The Strategy That Fuels JetBlue's Customer Engagement

Customer Service
Customer Service

JetBlue celebrated a milestone on February 11: its 10-year anniversary. Another much less jubilant commemoration for the airline coincided with its week-long anniversary celebration. February 14 marked the three-year anniversary of the Valentine's Day Massacre, the now infamous day when a snowstorm grounded hundreds of JetBlue flights at JFK International with their passengers stuck inside the planes for hours on the tarmac.

Not surprisingly, after that event the company's external and internal Net Promoter Scores (NPS)-the measurement that indicates employees and customers' likelihood to recommend the company to friends-dropped drastically.

JetBlue has been measuring crewmember sentiment through annual surveys since the company launched, and scores had typically trended upward. However, after the February 14th incident, crewmember scores resulting from the question, "Would you recommend JetBlue as a good place to work?" fell sharply. At the same time crewmember sentiment fell, the company's customer NPS declined.

Built on a customer- and employee-centric culture, the executives wouldn't tolerate the drop; they quickly focused on raising both NPS scores. "After 2007 we had to get back into the driver's seat," says Julia Gomez, director of JetBlue's workforce intelligence.

Their efforts to repair the brand started internally. To regain its high scores, JetBlue charted a course to increase employee engagement. The idea was that if employees are highly engaged in their jobs and in the JetBlue brand, customers will receive exceptional experiences, which will help move the needle on NPS.

Overhauling the surveys
JetBlue decided to overhaul its surveying methodology to closely monitor feedback, better gauge employee engagement, and make continuous adjustments to its employee relationship management practices based on their input. Rather than conduct one survey annually and deliver it companywide, the company conducts the surveys monthly to coincide with individual employee's anniversaries. Now everyone from the in-flight crew and reservationists to support services and systems operations receive surveys tailored to their departments. This year JetBlue started identifying engagement areas through the anniversary surveys and, as a result, provides direct linkage to crewmembers' NPS and JetBlue's business strategy.

The preliminary analysis concludes that engagement is highly correlated with NPS. For example, part-timers are more likely to be promoters, and there's a relationship between crewmembers' NPS rating and their interest to stay with the airline, Gomez says.

Moving the needle on engagement
JetBlue wanted to know more than the correlation between NPS and employee engagement. The airline needed to understand the key drivers that help improve employee engagement levels. An additional survey sought answers. Called the People Team Survey, and administered earlier this year, it asked a total of 92 questions across six different dimensions: leadership and company, management, personal commitment, team, work environment/culture, and brand. Questions within each category included perceptions of senior leaders and pride in the company, perceptions of immediate crew leaders, enthusiasm for their job, teamwork, and the customer experience. The results indicated that the key drivers of crewmember NPS include pride/personal commitment, brand, immediate crew leaders, executive leadership, team/people, and work environment. JetBlue has even mapped the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral engagement results from the six dimensions to revenue growth and shareholder value.

Because engagement is so closely tied to JetBlue's revenue, the company also developed a five-factor engagement model to assess how crew leaders impact crewmember effectiveness, Gomez says. The five factors include: treat your people right, do the right thing, communicate with your team, encourage innovation, and inspire greatness in others.

According to Gomez, small improvements in driving the metrics can generate significant results. For example, JetBlue has determined that a one-point improvement in the scores in the category of "leadership and company" increases the likelihood of being a promoter by 2.6 times; receiving high team scores increases the likelihood by 2.3 times; and when a crewmember enjoys his work environment, it doubles the likelihood. "To improve crewmember NPS, you must improve the metrics that drive the higher scores," she says.

Conversely, certain factors pertain to becoming a detractor. Lack of personal commitment, for instance, has the highest impact on crewmember becoming detractors.

Listening and taking action
While the scores give the pulse of the company, ultimately moving that needle comes down to listening to employees and focusing on what they say they like the most about JetBlue and their jobs, Gomez says. The airline regularly collects and acts on crewmember feedback from the surveys, which sometimes results in a coup for the company. For instance, last year a crewmember suggested that the planes turn off one engine while they taxi. JetBlue implemented the procedure, which has saved the airline millions of dollars.

This year JetBlue will focus on the next steps to driving engagement, which Gomez says include improving pay and benefits, identifying external factors that influence engagement, developing work groups, and creating action plans.

Now when JetBlue asks in its surveys if crewmembers would recommend the company as a place to work, the resulting NPS far exceeds the one following the Valentine's Day Massacre (JetBlue declines to offer actual NPS numbers). In addition, the company's overall cumulative NPS has increased steadily throughout 2009. Says Gomez: "Pride in what you do is critical to being an engaged member."