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360 Perspectives

How a 61-Year Old Family Company Overcame a Digital Deficit to Serve Guests in Moments That Matter

Here's how Pilot Flying J, a 60-year old company, committed to leveraging digital technologies to better understand and serve its millions of guests — professional drivers, recreationists, and travelers on the road.

This post is part of a regular series called 360 Perspectives, featuring customers, partners, and experts unraveling the complexities of what it takes to change mindsets, connect silos, and put the customer at the center of their business.

Pilot Flying J, one of the largest travel center operators in North America, is not unlike many 60-year old companies. After building its business organically and through acquisitions, it found itself having to navigate significant amounts of data living in many disparate systems.

So, in 2016, it committed to leveraging digital technologies to better understand and serve its millions of guests — professional drivers, recreationists, and travelers on the road.

But ‘digital transformation’ doesn’t really capture the whole story at Pilot Flying J. “Our story continues to evolve as we relentlessly pursue opportunities to grow, advance, and innovate to better serve our guests and team members,” says Tyler Tanaka, Senior Director of Digital, Loyalty and Brand Marketing. “Regardless of whether it’s digital or not, we’re going to continue to be better, and digital is just one way.”

Its digital and organizational transformation has resulted in an enormously successful loyalty program, better and more efficient guest service, and more productive team members.

Here are the key steps Pilot Flying J took to arrive at world class customer engagement.

1. Establish full alignment between business and technology executives

Before any technology or organizational transformation can happen, there needs to be top-down support from senior leaders, and complete alignment between business and IT to design, communicate, and execute on the plans. “The single most important element of our success was the 100% alignment between our CIO and Chief Experience Officer, with full support of the CEO,” says Tanaka. “You can’t have someone fighting for better guest experience and someone who’s resistant to making that happen.”

Pilot Flying J created a culture where IT was transformed from “order takers” to business enablers; solving problems, creating new products and helping devise new ways of doing things.

Help all employees become advocates for change

But even leadership alignment was not enough to ensure success. The company helped individual employees understand that their roles were changing, and the critical part those roles played in the transformation. So, rather than simply communicate a “vision,” the entire company is able to get behind a common goal, and everyone is clear about their role in achieving it.

“A critical success factor in these transformations is ensuring the organization can support the evolving operating model. It takes a village to make customers truly feel they are the center of your business,” says Stan Martin, managing director, Deloitte Consulting LLP and the Retail and Consumer Products lead for Deloitte’s Salesforce practice.

The company tracks progress through the perspective of its team members, rather than a KPI dashboard. “That way there’s no KPI hanging over team members,’” says Tanaka. “It’s more ‘let’s show you how you’re providing higher value activities versus what you were doing.’ We don’t use a stick, we use measurable carrots.”

Once business leaders are aligned, and the rest of the organization is clear about their roles and objectives, digital transformation can begin, starting with the most important thing — data.

2. Clean up your data

The company worked with Deloitte Digital on a major data cleanup initiative, consolidating siloed data into fewer systems for a unified view of customer activity and thus, a single source of truth.

“The challenge in a world of multi-channel, mobile customers is the variety of data needed to optimize the customer experience. Most organizations find this the most significant challenge in accomplishing such transformations,” says Martin.  “Our mission was to consolidate this influx of data into a centralized place — a single source and view of the customer.”

A key piece of its data unification efforts was integrating its sales, marketing and services systems under one umbrella using MuleSoft. “It has given us the ability to move the data and extend it to wherever we need it to be. Being able to do something with the data has been key to our success,” says Tanaka.

Indeed, this presented a new way of working that enables the company to have more insight into its guests’ activity and needs, and empowers them to react quickly to changing dynamics.

For example, its integrated tech stack provided the insight behind its wildly successful app-based loyalty program, which Tanaka describes as its “halo product.”

loyalty cards

Guests are swiping their loyalty cards at one of 750 service stations millions of times each month, and that data enables Pilot Flying J to turn those insights into products, services and utilities to improve life on the road for its guests.

3. Say goodbye to personas and hello to moments that matter

Any company can define personas that provide insight into customer behavior and help drive marketing activities. But Pilot Flying J goes further, using its loyalty data to understand precisely what guests need when they need it.

“It’s not about who you are but what you do,” says Tanaka. “All our utilities are based on moments that matter to our guests, providing value in the form of offers, faster service, personalized deals, and being there at the right time with the right offer and the right device.”

Two examples: a real-time parking reservation system to find and book a specific space in the app, and, once the geofense is broken, an automatic notification asking if the driver wants to reserve a shower. Doing so produces a code to enter at the door and unlock the shower room.

“We’re like a hotel service that also provides fuel, food, and everyday conveniences, and we need to provide as much utility as possible to our guests,” says Tanaka. “We are focused on what can make their day better at the right moment.”

Cognizant of its unique audience — its guests, especially professional drivers, are often running their business on the road — it increased the efficiency of its guest service system by decreasing the number of login screens for its reps from 14 to 8.

Anticipating guest needs — now and in the future

Three key ingredients — alignment between business and IT, data integration across guest-facing systems, and team member buy-in — has created a recipe for agility at Pilot Flying J.

“I may not know what our guests will want two years from now, but I know we can build what we need when we need it,” says Tanaka. “If the economy or guest behavior changes, or if some major disruptor emerges that we didn’t see coming, we have the opportunity to pivot and make decisions to change our approach. This was not possible a few years ago.”

There are many approaches to customer centricity. Read this recent story featuring Edelman Financial Engines, which achieved its goals by reinventing its product development teams.

To learn more on how to drive your own customer-first transformation, check out the customer 360 playbook or subscribe to our blog newsletter to get regular updates on this series.