Lessons From WestJet: 5 Ways To Retain Loyal Customers

Customer loyalty is a make-or-break issue for companies of all sizes, and Canada’s WestJet has got it down to a science. Based in Calgary, WestJet has been ranked among the top three brands in the country for the past five years and has received countless customer service awards since its founding in 1996. 

How do they do it? 

To find out, we sat down with Mike Byrom, WestJet’s director of guest experience, to learn the top five ways the airline maintains such a loyal fan base. 

#1: Give Employees Skin In The Game
More than 80% of WestJet employees (known internally as “WestJetters”) are company shareholders. Regardless of position, every staffer has the opportunity to invest up to 20% of his or her base pay to WestJet stock, and the company will match it dollar for dollar, Byrom explained. 

“When the interest of the company is to focus on growth and revenue generation, that means it will also be in the interest of WestJetters because they will get something back from that,” he said. 

What’s more, every May and November the company holds massive parties to celebrate profit-sharing payouts and hand physical checks to employees. Families are invited, and the events are catered. The company treats them as big milestones, and employees look forward to the celebrations. 

#2: Use Analytics Wisely
Back in 2008, WestJet started sending post-flight email surveys to passengers, asking how they enjoyed their experience. Participation was mediocre, so this year WestJet is planning to “take feedback to the next level,” as Byrom said, by sending a few questions in real time while guests are at the gate. 

“We will do this though email as they board their flight,” he said. “The idea is that we want to get real-time emotions about their experiences.” 

In addition, WestJet regularly utilizes Adobe Marketing Cloud to understand what customers are looking for and how to personalize messages. 

“WestJet’s care for our guests is enhanced when utilizing Adobe solutions,” Byrom noted.

#3. Focus On Your Community
Many Canadian citizens harbor warm feelings for WestJet as a brand, largely because of its dedication to helping communities across the country. Each employee is encouraged to donate 40 hours of his or her own time a year to local charities and, in return, the company will donate round-trip tickets to nonprofits in need. 

“For example, if you worked to put on a fundraiser for a nonprofit, WestJet could give you two round-trip tickets to help fundraise with,” Byrom said. “This creates loyalty and bonds between WestJetters, our organization, and the greater community. It also generates revenues for a charity.” 

#4: Take Feedback Seriously
In late 2016, WestJet kicked off an ambitious customer feedback campaign where the airline hired a consulting company to spend an extended amount of time with clients and follow them from their homes to their airports, on their flights, to the baggage carousels, and then all the way to their cars. 

“From that, we now have a detailed journey map of each person’s experience with our brand,” Byrom said. “We did six of these and learned a ton.” 

In addition, the company utilizes ExperienceFellow, a mobile ethnography tool that allows customers to journal about their experiences with WestJet on their smartphones. The cost is minimal, Byrom said, so it’s something that any small business could also leverage. 

WestJet analyzes texts and speech patterns on customer phone calls to search for common issues. All of this effort shows that the company is dedicated to fostering customer loyalty on an enterprise level, said Julie Hoffmann, Adobe’s travel and hospitality lead. 

“Loyalty has to be an enterprise initiative—something managed at a customer level,” she said. “And WestJet has done a tremendous job at bringing that to life with the help of Adobe Marketing Cloud.” 

#5: Prioritize Transparency With Employees
WestJet knows employees who feel heard and understood are much more likely to stay in their positions, which is why management has open lines of communication with all levels of the company through tools such as Yammer—and why the company scheduled several all-hands meetings last year. 

“Last year, for our 20th anniversary, we had companywide town halls across the country,” Byrom said. “We celebrated and acknowledged past successes and also discussed what is to come. We asked for input, and many people were forthcoming with thoughts and ideas to our leaders. The meetings were incredibly productive. Guest loyalty starts with creating employee loyalty, and that is something that WestJet does very well.” 

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