Q&A: Key Lessons from Pilot’s Mobile Experience & Loyalty Program

As an essential business that remained critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pilot Flying J relied on its mobile experience to provide a look into customer behaviors, needs, opinions, and feedback. They then used this data to inform their product roadmap, inform their marketing campaigns, and ultimately drive ROI. 

In this Q&A with Pilot’s Senior Manager of Digital Products, Ginny Holmes, we dive into how Pilot:

  • Uses surveys to understand how to convert non-loyalty members and inform their acquisition marketing strategy
  • Leveled-up their product and drove their roadmap using customer feedback
  • Uses their loyalty program not only delight and reward customers, but also drive ROI
  • Used Alchemer Mobile (formerly Apptentive)’s Fan Signals to send targeted surveys to specific cohorts
  • Increased trust through innovative touchless experiences
  • Verified their perception of high-value features matched the reality of what customers were feeling and experiencing 

As a company that always looks to reduce friction for their customers, Pilot’s app brings much more value beyond a location finder – they have a comprehensive loyalty program, mobile fueling capabilities, a reservation system for showers, and much more. 

→Watch the webinar here


Promotional image for a webinar with Pilot Flying J and Alchemer Mobile (formerly Apptentive) discussion mobile loyalty programs


Chris Diakiwski: Hi everyone, I’m Chris Diakiwski, customer success manager here at Alchemer Mobile (formerly Apptentive). I’m super excited to sit down with senior manager of digital products at Pilot, Ginny Holmes. Hi Ginny!

Ginny Holmes: Hey, Chris. Happy to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Chris: Yeah, of course. I mean, we’re very excited about being able to have this opportunity with the Pilot team. We partnered with you for about the last year and a half now, and we’ve definitely been part of many major launches for Pilot, one of those being the “Push for Points” program. Definitely seeing some success with that program as far as the Alchemer Mobile (formerly Apptentive) campaign. And we’re just very excited to have someone like yourself joining us today.

Ginny: Yeah, I’m excited to speak to some of it. And it’s been awesome. Like you said, we’ve been together for a while now. And I’ve seen huge gains with using the product. So, we use it in a variety of ways. So, I think we’ll get into that a little bit today. But I’m excited to share what I know at least.

Chris: Awesome. And we’re definitely very excited to get your insight and feedback. And you’re definitely a valuable partner of ours. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role as Pilot’s senior manager of digital products.

Ginny: Yeah, absolutely, so like you said, I lead our digital product team, which is a team of product managers who their role is the product owner within scrum teams, that they also do so much more than that. And so a lot of that is that interaction with the Alchemer Mobile (formerly Apptentive) tool and management of the products. We really focus on mostly our guest-facing larger, you know, what we’ll call some of our “halo products,” like our Pilot Flying J mobile app, our website. We have a driver kiosk in the store and we have a lot of digital products. But, you know, the team being made up of these product managers. But then also we have a set of designers, too, on the team. I’ve been a Pilot for around 3 and 1/2 years. And it’s been an awesome experience and based out of Knoxville, Tennessee. And we have the privilege of working with commercial professional drivers, our main customer base. And so thinking about truckers and diesel fueling a lot. And we have around 700-750 owned and operated stores across North America. And so those stores serving those pro drivers, but also our RV audience and what we call our auto or four-wheel drive audience. So you and I are just driving normal cars also have that need of stopping on the highway, whether it’s to get gas or go to the restroom or whatever, get a snack. It’s a really cool company. I’m really thankful to be there and getting to serve the guests that we do.

Chris: So, another question for our webinar attendees. What’s what’s your favorite holiday and why?

