From Jets to Tech: Why I left a 20-year career at Alaska Airlines to join tech startup, Amperity
This summer I finally got my wings. Well, technically they were my 5th set of Alaska Airlines wings, but these were encrusted with tiny rubies and diamonds, marking 20 years at the company. These extra embellishments represented my commitment, my contribution, and in my case, my entire career. I was proud of all I’d done for Alaska, I was inspired by the work ahead, and I loved the Alaska Airlines brand and what it stood for. Why then, would I walk away and join a small tech startup called Amperity? The answer lies in my passion, my north star – incredible customer experiences – and a transformational new technology singularly able to make them possible.
My “20 years of service” wings
My flight path at Alaska: a little bit of everything from front line, to eCommerce, to digital marketing, to customer experience
I applied for my very first job at Alaska Airlines when I was a junior in college. I started in the reservations call center, and quickly transferred to the web help department so I could learn about our fledgling eCommerce business.
Alaska was the first airline to offer online booking. For me, the intersection of technology, experience, and customers was fascinating, and I realized how much more would be possible as innovation propelled us into the future.
I spent the majority of my time in e-commerce and email marketing. This is where I crossed many of Alaska’s touchpoints to inspire a new vision: crafting a rich, personalized, and omni-channel customer experience, fueled by data.
As Manager of Email Marketing and later as Director of Customer Communication, it was my team’s job to optimize everything about email and SMS. That meant driving more opens, clicks, conversions, and revenue, but it also meant minimizing unsubscribes and maximizing loyalty, satisfaction, and lifetime value. With a program encapsulating over 150 campaigns and programs, it was a challenging role.
I knew that the key was to be as relevant to our customers as possible. To do that, I had to have a precise understanding of who individuals are, what they want and need right now, and how best to reach them. This led me and my team on a long and winding data and technology journey.
Me in 2017 as Director of Guest Communications, after launching our new brand expression
Customer 360 Ambitions
At first, we just wanted to do the basics. Send an email or text to guests when they experienced a flight delay. Offer the Alaska credit card to guests who didn’t have it and stood to benefit from its perks. The problem was, these campaigns required data that we had, but couldn’t access because our systems weren’t linked or the data was in an unreadable format.
We rolled up our sleeves and started to build a centralized system that could unify customer data from a variety of systems and tools. Data sources included reservation logs, our loyalty database, online travel agency data, Alaska credit card usage, mobile app usage, and of course, email interaction data.
So, leaning on the standard wisdom of the day, we invested in a data lake, and began the arduous process of planning a master schema, transforming data, building connectors, and generating customer profiles to deliver on our biggest, most ambitious data project ever: Customer 360.
Our vision was spot on. Unfortunately, our approach was deeply flawed. It was still difficult and time-consuming to access, refresh, and load more data. And, unsurprisingly, customer data from a variety of systems didn’t neatly fit together. Most of our systems, a truism at nearly every consumer brand, don’t share unique identifiers that can be used to match customer records across systems. Without those, we were in an ocean of data without a paddle.
Enter Amperity. I met Kabir Shahani and Derek Slager a little less than three years ago. In a small, awkward meeting room, these two guys walked me through every challenge I’d had with customer data in the last few years. They even used one of my email campaigns as an example of what not to do (embarrassing). We had hit a wall with Customer 360, and we were starting to see how desperately far we really were from our end goal.
Then, Kabir and Derek started sharing how they were going to fix it! They described a novel way to unify customer data – an approach that turned the old model on its head – using machine learning and the cloud to resolve customer identities and to link data that otherwise was impossible to unify. They could do it rapidly. And they could do it at scale. It sounded too good to be true.
The company was in stealth mode, and the team was less than 20 people. The website was, if I’m being generous, sparse.
amperity.com circa February 2016
But our data problem was so severe and so important to solve (I had a list a mile long of potential projects), and Amperity’s team and technology were so smart, so transformational, and so stable and secure in its architecture, it was clear we needed to take a leap with Amperity. Alaska Airlines had always used technology to stay ahead of the customer experience curve, and this was an obvious next step in that journey.
Too Good to be True? Not At All
Alaska Airlines was Amperity’s first customer. We worked for the next two years bringing email and digital marketing use cases to life at Alaska while Amperity was building their product and growing. It was an exciting and fruitful partnership.
Every quarter we made strides. We launched a multi-wave pre-trip email series which saw triple digit increases in engagement rates. Alaska Airlines was later recognized by the Email Experience Council for this campaign as the “Most Innovative use of Customer or Other Data, including Automation and Triggers”. Seeing our success in the email channel, our marketing partners leveraged our integration to improve targeting in online media and other digital channels seeing triple-digit (again) improvements in ROAS (return on advertising spend). Just recently, because of our success with Amperity, the marketing department was trained on the Amperity self-service console so more marketing professionals could optimize their channels.
As Alaska continued to make progress with Amperity, I started to recognize the impact this company was having on their other customers. These brands represented hotels, retail, restaurants, casinos, and more. Each of these industries has its own lens on digital and in-person experiences. Some excel in personalization and relevancy via a single touchpoint, while floundering to connect data elsewhere.
I started to see that my passion for the customer experience might have a wider scope than a single company. And I realized that Amperity’s technology was the start of a massive wave of transformation that I might just want to be part of.
The Next Leg of my Journey: Amperity
As was clear from the title of this post, I summoned my courage and took a leap with Amperity. I said goodbye to my beloved team at Alaska. I’m confident that Alaska will continue to be leaders in travel and guest experience, and I look forward to guiding them from my new role as Client Partner and Head of Amperity’s Travel and Hospitality Customer Success team.
Things at Amperity have changed a lot in three years. Now there’s a real website and a long list of customers. In addition to a world-class product and engineering organization, we have a team of Strategic Account representatives who help Amperity customers bring the most impactful uses for their unified customer data to life, while maximizing the value they get from the platform. And I couldn’t be more excited to contribute all that I know and all that I’ll learn. If you’d like to chat, my digital door is always open, so please reach out any time: firstname.lastname@example.org