Breeze Airways Merges Tech with Kindness to Transform an Industry

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Danny Cox

Featuring Danny Cox,

Vice President, Guest Experience at Breeze

In this Gladly podcast episode, hear from Vice President of Guest Experiences at Breeze Airways, Danny Cox, as he shares what it means to be Seriously Nice, how Breeze raises the bar for guest experiences, and why they decided to omit voice as a primary channel for customer service.

With the slogan “Seriously Nice”, Breeze Airways is reimagining customer service for brands and businesses to be the best part of a customer’s day. So, what does it look like to be Seriously Nice? Listen and find out.

“My advice is, don’t open a call center, make sure you open a contact center… It’s a digital first approach.”

Danny Cox

Vice President, Guest Experience, Breeze

Joseph: Welcome to Radically Personal, where we explore the behind-the-scenes stories of today’s most beloved brands, how they started, what their mission is, and how they’re building enduring relationships with their customers and showing them how they have their bes ...

Joseph: Welcome to Radically Personal, where we explore the behind-the-scenes stories of today’s most beloved brands, how they started, what their mission is, and how they’re building enduring relationships with their customers and showing them how they have their best interest at heart. I’m Joseph Ansanelli, CEO of Gladly. We are on a mission to help companies reinvent customer service and deliver on the promise of radically personal customer experiences.

On today’s episode, I am joined by Danny Cox. Danny’s my good friend and the Vice President of Guest Experiences at Breeze Airways. Danny and I talk about what it exactly means to be seriously nice.

Danny: Taking it to the– on the one extreme, we want to be the cheeriest happiest people you’ve ever met, that’s going to be great side of it. On the other side is we want to be super, super conscientious of, Joseph you have a life.

Joseph: We also talk about the thinking for Breeze Airways to be a voiceless contact center, and instead to lead with messaging and mobile, as the channels of choice for service.

Danny: My advice is don’t open a call center, make sure you do a contact center.

Joseph: Finally, we talk about their strategic shift from having a service mindset to having an empowerment mindset.

Danny: We call them the Guest Empowerment Team, to try to invoke that partnership, hey, Joseph, you’re in a tough situation, we’re here to help.

Joseph: This is Radically Personal. I am so excited to welcome Danny Cox, VP of Guest Experience at Breeze Airways to join me today. Danny, welcome to Radically Personal.

Danny: Thank you so much, Joseph. Thanks for having me. This is super exciting, grateful for what you do with these and humbled to be a part.

Joseph: Danny, as you know, the name of the podcast is Radically Personal. Normally, I’ll ask folks for a radically personal story about them. Usually, we save it for the end. When we did our prep session, you shared a really interesting story that really helped me understand how you think about service and it involves kindness. Breeze Airways, as you know, is premised on this idea of being seriously nice. Can you tell us that story and how those two things are connected?

Danny: I grew up in the most awesome town in America, Orderville, Utah. It is a tiny little town, about 500 people. My elementary school probably had about 150 kindergarten through sixth grade. We had so few people that we would have these PE days that were multi-school PE days. We would go to Kanab, which was about 30 miles away and other small schools would come to this.

It was a fun day, it was exciting, you looked forward to it all year, because you could see somebody who wasn’t your cousin, and it was awesome. I was a little bit of a punk. I remember, on the merry-go-round, I was starting to razz these kids, and like knucklehead kids do, I overshot, and then I noticed, by the end of the day, I had irritated him so much.

I was getting picked on and my favorite hat was stolen from me. This was all my doing. This was my mistake. I created this situation.

They stole my hat and I was terrified. I think I started crying, and all of a sudden this kid from their school came up. His name was Raymond. He just in a calmly, nice way said to them, “Hey guys, give me the hat.” He took the hat. He walked it over to me. He saw the whole thing. He knew that I deserved this and he gave me the hat back, and I’m just like, that is the type of person I want to be. I want to forget who deserved what or who was at fault and that kind of stuff. I wanted to find what was right in a situation and try to make it right without offending either party, without doing any of that stuff.

That made such an impact, and that’s what I hope to bring into a situation. I hope to look and say, we can look past past misbehaviors, we can look past the policies said this, right now, we should be doing this or something, and we can find a way to not offend either party and we can help the thing and really help somebody out, whether they deserved it or not.