Ginny: I’m actually a great candidate for this question, not that anyone probably cares on this level of this answer, but I have two siblings and then there’s myself, obviously, and we were all born on holidays. So I was born on Memorial Day. My brother is on July 4th and my sister was on Thanksgiving day, the year that she was born. Then I got married on New Year’s Eve. My daughter was then born four years later on New Year’s eve, and my niece is born on Christmas Eve. I feel like we’re just like a flooded out. So I love Holidays. I think they’re fun. We have this weird being born on holidays thing going on. So I think I have to say that New Year’s Eve is my favorite holiday because of some of those things. But I also love Christmas. I think this time of year is super fun and just like celebrating with family and friends and just going into the year. And then that reflection of New Year’s Eve on what went great. And what you want to do next year, I think it’s super fun, too.

Chris: I couldn’t agree more. And and. Yeah, and I mean, how have things changed for you and your family? Like, how are you going to be celebrating differently, I guess?

Ginny: Yeah yeah, definitely a smaller scale. I think, you know, I think that this year has just been like a balance of how do you stay like mentally sound and connected, but also feel safe and like are responsible in your community. So Knoxville thankfully hasn’t been, I would say, like a hot spot or anything like that with COVID and things. But, you know, I think figuring out ways to stay connected, like lots of FaceTime going on, I think with everybody like I love to see their metrics on how much increase has gone on. Right and so and then thinking of new ways to work. Our team, thankfully, was already set up in a pretty digital fashion. And it wasn’t too much of an adjustment when we moved home. But it’s still different. And getting to like Bon in those relationships, whether it’s with your family or with your work, team and work-family, I think we’ve all been tested this year. So excited for a time when we can be all back together. But it hasn’t been. I think we’ll look back and hopefully see some of the things that you’ve got to do in 2020 that we’re interested in, at least for a tale in the future.

Chris: Yeah, no, I fully agree. I feel like that’s a perfect segue to talk a little bit about our relationship with one another Pilot and that kind of, you know, what have you seen as far as some of that relationship, especially in the time of COVID, if you can kind of just elaborate about our relationship a little bit. And then also like how that has helped you as far as getting messaging out or for any of your related material?

Ginny: Absolutely so our relationship with that tenant was like way prior to covid.

So I think just if I had to sum it up like an elevator speech, like we’ve gotten so much more out of the product than we thought.

I’m not just trying to butter up Chris and the team here, but I’ve got so much more out of it than what we set forth to do. So we’re striving for some goals around reviews and being proactive. And in app stores, for example, we didn’t have a way of doing that previously. And now we checked that box and completed and really moved on to like some of the feature sets that are out of the box with you guys way beyond that. So we did that with our new app launch. We refer to it as like version five. But since then, we’ve moved into managing new programs and really getting more into getting to know the guests more with the product. So when COVID happened, we actually had an unusual circumstance where we’re at the exact week of that going on. Or I would say like people refer to like March 18th, March 15th, kind of being the date that week. We had just released a new release, that was going to house a huge campaign for our loyalty program, which you referred to already with “Push for Points.” So I think everybody wanted to know what the impact of COVID was going to be. And what their guest was thinking or going to do. So we could make plans for that. Right that we did use. We tuned into some of the material you guys put out, for example, and we really utilized our feedback channels and submitted surveys, things like that, to start understanding what sentiment and change of behavior would look like. And what perception was looking like. What sentiment around certain covid related topics in stores, for example, looks like because just for folks who don’t know, like we really didn’t shut down, because if there isn’t fuel on the highways, if there isn’t gas out there, there would be a massive shutdown even further North America. So being really important to the economy, important to things, being able to like medicine, being able to get to people, whatever it may be. So I think we really used it around sentiment, around surveying, around the topic and trying to gauge any negative response that was coming and keeping a pulse on any store or operational activity that needed to be addressed or any. But then from the campaign perspective, we did use it to really keep a pulse on what people thought it was a totally new campaign. So just a quick brief overview of “Push for Points” as a way that we were able to extend a greater level of points earned throughout the month with our professional drivers. Really mostly. So Today, they earn one point per gallon as being part of our loyalty program when they fuel, and this was giving them an opportunity to engage with the app by activating, clicking, start checking back in with us. And then as they feel throughout the month, they could grow up to earn four points per gallon. So that would live on April one of 2020. So two weeks into the pandemic. So interesting was that we could position it a little bit as bringing more to the people who were really on the front lines and serving the community. That wasn’t the original plan. Obviously, it kind of worked out that way. It was a loyalty play to reward our most loyal guests, but it kind of had even more meaning in that context. And in that time frame. So it was really good to be able to publish surveys and continue to hear how we can improve, because one of the main questions we were asking is, why are you not participating in this program. If you were one of those people who were not? And then if you are participating, what do you think of it? So we had some different workstreams and surveys based on custom events and some of the sophisticated tooling that you guys brought for us in there to be able to ask those important questions. And then we were able to take action and behavior off of that. So somebody reported that they weren’t joining the program because they didn’t know what we’re talking about. It helps us with our awareness plan, acquisition, and then also product improvement. We were able to iteratively improve the product experience to level it out more, make it more apparent to people in different ways. And from a product standpoint. So I think that was really helpful. And directly out of the feedback we got from Alchemer Mobile (formerly Apptentive) and then things that people had their opinion of it. And from a program perspective. So not just having anecdotal feedback, but really having a mass amount of themes and keywords or overall rating of it, too, I think it’s influential.

