Episode 225: Liliana Petrova on optimizing the customer experience
Our guest today is Liliana Petrova, who runs The Petrova Experience, a consulting firm that helps brands build differentiated experiences and leverage technology to increase customer loyalty, efficiencies and revenue.
Liliana was previously the Director of Customer Experience at JetBlue Airways, and on this episode we discuss some of the culture driven behind-the-scenes decisions that set JetBlue apart – including the blue potato chips and the free wifi.
Then we discuss some of her more recent work, including an effort to map out and then improve the experience of fans at a sports arena.
Liliana Petrova: If I have to be honest, like I think we always thought of the initial original inspiration for what JetBlue stands for, which was to bring humanity back in the air and that permeated our product design experience design at all times.
Will Bachman: Hey, welcome to unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host will Bachman. Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, the first global community connecting top tier independent management consultants with one another.
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We just heard from today’s guest, Liliana Petrova, who runs the Petrova experience, a consulting firm that helps brands build differentiated experiences and leverage technology to increase customer loyalty, efficiencies and revenue. Liliana was previously the director of customer experience at JetBlue Airways, and on this episode we discuss some of the culture-driven behind-the-scenes decisions that set JetBlue apart, including the blue potato chips and the free Wi-Fi.
Then we discuss some of Liliana’s more recent work, including an effort to map out, and then improve, the experience of fans at a sports arena. To learn more about Liliana’s firm, visit the PatrovaExperience.com. That’s one word, and Petrova is spelled P-E-T-R-O-V-A. A link is in the show notes. In the show notes you’ll also find links to Liliana’s, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Hello, Liliana, welcome to the show.
Liliana Petrova: Thank you. And thank you for having me.
Will Bachman: So Liliana, what are some of the decisions that are getting made behind the scenes about an airline’s customer experience? Let’s talk about that a little bit.
Liliana Petrova: Of course. I would start with there are many more decisions and people think. I think the airline industry is probably the most complex that I have ever encountered in my career. And one of the things that’s really struck me early on was the complexity of how the magic happens and how much one decision can impact the whole system from what airplane you are going to use, how are you going to map your what we call the network, how you are going to map where the planes fly first, second and third, to managing scheduling of flight attendants and pilots, to even thinking through catering and which stations will offer catering, which wouldn’t because sometimes a plane that’s going to go two, three, four places may not offer catering on the first flight, but the second and the third needs very robust catering offerings. So it is really unbelievable how complex it can get.
Will Bachman: So you were at JetBlue for a number of years in, you know, working on customer experience there. I’ve flown JetBlue a lot. It’s a pretty comfortable airline and of course it’s great taking kids. They love the entertainment and all the video options. Tell us some of the decisions that that JetBlue is made about the customer experience and contrast that with some other airlines.
Liliana Petrova: Well, I think the first thing, I haven’t worked in other airlines, but what I know that was pretty impressive in general was that there was no decision from business standpoint that was taken without discussing how they would impact the core members and the culture internally.
I always say my first day was July 1st on July 18 I was at a pretty high level meeting coming from the banking industry and I remember one of the big executives at the time said, “Oh, okay, we may do this, you may not do it. Let’s just cover the culture aspect and then we’ll make the final call.” I was stunned to see to what extent, how that that was make or break, and that aspect of crew member impact, and crew member perception and communication was a very strong pillar in how the company was run.
In addition, they had employee engagement surveys and their results mattered a lot to the compensation of the executives. One of their longterm compensation measures for big comps, aspects of measurements was, an [inaudible 00:05:13]. Where other companies only looked at the operation, reliability or the financial metrics, one third of the compensation of JetBlue was decided based on customer feedback.
Will Bachman: Wow, that’s amazing. When I fly, you know, I’m not flying as much, fortunately, as I did when I was at McKinsey, but I’ve flown, you know, a fair amount, and if you asked me, you know, American versus Delta versus Continental or United, it’s kind of a pretty gray kind of similar experience. I don’t really differentiate them.
Whereas I, if you asked me about JetBlue, there’s some very distinctive things. There’s the seats seems like there’s a little bit more leg room, and they got the video seat-back experience, and people maybe just seem a little bit friendlier. They have the distinctive snacks like the blue potato chips and stuff.