Joseph: I’m glad we started with this because you are responsible for guest experience at a brand new airline. Tell me a little more what your role is, and then let’s talk about how that experience really impacted how you think about what you do.

Danny: Breeze Airways, super excited for what we’re going to do, really providing the opportunity for really affordable, great experience travel. Our founder is David Neeleman, the same founder of JetBlue, founder of Azul. There’s always going to be that guest-focused, that customer-focused type mentality, but we wanted to do it into the areas that were really, really underserved. David had this idea that we could fly you there twice as fast for half the price.

Post-pandemic, we’re competing, not against a big major airline, we’re competing against people’s basements and a seven-hour drive because they’ve been stuck in their basements for entertainment value for a long time. The option wasn’t whether they flew or not, in a lot of instances. The option was whether they were going to make that seven-hour drive for a vacation or to see a relative. We are really trying to create those opportunities.

Some of my favorite experiences have been out when we go to the airport and somebody will come up and shake my hand and they’ll say something like, “You just saved me that seven-hour drive.” This lady was bouncing her baby that I was sitting next to her and I heard her talking to her husband and she’s like, “Oh, my gosh. Can you imagine we would only be an hour and a half into the drive and would have five and a half hours left?”

Then, this one guy came up to me in an airport and said, “You saved me $400 in eight hours because I’m used to having to connect through a big city.” What we’re trying to do at Breeze is save you those two things, save you time and save you money.

Joseph: One of the things that I connected with personally is this idea of, “Seriously nice.”. What does that mean for you and Breeze when you think about the travel experience?

Danny: We took the team and we really wanted to intentionally define that. We’ve thought about having mottos that were, “We want to be the very best part of your day. We want to be that.” That’s one of the mottos that internally we’re thinking about. “Seriously nice” is just like, “Man, if the person that I ran into at the airport was the very best part of somebody’s day, that would be seriously nice.”

Joseph: Seriously nice. I love that.

Danny: If the person I was interacting with over Facebook Messenger today at Breeze Airways was the very best part of my day, that would be seriously nice. That’s the one extreme. On the other extreme of that, towards the saving time and saving money, is it seriously nice to have somebody waiting on hold? No matter at the end of that, if you’ve been on hold for however long, no matter how kind and how gentle and how caring that person was on the other end, if it’s been a half an hour, if it’s been an hour, is any of that really seriously nice?

On the one extreme, we want to be the cheeriest, happiest people you’ve ever met. That’s going to be a great side of it. On the other side is we want to be super, super conscientious of, “Joseph, you have a life. The best part of your day is probably seeing your family, thinking about the next vacation you get to spend the next time at the beach.” That’s the best part of your day. Us being the best part of your day is minimizing the time you really need to interact with Breeze in order to fulfill the other best parts of your day.

When you went through that process of thinking about what “Seriously nice” meant in that whole experience, what are the things that you’re trying to do different? Because you are. There’s a lot of things you are doing different.

Danny: You’re probably going to have to cut me off on this one because I’m so excited. I’m so excited about all of them. I’ve got to tell you, the very first thing that fell into my part of the world that I wanted to do different, Gladly was what I knew was going to enable it. It helped that I had some experience with Gladly before the startup. I’m just [unintelligible 00:08:50] a bit.

Joseph I remember you reaching out to me like, “Hey, I can’t tell you what we’re doing, but we’re going to need a new CX platform. Do you think you could work with us?” We knew each other from a prior customer, and I was like, “Absolutely.” I remember signing the NDAs, et cetera, and coming to visit when it was just– I think there was 10 of you. I don’t think there was many more.

Danny: Yes. You came out to Darien, Connecticut, and this is we don’t have a plane, we don’t have a name.

Joseph: That’s right. You didn’t have a name. I forgot.