Chris: Totally, and I think I’m just kind of curious that the initial response to how that campaign is going now from when it launched, like, has there been a strong response from our pro drivers as far as appreciation for the pressure points campaign? And is that as that momentum continued to this day?

Ginny: Absolutely so there’s been like monumental growth month over month associated with the program on how we measure it. So there’s a KPI standpoint and a level of importance. We have loyalty programs to delight our guests and definitely to award them for their engagement with us. But I would say nobody who’s involved in a loyalty program or a business is there to give away free money for no point. Right? We want to see it also drive behavior and be like a mutually beneficial situation. So we want our guests to feel like they’re getting bang for their buck and getting rewarded for their engagement with us. But it needs to be beneficial to the company, drive our key metrics. So some of those that we look at our things like sessions in the mobile app, active users on a daily and a monthly level has increased, especially in the pro driver segment, which is shocking in 2020 when you would assume there was a dip in the market overall as people were not driving or not on the road, we have a massive dip on users around pro drivers around auto drivers and RVers. But we’ve seen a massive uptick in the engagement on mobile, for example, for those pro drivers have been able to grow in a year like 2020 which has been so tough, I think speaks to that program and them seeing the benefit of it, the major marker being – And key performance indicator for us as a company is around the number of gallons that is fueled in a month. And so we are seeing the people who are participating in that program, you know, that engagement, that positive experience. And then that reward that they’re getting by the program design is driving incremental gallons and value to the company overall in a way that impacts the bottom line for everybody working with us. So it’s involved in a huge way. And being able to like I said, have your hand on that pulse is really important. So it’s been awesome to have that tool.

Chris: Yeah, that’s incredible. We’re excited to hear about the success that Pilot is having with that campaign in particular. I did want to talk a little bit about a feedback survey – our positive feedback survey that we ran, I want to say, was a couple months ago at this point in time, if you recall, where we actually were able to use some of our  Fan Signals targeting that has released to target the survey in particular and the cap. And you kind of recall what some of our goals were from that positive feedback and what some of the results were.