I mean I’m just, you know, only vaguely picking up on some of these things. Tell me about some of the ways that JetBlue has really focused in to work on differentiating the customer experience. And maybe you have some kind case study or stories about some decisions that you were involved in or some trade-offs that that were made.
Liliana Petrova: Well, first of all, the blue chips are more expensive than other snacks, so even that by itself is a strategy decision. Should we keep it, should we not keep it? Believe it or not, it’s more discussed than people think because the price differential is optical. But in general, what is amazing about the customer experience design at JetBlue is that it all started with the culture of loving our customers and thinking through their lenses in everything we built. Specifically I was involved in the…I led the redesign of the checking experience at the JFK airport. That was a massive problem that involved getting funding, managing construction, but also designing the physical experience in a way that would be pleasant for the customer but also creates some operational efficiencies at JetBlue to make the business case work.
The trade offs we made were in every decision, to be frank. For example, I’ll give you somewhat of a silly but meaningful example of the design of the kiosk. So every kind of airline has a check-in kiosk in the lobby and we were going at the time for the look and feel of Apple. We wanted open space, we wanted skinny kiosk, and we were co-creating and co-designing this with our partner at the time.
Now creating a kiosk that’s slim is very hard because this technology needs cables and the body of the kiosk actually needs that space for the cabling. So we needed to figure out how to create more cabling space on the ground or fix limits the number of cables needed inside to create this experience. Also kiosks would come with a little trace, they would capture the boarding pass once it’s printed.
But that trade to us was metal, was more kind of retro looking and we wanted that scene of no tray. You just see the white skinny body of the kiosk and believe it or not, this was a very passionate discussion because half of the people in the meetings were like, “Well this is not practical. We want to make this a practical experience.” The other half were like, “Well no, we want to make it an experience.” Which you know, the elements are what makes the experience and the finish is what really makes big impact, not the bigger decisions. Sometimes the smallest decisions in the, the, the, the sheer number of how many of them you make right are what create that experience.
So these are just two examples, but they actually made a huge difference. Or even the lights of the kiosks. Are they going to be lit or no? Are they going to be blue, green, or red? Well our colors were blue and white, so we needed them to be blue. Now sometimes engineering teams and products come in sort of a predefined specs. So getting that changed is not as easy as it sounds initially or not as cheap as it sounds initially. So we always had this joke that we always JetBlue everything because we rarely have implemented or taken a product that is face value. We always customized it.
Will Bachman: Brilliant examples. So what about some of the experience on the flight itself? Any aspects there you were involved in that kind of maybe go a little bit unnoticed to us regular passengers, but that a lot of thought was put into?
Liliana Petrova: I can tell you that the Wi-Fi onboard is free. That was a huge decision and it was based on culture as well. Also the expansion of Wi-Fi to cover the boarding area, not just in the air, was another big decision. I would say the hardest decision is should we charge or not charge for Wi-Fi? When we were going with that product on board and deciding to make it free was, was kind of on-brand. We needed this to be, you know…
I don’t know if I have to be honest, we always thought of the initial original inspiration for what JetBlue stands for, which was to bring humanity back in the air and, and that permeated our product design experience design at all times. So we never wanted to create classes or have a very big gap between the experience of a coach customer versus a business customer. We struggled even with the existence of a business class and having that class to be on board was also a big discussion that took awhile.
So the Wi-Fi losing the value, the money we could collect from making it paid, was a very strategic decision that took a lot of time but created this freedom for all our customers to enjoy that product.
Will Bachman: It is nice being on JetBlue and having free Wi-Fi compared to, you know, on other airlines where you’ve got to pay, you know, $9.95 or $19.95.
Liliana Petrova: Yeah. And it works. Honestly, it really works. It’s fast. You don’t feel like you’re in the air. And I think this is a huge accomplishment of many people, and not to charge for it is a real business decision actually.
I mean also lately in the industry there’s a huge discussion around should you keep the TVs? I don’t know if you’re aware, but some argue that so many people bring their own devices, and now with the internet people can watch whatever they want and stream their own content. So TV’s are kind of thing of the past. Should you really do this? It’s so hard to maintain these devices. Usually we have complicated relationships with partners we cannot live without to have this TV content on board.