Danny: I knew just early on what we had to do is never, ever, ever let our guests get hooked on a phone number. You talk to everybody and you interact with everybody and they hate their phone experience. They hate it. Yet, like some sort of woobie or whatever you want to call it, the Linus blanket. It was my very first interaction with David Neeleman. I was still at another airline. I wasn’t looking to leave that other airline. I just texted him in congratulations on the very inkling of him starting another airline and I said, “You don’t need my advice because you’re so smart. You’ve always been successful. This will be your fifth airline that you’ve started.” Who starts five airlines, by the way? “This will be your fifth. You don’t need my advice, but my advice is, don’t open a call center, make sure you do a contact center.”

I’m humbled that he let me come on and then you were very integral very early on, that we had this conversation to say it’s a digital-first approach. I give this analogy when you asked what we want to do different. How long does it take to do laundry? The typical answer is, well, it’s about 40 minutes to wash, and it’s about an hour to dry, so I guess it’s about an hour and 40 minutes.

I’m like, “No, to do your laundry, takes 10 minutes tops.” Now it’s broken up between, I’ve got to put it in the washer, and then I walk away and do my thing. Then I come back and move it to the dryer. Then I walk away and do my thing. Then I fold. It’s these little increments, it’s these little interactions with the guests that don’t need to be hour-long hold and then–

Joseph: Right, you had this idea, let’s not center our service around voice. What I loved about the conversation, was it was not about, “Hey, we’re going to save money, we’re going to try to deflect.” No, it wasn’t any of that. It was, “Hey, the world we live in–” When you reached out to David, you texted him.

Having a digital-first service mindset says that all these messaging channels are the primary ways you’re going to communicate with customers, because that’s the way we all communicate in our personal lives. I thought it was brilliant, actually. To your point, it’s seriously nice because I’m not waiting on hold. I can send a text message and say, “I need to change this, I need to do something,” et cetera, and it’s a way better experience.

It’s being respectful. You’ve launched now, and what did you learn in doing that? To be honest, we talk to people all the time about just trying to get rid of their 800 number and just moving to a regular phone number. They’re like, “We can’t do that, people expect us to have an 800 number.” Your experience with SMS and social messaging as your primary support channels, what have you learned in that process?

Danny: Again, to compliment on your platform, because it’s done such a great thing, I go in there and I search the words, “Need your phone number. Where’s your phone number? Customer service,” or something like that. One of my main learnings was, I’ve got the best team because when a guest comes in and is demanding in all caps, and in all bold, “Where is your phone number, I’ve got to get a hold of you,” and watching the team powerfully and wonderfully say, “We think we can help you best this way. Let’s try this out together.” It’s kind, and it’s seriously nice.

By the end of that, I go from all caps, all bold, “Where’s your phone number?” to, “Wait, we’re done already? It’s over? That’s it?” I’ll give you these two experiences. I’ve just taken responsibility over the airports and I’m out traveling to get to know the leadership team that’s out there that does such a great job on the airport side of things but they’re new to me. We’re working on a relationship and so I see this big guy talking to Steve on my team.

I come up and Steve’s like, “If you want to talk to somebody about that, this is the guy you talk to,” and he points to me. Steve is sticking this big guy on me. He’s going to-

Joseph: This is a guest?

Danny: Yes. The guy turns around, and he’s got his phone in his hand, and he’s animated, looking at his phone. I’m like, “Oh, I’m going to hear an ear full. This is what I hear that the lack of phone number is not working.” The guy said, “Are you the one responsible for no phone number?” I’m like, “Man, I want to blame this on Steve so bad and then run away.” I own it and I’m like, “Yes, sir. Is there any questions I can answer about our business model and why we chose to do it?”

He’s just like, “I just want to thank you. I needed to do the simple thing of add my known traveler number, which I’ve had to do on other airlines, or calling hotels to make sure I get my points. It’s just such a long phone call but I texted your team during a meeting. I didn’t even interrupt the flow of my day, I texted them what I needed to do, gave them my number. They added it and I could see it on my boarding pass all in the time that I was on a meeting.”

Joseph: That’s awesome.

Danny: Type of thing. It’s just that’s the stuff where he’s now an advocate for this. He gets the value proposition, and so many people, so many people. When you talk about what we’ve learned, we’ve learned that so many more people think they need this, need a phone number than what they actually do. By the way, I’ll give you percentages on this one, the amount of people that actually turn into something where we need to do an outbound call to them to solve the problem right now is 0.2% of all of our contacts.

