticket numbers.
“Seventy-one percent of customers use at least three channels to communicate,” Frankie Littleford, a co-founder of JetBlue and the airline’s vice president of customer support, told The Verge. “Gladly is going to take all of those communications and consolidate it into one platform. So instead of our crew members today having to have multiple applications open, toggling between screens, and maybe because of inactivity being logged out of one application and having to log back in and piece things together, this tool brings everything into one view in one application.”
Under this new system, a customer can tweet at JetBlue about missing a flight, follow up with a phone call, and then shift to SMS message, and the customer service agent tasked with helping won’t lose track of any of the conversation. Likewise, if a customer is beset by back-to-back inconveniences — delays, lost luggage, cancelled flights — JetBlue’s agents can see all that history and choose to reward their loyalty with upgrades, like a seat with more leg room, Littleford said. Customers’ entire travel history with JetBlue is viewable under Gladly’s system.
“In today’s environment, while our crew members still provide that empathetic and caring service ... they don’t have that consolidated view, so it take a lot more searching. And quite honestly today, they would not be able to piece all of that together,” she added. “So this is game changing.”
“All communications today are locked into siloed systems.”
Last year, JetBlue tested out Gladly’s consolidated customer service platform in a pilot and liked what it saw. Joseph Ansanelli, CEO and co-founder of Gladly, said the goal was to “bring the humanity back to air travel.”
“All communications today are locked into siloed systems,” Ansanelli told The Verge. “There’s a system for phone, a system for email, a system for SMS. By rolling out Gladly and having a single view for all communications with passengers, they can start to take some of the frustration out.”
Ansanelli wouldn’t name Gladly’s other clients, but said that their focus for now is on travel and hospitality, e-commerce, and “other places where customer service impacts revenue.” This is especially true in the airline business, where United Airlines’ stock tumbled after video surfaced showing a passenger being beaten up and dragged off a plane by airport officials. United lost over $770 million in value from that one video.
Conversely, airlines with excellent customer service tend to see their value increase. A recent study by Watermark Consulting finds that the airlines with the highest customer satisfaction ratings perform vastly better on the stock market than those with low ratings. JetBlue has consistently ranked in the top three airlines for customer service by JD Power.
Long-term vision is to equip JetBlue’s flight crew with iPads
While it’s unclear how Gladly can help airlines avoid PR nightmares like what befell United, Littleford said her long-term vision is to equip JetBlue’s flight crew with iPads so they can use Gladly’s app to identify customers who may need extra attention and support.
“Everybody has a story,” she said. “And being able to know a little bit more about our customers — not invasive, not intrusive. What customers have shared with us.”
“Gladly isn’t a mindreader,” Littleford continued. “It’s just using the information that customers have willingly shared with us and enable our crew members to better diffuse situations ahead of time.”