So that was another decision, and a conversation that I think every airline has. For us, having the entertainment on board is such a core part of who we were that keeping them was a strategy decision as well as part of the product offering.
Will Bachman: My kids would certainly be disappointed if we got on JetBlue flight and the TVs are not there. They look forward to being able to pick their own videos, even though we could like download the video ahead of time and bring it on the iPad or something. It is, they get a kick out of having that choice.
Liliana. Fantastic. So you are no longer at JetBlue, you’re now running your own consulting practice focused on the customer experience. Could you give us an example of the type of project that you’re doing now?
Liliana Petrova: Sure. There are a couple of different ways we approach customer experience. The first one is through culture and putting the customer at the center of how organizations are getting set up, how they manage their people, their processes and their product development. This is a very big task list.
So we started the top and we usually meet with the executive team that hopefully is already on board with the idea that culture takes a lot of work and engagement from all layers in the organization. Then we map out what the leadership wants to look like in terms of customer experience, what values they want their employees to live and exemplify every day in the field, and how that would come to life internally.
After that we build internal tools and processes and procedures that support this type of culture to be part of their operating procedures and second nature.
A second type of a approach to customer experience is when an either is pivoting into from B2B to B2C, or when an organization already has a great experience but needs to increase their impact, and is growing fast or is entering another geography. This is when we come into play and we help with how do you grow something that already is good in order to expand the business.
And sometimes we have customers that intuitively know that their customer experience could be better. Most of them even know some of the things that are causing the bad experience. And that’s when we do customer experience audits and we bring a comprehensive plan: What the customer experience looks like today, what it would be tomorrow in their ideal future state and how to prioritize the gaps. Because sometimes it can get overwhelming when you really dive into the details.
So we help organizations understand where, where is the pain point that’s worth investing money and what pain points customers feel, but they will not leave the brand even though they are still there.
Will Bachman: Talk to me in some detail about how you go about doing one of these customer experience audits. I’d love to hear, you know, do you just ask customers to tell me what happened, or do you go through it yourself as a customer and document each step along the way? So like how do you actually, you know, measure and observe and, and then, and then communicate the current state of the customer experience?
Liliana Petrova:: Yeah. Well, I mean it is all of the above. It’s fascinating how much is out there, if you want to really look and read. First, it’s perception versus reality. I would say there, there are different vantage points to an event or an experience. There’s always the internal view of, of the people that know their organizations so well that they can explain to you the experience and they see it from one angle, and if they do know why something is the way it is, they tend to forgive more and to say, “Well, it’s not that important.”
Then you have the customer view, the customer who doesn’t know the intricacy of a brand and why things are the way they are, they just want to have pleasant experience.
Will Bachman: Well let’s take a specific example. So maybe we could either use airline or we could use maybe an example that your firm has done. You can sanitize it, but give me a specific industry so we can talk about specifics.
Liliana Petrova:: For example, we recently looked at the entertainment industry at an arena and we were doing an audit for them to understand what is the customer experience.
Will Bachman: Like, a sports arena kind of thing?
Liliana Petrova:: Yes, a sports arena. Going to see a sports event. So it was looking into fan experience.
Will Bachman: Okay, so the fan experience at a sports event.
Will Bachman: So, how would you go about measuring that?
Liliana Petrova:: Well, you go to a game first.
Will Bachman: So, you’d actually go yourself?
Liliana Petrova:: Yes.
Will Bachman: So you’d actually go through the experience yourself? And what are you like recording and writing it? I mean there’s so much you could potentially talk about. Like what are you actually capturing and writing down and recording about goals. We can all imagine going to, you know, Madison Square Garden or a sporting arena. What are you capturing?
Liliana Petrova:: Yeah, sure. Well, there is a theory behind customer experience that has the backbone of the skeleton of a customer experience is the so-called journey. And journeys, depending on the industry, maybe a little customized, but the theory is you do have a different entry point. You have the point where you’re looking, deciding where to go or what you want to do. Like learning.
Let’s say you’re buying a package for, for Disney versus Universal. So you have this research phase, and that’s mostly online. Then you have the purchasing and the acquisition of engaging with the purchasing. So there was always this purchasing touch point where we look in a detailed way to see how is that experience? Then you have the, what we call, you know, a moment of truth, which is the engagement. The entry point to an experience is actually very important.