Joseph: No way.

Danny: Way. On Gladly, we’ve had more than 500,000 interactions with guests back and forth. The majority of them have been over Facebook messenger and text, a few over email, some over Instagram, that type of thing. 0.02% of those-

Joseph: That’s amazing. That’s big calls.

Danny: -even need an outbound.

Joseph: You know what’s amazing? This is such a great– obviously, just a great. It’s a great success story and a great case study because there is this mindset that, hey, voice should be your primary for so many people still. It’s interesting. We support chat over the web, for example, or in-app, et cetera.

So many people will turn that off when their volumes go up on voice, because they’re like, “Oh, our voice wait times are going up. Let’s put more of the team on voice verses–” I think actually people should start thinking in the reverse, which is they should be like, “You know what? Hey, our wait times on voice are really long. We should drive people more to messaging because it is a better experience for the guest or the customer.”

You guys are proving that’s the case. You can do a ton of stuff. You’re doing transactions. This isn’t just like question and answer, it’s like, to your point, “I want to make a change. I need to do something. I need to add my travel number, et cetera.” It’s pretty awesome. It’s mostly SMS and Messenger are the two primary channels that people are opting into, right?

Danny: Those are the two. Those are the ones we’re pointing them to. In-app chat because of our awesome tech team here and our awesome development team. We are very close to in-app chat.

Joseph: That’s going to be [unintelligible 00:16:37]

Danny: We’re super, super excited because we think, again, once they’re in that app, that’s where they’re want to stay, just handle that transaction right then. They have the history of it. That’s the challenge that has been some other places with people transitioning off a phone onto a chat, but then they just made the phone experience happen on the web chat instead of actually propelling it forward into something really cool.

Joseph: That’s great. What things do you do with respect to the way you engage? Not the channels per se, but when there’s a disruption, if there’s a flight delay or cancellation, it’s usually like the worst experience ever. You’re trying to rethink all that stuff.

Danny: We consciously chose to call our team, not customer service or not guest services or guest support. We call them the Guest Empowerment team to try to invoke that partnership, “Hey Joseph, you’re in a tough situation. We’re here to help.” As we have a partnership, we’re going to be able to solve this together. That’s number one. We call them the Guest Empowerment team.

We want them to really feel empowered to guide and direct the guests in the way that they see fit, the way that they see is seriously nice and to do it that way.

The second thing we’re doing is we have got to be the fastest learners from what is not working and correct it. A little experience we had between our Guest Empowerment team and our airport’s team was when we had our first cancellation.

We hate even saying that word. We never want to have a cancellation. Nobody wants a cancellation. Nobody wants a delay. Because of a weather situation, we had our first cancellation. The old airport guy in me, almost 20 years in this industry, what is nice to do for them is get them a hotel room. We’ve got five of us going online. What’s the hotel rooms, let’s book them.

Do we have a contract with that hotel? They only have nine rooms, but we’ve got 25 guests that we need to take care of. We’ve got to go source these other rooms. After one time of doing that, the team came together and I said, “Guys, this is broken because we think we’re being nice, but we’re telling them the room they have to go to. We’re putting ourselves in between them and getting to their hotel room.” The psychological warfare that’s going on with the third or fourth person in the line behind that four airport agents that’s giving the news of, “I’ve got one room for the Radisson, I’ve got one room for the DoubleTree. I’ve got four rooms of this one.”

You’ve got seven or eight folks deep in that line that are like, “They’re not even going to have a hotel room by the time I get up there.” We said, listen, we know what a reasonable price of a hotel room is in this city for tonight because we just went and checked that. We’re going to offer them their choice, give them back their control. We’ll reimburse to that one. If Joseph is a Hyatt guy, and Danny is a Marriott guy, go to that, go to the airport of your choosing. All of a sudden, the feedback we got from our airport team was, as soon as we could announce that they’ve already got that message, then, through Gladly, they’re back interacting with the Guest Empowerment team to say, “Just for clarification, you need the receipt. What if I have to take an Uber to get over there?”

What we did from a loyalty perspective is we immediately compensated for the part that we owned, the mistake that we may have committed. They were compensated for that. We’d give them more compensation in points if they wanted to do that versus the reimbursement and then we gave the reimbursement as an option.