Ginny: Absolutely so we I mean, we generally check in every time. But I think with being able to categorize over this group of fans, it. It’s nice to have. And I will get into those results and things like that. But just to backtrack culturally at Pilot, and I’m sure a lot of companies have this similar, but we find it very important to be keeping score like we’re a family founded company, is still family-owned and run. And our leadership speaks to childhood experiences like asking a track coach, “Why are you driving me out every single time I run this?” And they said, “Well, how do you know how you’re improving order or getting behind it? You’re not keeping track of it.” So keeping score, seeing where we’re winning, having foundational metrics to come back to. I think this, like all these things, especially this survey, has really helped us in that regard in measuring ourselves and seeing where we want to go. And then being able to communicate to other teams, to our dev teams on, you know, look at what your work is producing or I guess sentiment or to leadership on like, hey, we need to get better here or we’re doing pretty good overall. So regarding the positive feedback survey. We defined what we thought our loyal guests were. And then the Fan Signal tool also helps with that. And this group was able to, for example, tell us. I think I’ll look at my numbers real quick on Android. Like around. 84% of people categorize the app as being on a scale of 1 to 10. And eight, nine or ten, with the bulk being on a ten, a really good scale and being satisfied with the app. And then it was around like 86.5% So we ran that for a short period of time, I would even call it. And I’ve got 18,000 people participating in that survey. So like getting 18,000 people, it would be very hard for me to sit-in a store and get 18,000 feedback in a sitting. So we do visit stores and things like that. But being able to have this touchpoint with those metrics to bring back on like, hey, what’s with this important group who’s doing these actions, who we would just describe as our loyalest? You know, we’re doing pretty darn good. How do we improve it? We had an open field at the end of the survey to where I could use a tool, and we thought what some people were saying or areas or ideas like getting that guest and customer feedback is really invaluable to us. And at the volume that you really, again, find themes and things like that is pretty huge. So the other question we asked in that survey was not just around satisfaction or around an open field, we asked the guests to really say, which is the most important to them. So, again, a little bit of background on the app. It’s not only your place where you attract loyalty, but we have some really cool, convenient and utilization factors in there. So someone can actually turn on the pump from the phone. And so they don’t have to swipe any loyalty cards. They don’t have to swipe the card at the pump. And then a commercial feeling transaction also involves a bit more entry than you and I who might have to enter our zip code and I’ll call the front of the house to fill up on gas. So you’re feeling diesel. You got to answer a few more questions. There’s a lot more involved. So you could turn on the pump from your phone with the app, which is just a lot easier, captures loyalty, has your payment in there, and you’re back on the road. We also let people make our reservations out of the app like we talked about, “Push for Points.” So you can track your points. We have this cool experience where you’re seeing where you’re at and keeping score throughout the month. We have exclusive mobile offers. So you go in and save these offers and they ring up at the point of sale. And take whatever we have going on that week or that day off of your transaction. So we were really able to ask people what was most important to them and what they perceived as the highest value from that feature set. And those results came back fairly consistently across both platforms, which was interesting. We do see a lot of usage around the numbers of this, but especially in the current environment, it was overwhelmingly pointed towards our mobile shower reservation feature for professional drivers. And think about people who are on the road for weeks at a time. Most of our stations and sites have showers at home. So being able to have a touch, mostly touch this experience on the app, walk in and conveniently get their shower was what the people spoke to. So hearing that was pretty cool. And helps me guide the team on like, hey, we need to continue to enhance this. We need to make sure it’s stable. We need to know how else we can enable this feature because people love it. And like I said, we’re seeing that number be driven anyways. But it helps with that narrative, that perception matches the usage as well. And then secondly, as we continue to grow in 2020 from a loyalty perspective and how we position loyalty, that was the second thing people noted across both platforms was they really enjoyed the emphasis on being able to track their points and like grow their points balanced by participating in that program, we’ve been talking about was”Push for Points.” So it makes you feel good that you’re focusing on the right things or helps you position as you’re building those roadmaps, like, what do I need to do to support things to our liking, which we’re talking about a lot? How do we drive frictionless behavior? How do we enhance transactional behavior in the app? And how do we increase loyalty? Like, you know, you might think Pilot Flying J. I’ve seen them on the road. I bet their app has all their locations in it, but we’re just doing so, so, so much more than that. And bringing value and convenience to our users that it was good to see that some of that’s paying off or see the areas where we improve too.

Chris: Yeah, no, totally. I mean, I know we’ve been working Terra, myself and your team have been working tirelessly on all of those different facets as far as mobile fueling, reserving showers and just tidying up around all those different areas. It’s great to see that all your team’s hard work and just having up there as well has been showing success and worth about that.