So let’s say arriving to a game. Is the entry to the arena easy or hard? Are you going to be on line for 60 minutes or is there some technology that allows you to just kind of seamlessly get through the security and go through so you can have more enjoyable experiences inside with the concessions?
Then we have always the touch point of the actual where we call the usage, you know, usability of whatever you bought. It can be an experience of like how wayfinding is, and wayfinding is how you find your seat, or how you find your gate, or in general being in the experience and how easy and seamless is it to to get to your specific endpoint and within that moment.
If you are in a plane, we will look how easy it is to pay for your beverages. If you’re in a arena, we will look to see, do you have to go up and wait on line and miss some of the game because you’re on line, or is there a way to get somebody to bring you something via the app? In general, how easy is it to, to make this so-called ancillary purchases and enjoy your experience
Will Bachman: And that is something that is just.
Liliana Petrova:: And then we have the exist of the experience.
Will Bachman: Yeah, just jumping in there. That is just something that is mind-boggling to me when you’re at events, of how bad generally the experience of buying stuff is at an event. Like they charge so much money, which is okay. You’re at like a Mets game or whatever. You’re charged so much money for it, you would think, like if I was running that arena, oh my God, I’d want to make sure that people could get through the line as quickly as possible. Right?
Liliana Petrova:: Yes.
Will Bachman: But when you’re a sporting event-
Liliana Petrova:: You can buy more, right, if it’s easier? I think that the business case of these type of investments really is that you will increase the occurrences if the throughput is higher, right? So you get more people to buy, so then maybe they’ll buy more times. It’s not going to be just once, maybe if it’s so easy.
If you have a child with you in the old day, you know, they want Skittles, for example. If it’s a matter of me punching a few buttons on an app, I’ll buy them, versus me managing being online just for, you know, a little bag of candy. So there is a lot to be desired, to be frank, across the board and we’re really passionate about what can be done because the technology’s there, and the journeys are already mapped in different industries. It’s more about seeing the elements and kind of being like a conductor. We always say this, that the customer experience is being a conductor and just connecting elements that already exist to make the music.
Will Bachman: Right.
So keeping on this arena experience, you’re looking at that entry point experience, you’re looking at kind of the wayfinding of how do you find your way to the seats, and then there’s things like ancillary purchase experience. Maybe there’s like the bathroom experience, which in some arenas could be kind of bad, or maybe it’s super clean but maybe, maybe not. And then there’s the exit experience. it’s annoying if you know, because 60000 people are leaving at the same time, you got to stand in line for an hour, it takes forever to get to your car, and then your parking lot is all crowded.
So, just taking one of those, like the entry point experience. I’m interested to hear about that. I as an unsophisticated naive person, I’m not specialized in a customer experience project. I mean, I could probably think of some things to talk about, like how long did this average person stand in line, and what are people doing in line? Is there things to kind of entertain you or to maybe it could be better or worse. Like are you cold? Are you standing out in the rain? But how does someone like yourself who has really studied this, and developed expertise in it just on that one aspect of the customer journey, how are you qualitatively or quantitatively measuring and documenting just the entry point experience of the arena?
Liliana Petrova:: Well, I mean specifically the waiting, nobody likes waiting. At that specific touch points seems to be a very big pain point across industries, and customers tend to be very loud about it. So specifically for this arena, there were many, many complaints about long lines, and just terrible experience. And also when you yourself go in the prime time, you can see the long lines.
In JetBlue we, we knew it was bad because people would miss their flights. Sometimes the stakes are even higher, and you can see that that that’s a problem. And I did also work a little bit in the specialty food association this year and we had a big food show in the Javits Center where, again, you can observe the huge lions that form.
So there is this whole, you know, almost engineering commonality across industries of the bottleneck when you have a lot of people, many people coming at the same time for good reasons, and having some sort of a bottleneck because of most of the times it’s security or safety, but sometimes it’s pure processing, right? Like just verifying that you are allowed to enter.