One of the powerful things that we saw in there, I thought everybody would want the hard cash reimbursement. I just saw the report from the team today, and it was amazing the amount of guests that are willing to take the points to fly on Breeze again, and they’ll go take care of their own hotel room. We made the points a little more attractive than what the reimbursement was going to be because we want that loyalty and want them coming back.

That whole mentality of their going back in control, they don’t hate the person that’s standing in front of them in line anymore because we removed the line. Fairly similar to the way in which we removed the hold time as best we could. We’re not perfected at responding, all that stuff yet, but we’re pretty dang good. It’s much better than some of the challenges this summer with hold times when we can turn it back over to say, “Check your text message, check your push notification, check your email. Your options are there.”

We gave them back the control. We were going to pay for the hotel anyway. We were going to do that, but we watched this, and not as many people had to take us up on that offer because they had options and they felt empowered.

Joseph: That’s a great example of how you’re rethinking stuff. How do you– let’s talk about people and team. Now, I know this because we’ve worked together for a while now and I know a bunch of the people on the team and there was such a great culture that you have. How do you reinforce this? Because as you add new people that just joined for the first time, how do you reinforce this culture when you’re doing the team-building with the Guest Empowerment team. What stuff do you do?

Danny: First of all, I have to give a ton of credit to the leaders that support the team. I’ll name them. Renee, Laurie, Charrie, just so many people that are there and just have a high level of get it. A high level of this is how we would need to be different. One of the ways that we enforce it that I think is very organic to who we are and just powerfully shows itself forth is when something doesn’t look right, we quickly ask each other about that.

I got called out on something the other day, “Did this come across the way you really wanted to come across?” It might come across the wrong way. I love that Laurie called me out on that. That constant checking each other and willingness to check each other is a super important part.

There is a high, high level of assumed goodwill because everybody is just busting their rear ends to get this stuff done. There’s this very much, when you see something that seems a little bit off, the high level of giving the benefit of the doubt, do you need help with it? It’s funny. I was just on a call with Renee talking to one of our other business partners. I didn’t sense if anything was off, but as I left, I see a team’s message that says, “You’re doing okay?” I was maybe stressed about an important podcast I was going to do or something like that, but maybe it came across.

Just that check-in. Very early on, a pandemic’s about to hit, there’s a few people that were interested in coming and helping, but we didn’t quite have money to pay people yet type of thing, just to formalize it. We call them the three sisters. It’s Christie, Charrie, and Tracy. They actually took me out to breakfast. I thought that was funny. That was nice of them to do. They said, “Hey, we’re here when you want us to be here. We’re just ready to go. Just let us know when you want to.”

You got to pay people. I’m not advocating for non-paying people. The mentality very early on that it was bought into the concept of a calless contact center and it was bought into the seriously nice and having the ability to be empowered to be seriously nice, that the people that ended up coming over to Breeze just had it.

Joseph: These, you recruit for it. You look for that DNA in people already. It’s a big part of your recruiting process. You’re looking for people that actually have it and bring it to bear. There’s this book. It was actually about Southwest culture.

Danny: Yes, really good culture.

Joseph: They talk about how they recruit for your technical competency, your functional competency, but also there’s your relationship competency, which is a cultural piece. You have to actually intentionally find people that embody the things that matter, because it’s hard to change that. I think that’s what you’re saying.

Danny: Yes, it completely is. If we look at the first few classes that we hired, we have confidence in ourselves to be able to train to the technical skills of how you do the job. The time spent on, is this a culture fit? Is this person going to come here and hit the ground running and just come? Is this person going to challenge us? Is this person going to help us get better? Is this person going to uncover another layer of the onion of seriously nice?

Joseph: The name Breeze is the idea that it’s like– I’m just making the connection in this conversation with you. It makes travel a breeze. Is that the idea? I don’t know. I’m asking.

Danny: Yes. The name is a long funny story. In the very early stages, it was going to be some other name that somebody else in the travel industry had, but the name Breeze Aviation Group was the holding company. There were some cool waves of it’s a breeze, it’s soothing, it’s calm, it’s frictionless. A breeze can be both a warm breeze and a cool breeze.