Ginny: I just thought about this. But I think one thing that Alchemer Mobile (formerly Apptentive) helps you uncover as well as my team is working strategically a lot and bringing in these features or these enhancements. And this is what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it. And what we’re going to track. And then something might not perform like he wanted to or it overperforms. And we’re working in technology. Right? So it’s really been helpful. We did a similar survey like this one – like a positive feedback one. We were one of our own people who were utilizing mobile feeling because of the question hypothesis. I was trying to get to such a technical feat to be able to do that mobile feeling experience. I was talking about. I wanted to know if we were winning or losing from a stability and performance perspective, because sometimes, frankly, it fails. Right? And sometimes somebody is in a remote area and the signal from the app to the fueling system to everything doesn’t go through. It’s a very small percentage of the time. I have the metrics on how often it happens, but I wanted to know what guests thought about that. What was their appetite for understanding that technology fails them sometimes, you know, we’re doing OK. And so we did get some information back that like, hey, overall, I’m really satisfied with mobile. And I’ve had it fell on me like one out of 10 times, but being able to do this still works really well. And I’m able to take that stability feedback, an actual technical delivery back to the team and say, like, we need to improve or we’re doing pretty good. And that kind of thing. Again, keeping score on the perception of this delivery to.

Chris: Yeah, that’s very helpful. Thank you so much for that. All that additional information they’re getting. So I do want to ask, do you have any future plans for potentially using Fan Signals? Maybe that’s in the Love Dialog, in the way that we’re targeting for different interactions as far as Notes or surprises go.

Ginny: Absolutely, I think you guys do a great job of leveling up like suggestions for this and how to, you know, like whenever you get a new tool. And you’re paying for it, you want to make sure that you’re squeezing everything out of it. So we definitely want to use it more. We’ve talked about, you know, how do we, even in the future, couple it with a loyalty incentive associated with a phone signal sort of attribute, but definitely keeping an eye out on sometimes you’re just not going to win with the guests. So having a way to speak to the people who are just massive fans really helps us on how we continue to build on that positive behavior and positive experience. But then the other side to like, this group of people who are not our fans. How do we win them over or how do we not waste effort on that group. If we know the best or something like that? Never want to see that happen, but it helps you group them in this interesting way of if you’re playing chess, how do you make sure you manage it in the most productive way for a company in ways that will actually enhance your business? And I think the tool helps with that. Awesome and, you know, Tara and I are massive fans of Pilot. We go around the. So I do want to touch on it. I think we’ve talked a little bit around this, but I just want to hone in on it. How have things changed over the last year or so? And how have house Pilot’s been impacted and the way we communicate with our customers? I think that it’s going to be interesting, I think years and decades from now, how we refer back to 2020, because I think it made. So many people enhanced their digital criteria and experience and priority in a big way. So that’s almost like a good thing for me and the team, right? I mean, I hate at what expense that has been, obviously, but. I think it has changed how everybody and everyone’s leadership thinks about how quickly they need to get to some of those big digital goals that they got to. So I spoke to it a little bit already, but we’ve seen. All of our relationships are becoming more digital. So I talk to my family and I are on facetime every night, I don’t get to see them as often, but we are digitally enhancing ourselves. My great aunt, who didn’t know how to use it as a feature, has got it right. Yeah, I think that speaks all the way down to our relationships with brands and the ones that you like the most and the one that you’re most loyal to. You’re going to have a greater appetite for engaging with them digitally and whether it’s for safety reasons or for a convenience reason, I think that’s kind of been the output of 2020 is how do we increase those features for the guests? Because it’s becoming more of an expectation. It’s becoming more of a concern. So that’s a lot of how it’s changed for us. So I have seen the numbers from a data perspective, whether it’s perception with activity or the increase of shower reservations taking place digitally versus in-store, where they walk up to the counter. I have both of those numbers. And both of those data points, and I know that’s where it’s going. So I expect that to increase. And then it’s helpful. I think our leadership does an awesome job of handling this already, but it’s increased our want and need for getting into things like mobile ordering and getting into things like digital payment of whatever item it may be. So I think the world’s digital roadmap has increased and we’re all trying to figure out ways to get to it quicker because of what’s happening this year, because people are more thirsty for the solutions. I couldn’t agree more. It’s definitely expedited a lot of people’s timelines as far as getting back to work. Yeah, absolutely. My consideration for MVP’S, it’s really tested more so than it’s ever been before, but it’s good. How are we getting these things to market quicker? And what can be said is satisfactory early and then how can we continue to build on it? So it’s been a good learning behavior for what positives again, you can take from a tough year.

