JetBlue Airways is illustrating two broader airline trends at once: It’s one of several airlines that have been investing in startups to get early tastes of the latest technical innovations, and it’s one of many airlines investing in upgrading customer service in light of recent meltdowns and government investigations.
The amount of the minority investment has not been disclosed but has been estimated at $2.5 million. JetBlue participated in a $36 million funding round this spring. That round brought the total that the San Francisco-based Gladly has raised to $63 million.
JetBlue has also become a client of Gladly, whose software unifies all of the messages that come in via various channels — email, SMS (text), phone call, Twitter, Facebook Messenger — and creates histories associated with passenger records.
Until now, JetBlue hasn’t been set up to handle instant messaging via text or Facebook Messenger, and the new tool will enable that. Gladly also plans to use some artificial intelligence to be able to automate answers to routine questions.
In the next year to 18 months, the airline will adopt in stages the startup’s customer service platform. The rollout starts in two months.
Before today, whenever a customer contacted JetBlue, the carrier’s agents haven’t had a computer record of the customer’s interactions with the airline, such as if they’ve filed complaints in the past or have praised it a lot.
Having that mini-dossier on each customer may enable a call center representative or social media manager to adopt the right tone when interacting with the traveler, says Joseph Ansanelli, chief executive and co-founder of the 60-employee Gladly.
In JetBlue’s case, about a year ago, the vice president of customer support and one of the airline’s founding employees, Frankie Littleford, asked the head of JetBlue Technology Ventures to help her team identify possible technological solutions to improve the quality and efficiency of her operations.
Littleford said she was frustrated with many of the enterprise software solutions that are available because they take a “case number” approach to tracking problems, rather than building a customer profile that gathers all of the service interactions in one place.
The venture arm spent 12 weeks on the task, which included an evaluation of the various players in the sector. Gladly caught the firm’s eye. Littleford’s hope is that flight history data can be added to the customer profiles that relevant employees see, too.
On the customer service front, JetBlue starts out from a relatively strong position. It has been one of the top three-ranked U.S. airlines for customer service in the JD Power customer satisfaction survey every year between 2011 and 2016 (along with Southwest and Alaska Airlines). The airline’s executives say they hope adopting Glady’s platform will help it better interact with its customers.
If all goes well, JetBlue would like to provide this information to gate agents and cabin crew members as well via tablets to enable even more staff to see all of the interactions any given passenger has had with the airline.
By investing in startups like Gladly, JetBlue is in sync with a few other carriers that have been tapping the startup community, too.
Qantas recently launched the Avro Accelerator (where entrepreneurs receive mentorship and funding to fast-track their businesses).
Lufthansa has created an innovation hub.
And the parent company of British Airways (International Airlines Group) has built the Hangar 51 incubator and has become clients of some of the companies it has invested in.