I don’t necessarily talk about how to make weighting more pleasant, I am the Crusader against lines in general because we can live a life without lines today. I think the technology that exists out there is absolutely making this very easy to solve. You can either verify people digitally, you can put different things at the entry points that very, very quickly, in a matter of seconds can verify people, even from a security checkpoint. And I learned that by doing the biometrics boardings for JetBlue airways that is a very safe and privacy responsible way to verify people in a matter of seconds, which means all these people can really be processed in a matter of minutes.
Will Bachman: So what are some ways that you communicate to your clients, the senior clients that you’re serving, the customer experience that you’ve documented? So, old school would be PowerPoint pages with graphs that say here’s the average wait time and the distribution or whatever. Do you take any other approaches, make it more experiential, kind of a gallery walk or video or audio or photos? I’m curious about ways to communicate that customer experience so that the executives really, really feel it.
Liliana Petrova:: Yeah, no, and I hear your question. It’s actually pretty hard. That balance is very, very hard. Many of the tools you mentioned also cost money. So you know, being a boutique we, you know the theory of of how you do this, unless I have a big firm behind me it’s quite difficult unless they want to pay, and nobody wants to pay for it to be told something that already they kind of half know.
There is also, in that audit process, or there is like a whole educational element that we don’t want to teach people, but at the same time if you have the right partner at the executive level, and I have worked with such people, they want to learn as well. So it’s a very fine balance between being boring and bringing it to life.
Quotes sometimes really do a miracle, especially if they’re on social media. People and brand owners really get sensitive when they know what people talk about them in public, found that that’s cost effective way to do this. We always make an image of the journey that is customized to that specific brand, and we introduced the concept very early on, because that usually ends up being some sort of a program charter at the end as well. So we very early on want to have that structure of how people think and then we bring-
Will Bachman: And what’s that part look like?
Liliana Petrova:: What is should be.
Will Bachman: When you say you have some, some kind of image of the journey, is that more schematic, like an illustration of someone walking?
Liliana Petrova:: Yeah. It’s an illustration. Exactly. You get like some sort of a persona, right? You get the persona, you introduce the person so it’s more relatable. Usually, hopefully, you know a little bit more about a target and you say, “Imagine you have Frank. He’s 25. He’s your fan. He comes here very often.” And then we create this kind of storyboard of Frank in the different touch points that you, depending on where the pain is, we don’t want to go into too much detail either, you know, because you lose them. So you need to keep it the kind of medium level and say,
“Let’s imagine Frank wants to buy a ticket and everything has Ticketmaster on it and they call Ticketmaster, and then it says, no, you didn’t buy this ticket from Ticketmaster.
And then Frank says, “But it’s a Ticketmaster.”
“Well yeah,” but actually the arena has their own site.
“Then why does it say Ticketmaster on your website?”
“Well, because we power it.”
And and well for example, you know we would say this to the arena, “If you really want to own the customer that’s pretty bad on many levels, because Frank now wasted time to call the wrong support, because you have no brand recognition. You look like something else, and oh no, it becomes a nightmare if you have to do refunds and stuff like that.
So you choose your battles, you pick your battles and you don’t display every single touchpoint, but the things that you recommend in the long run that the brand recognizes and hopefully invest money in. That’s where the highlights are. Everything else is overlay and you speak about it.
Will Bachman: Fantastic. Liliana, where can people go online to find out more about your firm? Do you want to give a a website or a Twitter address? Where can people find out more about you?
Liliana Petrova:: Sure. I mean the Twitter one is my old name because I just already had traction on this channel, but we have an Instagram, The Petrova Experience, and we’re pretty active there. We also have a website that is our name, PatrovaExperience.com, where you can learn more about how we can help, what we do, and even a little bit about our story, how we came to life.
Will Bachman: Fantastic. Well we will include those links in the show notes.
Liliana, it’s been great having you on the show. It’s been fun hearing about the behind the scenes decisions at JetBlue, and what goes on in an arena, and thinking about how to add to make it better to get inside and, and so we can spend more money on hotdogs.
Thank you so much. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Liliana Petrova: Thank you, Will. Have a good day. Bye.
Will Bachman: Thanks for listening to this episode of Unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top tier independent management consultants. The mission of Umbrex is to create opportunities for independent management consultants to meet, share lessons learned, and collaborate.
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