Joanna Geraghty is bringing new meaning to the concept of hospitality as she leads a training program designed to “refresh” the overall customer experience at JetBlue. The executive vice president of customer experience, who oversees more than 12,900 crew members at the New York-based airline, spoke to Runway Girl Network about the changes.
“Early on we hired for attitude, we trained for aptitude. That works well, but as you grow you have to ensure a level of consistency,” she said. “This program is about changing behavior. It’s about the small tweaks in what you say and how you say it that have the power to create a positive and memorable experience.”
The successful rollout of JetBlue’s Mint service, which provides an upscale, premium cabin experience to travelers, is the driver behind the new customer service training at the carrier.
“We consistently received feedback from our Mint customers about how impressed they were with our Inflight crew members and how our crew members made them feel. They called out things like making eye contact, smiling, and addressing them by name – very simple things that create a huge impact,” explained Geraghty. “Our training focuses on in-person training that is conducted through questions, open discussion, and role play. At this point we don’t have computer-based training but plan on utilizing it as ongoing reinforcement of the standards post classroom training.”
Basic tenets of the training include a focus on personalizing and enhancing the customer experience; communicating professionally; projecting the JetBlue image and taking ownership of any situation with a promise to resolve it.
“Not everyone has the customer service gene but you have to have that positive attitude,” Geraghty said. “This is what we talk about a lot. Think about all the different reasons people travel and how stressful travel can be. Try to put yourself in that person’s shoes. Engage in different ways – see it through their lens.”
Detailed standards and procedures will be published in crew member manuals and pocket-size guides will be distributed as each person completes the training. After each class, handouts will be used to reinforce the training objectives after each subject is presented. This enables crew members to receive the message through questions and open discussions, rather than a classroom lecture.
The bottom line for the training program is to ensure that crew members have clear, observable and measurable hospitality standards, Geraghty said.
“It’s more of a culture change than a training program,” she explained. “You need to be incredibly passionate about your job. If you don’t have that our customers know that pretty quickly.”
She maintains the customer experience begins when someone enters the terminal and heads towards checkin. That’s when hospitality kicks in. When a customer is within 10 feet, the crew member should engage the customer by making eye contact. Within five feet, the crew member should be addressing the customer.
“For our Airport crew members, we regionalized the training. This allowed crew members in our smaller cities to complete training with crew members from nearby locations,” Geraghty said. “It also enabled us to bring the training directly to crew members in person in our operation. The training is very interactive and a regionalized approach creates an opportunity for crew members from neighboring cities to work together.”
Geraghty comes to her role as a leader for customer service by a somewhat circuitous route. She was a partner in the law firm of Holland & Knight where she worked on behalf of airlines and aircraft manufacturers. She joined JetBlue in 2005, starting as a VP in litigation and regulatory affairs.
“I worked closely with operations, airport, inflight, pilots and I really enjoyed that side of things but I loved being a lawyer,” Geraghty said. “I didn’t run away from it. I wanted to help shape strategic direction.”
She moved on to become the EVP Chief People Officer, which is similar to a department of human resources. In 2014, she assumed her current position, and is responsible for airports, customer support and inflight services. Initially, she was the interim EVP but after a month she was asked to stay permanently.
“I am hardwired to want to solve problems,” she recalled. “At the time, our people team had been through a lot of different changes and I wanted to reinvigorate the whole team.”
Geraghty currently serves as President of the JetBlue Foundation, which focuses on aviation related education and encourages student interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.
She has also made strides in advancing women. Recently, she helped put together a JetBlue/Marie Claire “Power Trip”, where an all-female crew flew 100 influential women from the media, entertainment, business, policy and technology industries from New York to San Francisco for an event that took place in the air and on the ground. The message of the event was that “every woman is a boss, a brand, a feminist and a disrupter”.
Geraghty continues to spread the message of hospitality throughout the JetBlue network: it’s not just what your do for the customer; it’s how you make them feel.
“We want crew members who are inspired to come to work, who really enjoy trying to understand what makes people tick,” said Geraghty. “And how they can believe they can do more than they thought they could do when they wake up in the morning.”