Executive Q&A: JetBlue Encourages Charitable Giving in Exchange for Customer Loyalty

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
The airline has revolutionized its loyalty program, allowing customers to use unredeemed points for charitable causes. Here, Dave Canty, JetBlue's director of loyalty marketing, discusses the innovations around the company's customer loyalty efforts.

Differentiating themselves from the competition is a necessity for organizations that want to be successful, remain relevant to their customers, attract new clients, and improve their bottom lines. Sometimes this requires thinking outside the box and taking risks.

However, savvy business leaders are not taking these decisions blindly. Instead, they are listening to what their customers are telling them and taking action based on this data, allowing them to provide the experience their clients are really asking for. JetBlue is one such organization that's working hard to be relevant to its customers and be true to its mission to bring humanity back to air travel.

This includes listening to what customers are saying and acting upon it. Dave Canty, JetBlue's director of loyalty marketing, notes that the airline's customers were expressing their desire to redeem unused loyalty points to make charitable donations. Last year, the airline joined forces with loyalty technology provider Kula Causes to make JetBlue customers' wishes a reality, allowing them to use points that would otherwise have been lost for a good cause.

In this interview with 1to1 Media, Canty speaks about the initiative, JetBlue's loyalty program, what makes the company different from other airlines, and how the company recovered following Hurricane Sandy.

1to1 Media: Retaining and rewarding loyal customers is a must for any organization. How does JetBlue make sure that your loyal customers feel well taken care of by the company?

Dave Canty: First of all, we listen; everything we do at JetBlue is based upon feedback received from our customers. We are continually engaging with customers about their experience, the products we offer, and the programs we run. TrueBlue, for example, was based on customers telling us they want easier ways to redeem for seats, no blackout dates, and more ways to earn. We will continue to evolve the program and the airline based on what our customers are telling us, I believe that is backed up by our 8th consecutive JD Power award for Best airline customer service.

1to1 Media: There is a lot of competition within the airline industry. How does JetBlue differentiate itself from its competitors in terms of providing the best customer experience possible?

Dave Canty: JetBlue was founded with a very simple mission-bring humanity back to air travel. Our 14,000-plus crewmembers' passion, dedication, and commitment is exemplified every day through excellent customer service, which in turn earns us loyalty from existing and new customers, they become advocates for our brand. We want to engage with our customers, have a conversation, and listen to their perspectives. If things are going well, we should keep doing them and if things need to be adjusted then we will look at ways to make that happen.

1to1 Media: Some loyalty points are never redeemed. You recently joined forces with KULA Causes to allow TrueBlue members to donate unredeemed points to charitable institutions. Can you explain how the program works and why JetBlue felt the need to implement it?

Dave Canty: Our aim is simple. We want customers to be able to redeem their points and [do so] as easily as possible. Every customer who joins an airline program does so with the desire that one day he'll be able to redeem points for flights, so we want TrueBlue to be the program that allows that to happen. However, we also realize that not every customer will fly enough or earn enough to get that value, and so we looked for ways that made customers feel like they could put their points to good use. In surveys and focus groups customers kept telling us they would like to make charitable donations, so we launched the True Giving program. The True Giving platform enables customers to make donations in increments of points, which are converted into cash for the benefitting charitable organization. Customers can make donations to the charity of their choice by entering a cha

rity name, a keyword, selecting specific regions and countries, or local causes of interest. Giving is very personal and with True Giving our customers can turn their TrueBlue points into dollars and support nonprofit organizations around the world or in their local neighborhoods that they are passionate about.

1to1 Media: This initiative will give you a new form of data about your customers, allowing you to find out more about their core values and affinities. How will you be using this data to be more relevant to your customers?

Dave Canty: Culture matters at JetBlue and we live by the core values of the company: safety, caring, integrity, fun, and passion. Everything we do should measure up to those values and it ensures we don't lose sight of our mission. We know that our culture matters to our customers as well and that they are emotionally attached and invested in us, trusting us to do the right thing. The only power in data is if you use it appropriately and we are constantly seeking new ways to support our customers and crewmembers and the causes that are important to them. I think True Giving will give us some insights into what matters to our customers. From volunteering to giving, our customers and crewmembers are excited about getting involved. True Giving is one more way our customers can support causes in their own communities or that have special meaning to them. Through this platform, customers can donate to our featured causes- Carbonfund.org, DoSomething.org, KaBOOM!, and FirstBook or donate directly to causes that are personally relevant.

Throughout the year, we support a variety of nonprofit partners and invite our customers to support these causes as well. Last spring, in support of the Million Trees initiative, more than 500 customers participated in a day of tree planting near our support center in Long Island City. Also, in 2012, TrueBlue members joined us for our 15th playground build in partnership with KaBOOM! in Oakland.

1to1 Media: This initiative highlights the importance of moving away from traditional loyalty programs and come up with novel ideas to engage customers. Are there any other ways in which JetBlue is making sure your loyalty program stands out from the rest?

Dave Canty: We have to continue to listen and evolve the program, we have to look beyond the customers we have today and prepare for the customers of tomorrow. We want to bring more utility to the program, be more intelligent in our segmentation, and introduce cobranded products that give value back to the customer. Last fall, we introduced TrueBlue Mosaic, an enhancement to our existing customer loyalty program, which adds even more value for our most frequent flyers. TrueBlue Mosaic members automatically receive perks such as a free second checked bag for everyone flying on the member's reservation and free Even More Speed, providing expedited security at 36 airports for everyone flying on the member's reservation TrueBlue members are automatically upgraded to TrueBlue Mosaic once they've earned 15,000 base flight points or completed 30 flight segments and have earned at least 12,000 base flight points in a calendar year.

1to1 Media: Two of your core values-caring and passion-were the motivation behind True Giving. In what other ways is JetBlue living up to its brand promise and core values?

Dave Canty: Our customers were the motivation really, as this is something they asked us to explore and of course it fits perfectly with our mission of bringing humanity back to air travel and our five values. As I mentioned earlier, culture matters and our values shape our culture. We apply these ideas and values both in the air and on the ground. As New York's hometown airline following Hurricane Sandy, we immediately began a series of efforts for both our crewmembers and customers in affected areas. JetBlue quickly mobilized to engage customers and TrueBlue members to raise funds for the Red Cross. In one month, customers donated more than $735,000. The donation site, also powered by KULA Causes, provided the platform for customers to donate directly to relief efforts right in their local communities in the New York tri-state area.

1to1 Media: Speaking about Hurricane Sandy, your schedule was greatly affected during and in the aftermath of the storm. How did you use social media to keep customers informed of what was happening?

Dave Canty: During Hurricane Sandy, we utilized social media, our blog, and our website to communicate with our customers and provide timely information regarding our operational plan. Our blog and website were updated numerous times throughout the day with the latest information and updates. We also sent out a series of emails trying to keep customers up to date on what was happening and we always directed them back to our website JetBlue.com or our Blue Tales blog at blog.jetblue.com.