As we weren’t allowed to do one name that we were thought about, and we took a look, and I wasn’t in the room for this, but as soon as I saw the first rendition of it, I’m like, yes, that’s 100% it. When you see the name and then you see the letters E and Z together, and the way we’ve chosen our logo to offset those colors, above the E and the Z is a checkmark, some might call it.

Do you know what we’ve chosen to call the thing above the E and the Z? We call it the ascent because if you step back just a tiny bit, it looks like a plane taking off or, if you look at it the other way, which is hard for people to do, because once they see something, can’t unsee it.

Now, I want all your listeners to unsee it for a second, or it’s a bird with its wings fully extended above its body. If you look at the long part of the ascent, it’s an airplane taking off. If you look at the short part of the ascent, it’s a bird with its wings fully extended above there. We want this to be a breeze for you.

Joseph: It’s a great name. I love it. It’s the intentionality of how you and the team are building this brand new airline around this idea of seriously nice. It gets represented in your brand identity, your logo, your name, but it’s actually in what you do. It’s about treating guests like guests and like people, not thinking of them as a ticket, that’s not a booking, that’s not the point. It’s like they’re a guest and how do you empower them? Two last questions. What’s next?

Danny: Yes. I’ve already said one of the things that we’re most excited about is the in-app chat. We really do envision the time where your phone in your hand is all you need ever for the most powerful travel experience that you’ve had. Once we get in-app chat in there– we already have it with texting and that kind of thing. We’re really excited for that with the partnership.

One other thing on the guest experience side of things, which incorporates the airport experience and the guest empowerment experience with our contact center there is breaking this mentality of a traveler that said, “I’ll just wait till the airport to do that.”

What is next for us and where my almost entire focus is, are what are the things that people are waiting to do at the airport, waiting to figure something out, waiting to interact with the airline at the airport. For heaven’s sakes, with what Gladly has done, you can interact with Breeze when you’re at the gym. You can interact with Breeze when you’re at a family dinner and not disrupt the gym or the family dinner.

This mentality of saving anything to do and any problem to ever solve for the airport is just something we’re trying so hard to break. Being seriously nice is giving you all the time at the airport. For when you’re in New Orleans flying Breeze, it’s eating a beignet. When you’re in Charleston, flying Breeze, it’s saving that little bit of time to go get some barbecue. To have those experiences that your vacation didn’t start once you landed beachside, but with Breeze, your vacation started because you got to experience the airport.

I know I’m a travel geek. I just flew with my daughter and my wife, just the three of us traveling the other day. I almost started crying when my daughter said to me, “Sometimes, dad, the funnest part of the trip is the airport and a plane ride.” I’m like, “Oh, spoken like my daughter on that one.” We were going to San Diego. I knew that that was not more fun than the beach, and she was going to see her friend. I knew that wasn’t more fun than her friend, but the fact that it was at least endearing enough for her to say, “Dad, I like it enough to even make it memorable,” tells me it was an experience.

Joseph: That’s awesome.

Danny: That’s what we’re trying to do. I think we’re doing it. We’re going to keep trying harder and harder to do it.

Joseph: My last question. You run into Raymond today, what do you think he has to say about Breeze?

Danny: Oh my gosh, I hope Raymond would say, first of all, very cool-looking plan. I think Raymond is going to say, “You did it.”

Joseph: You’re seriously nice.

Danny: You’re seriously nice. I hope so. I got to find Raymond now.

Joseph: Danny, thanks again for being such an advocate for Gladly, such a great partner, for being seriously nice. We’re so proud and excited to be your partner in helping Breeze Airways take off and change the airline industry by delivering radically personal customer service.

Joseph: I’m Joseph Ansanelli, CEO of Gladly. If you enjoyed the episode, please be sure to subscribe on Apple, Spotify or visit us at radicallypersonal.com. We’ll see you next time. Thanks for listening. This is Radically Personal.

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ABOUT THE HOST
ABOUT THE HOST

With a proven track record of building companies that don’t settle for the status quo, Gladly CEO and co-founder Joseph Ansanelli is reinventing customer service to put people back at the heart of it. Joseph is also a Partner at Greylock, focused on investing in enterprise applications.


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