Chris: Yeah, no, totally. I think I have one more question for us. How much more valuable has bold feedback become a Pilot over the last year? And how do you think that’s going to impact Pilot’s approach to mobile in the future? I feel like we’ve talked a little bit about both of those. But just as you know, just to hone in on both those pieces.

Ginny: Yeah, absolutely. The story for Pilot, even before this crazy year, has been an increasing, increasingly more important mobile experience. So as that we grew from like 20,000 people a day to hundreds of thousands of people a day in the past few years. So it’s becoming a bigger part of the audience. So it’s a great place to go to get those touchpoints. And like I spoke to earlier, getting that volume is really important. And then we do have an awesome team of business intelligence data analysts who are really showing that this digital guest can be and usually is more profitable to us. So understanding them and being able to speak to their wants and needs or their behaviors is really, really important from a product perspective. I think the world is changing. And it’s not you know, it’s really great to have people who have worked at your company for 25 years, which we have at Pilot, which is just awesome, really proud to be a part of that team. So they have a huge breadth of knowledge around our guests and around how things work in the store. But being able to bring in more data that either couples or even can go against sometimes what we thought was going on, like I said, really hard to sit in a store and just talk to somebody and have enough information to make huge business decisions around being able to have that coupled with those conversations, I think is huge. And our mobile app is our key digital touchpoint. Being able to speak to those people and get their perceptions. Being able to group them has to be associated with key touchpoints within mobile. So our customer base is there to trigger things off them. I mean, I think it’s huge. It’s been really, really helpful to have an easily managed tool, I can go out and do it myself and have it be published tomorrow if I want to. So we really are big fans.

Chris: Yeah, amazing. Thank you so much for your time today and obviously telling us everything that Pilot’s doing right now in the last year. And since our relationship began, I think that we’ve definitely made a lot of progress with the team. I’m very excited about seeing what our future relationship has to hold with Pilot. I know it could be long-standing, and I would if you had anything else to add anything else that you’re seeing or that’s coming up on Pilot’s future that you want to touch on.

Ginny: I think we covered a lot, I think I mean, it’s just been awesome to be able to work from home, we’re trying to figure out what our guests want, how we can drive business still. And, you know, we’re really thankful to have a tool like this. And partnership and you guys with being able to get those touchpoints. And I said it at the very beginning of the call, but we thought we were just getting a tool that was going to help our ratings. And it did that. But like, we use it for so much more than that. It’s kind of funny to think about that. Yeah and you guys do a great job of customer management. So, you know, like having our regular check-ins and us bringing in questions, you guys bringing up suggestions, the constant improvement around the tool. It’s really cool. So it’s nice to have an easy to use tool that you feel like you’re getting the value out of that you or even more that you set out for originally. So we appreciate you guys. And, you know, we’re thankful for this data. We’re thankful for these touch points with our guests. I think it brings in a huge value. So I think we covered it. Download the Pilot Flying J app, if you haven’t already made them offer, especially if you’re a professional driver. But we have huge plans in twenty, 2004 even more so excited to be a part of that conversation.

Chris: Awesome well, thank you so much again for your time. Have a very happy holidays. And yeah, we’re excited to get to know our relationship moving into next year.

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