Republic Airways wanted to transform its company culture. As part of this effort, the airline tapped custom software consultancy DeveloperTown to come up with a way to improve its flight crews’ lives.
DeveloperTown aimed to transform the way information flowed to flight crews. With the blessing of the airline, they devoted more than 250 hours to interviewing and shadowing crews and the employees who served them, finding exactly what tools would bring about a sea change.
They succeeded, building the app CrewLife, which swiftly reached a voluntary adoption rate of more than 90% among Republic’s 4,000 far-flung crew members.
The problems the airline and DeveloperTown faced were manifold: Republic crews needed information about work assignments, accommodations, and other key elements in their day-to-day lives. To get that information under the old system, they had to call into a center, one that struggled to keep up with call volume during critical times or severe weather. The call center employees did what they could, but flight crews often faced hours on hold, or a lengthy walk to a distant company computer terminal. Everyone was frustrated.
“Their biggest challenge was that the majority of their workforce is continuously remote. That can present challenges from a cultural perspective. Is there empathy when people interact?” notes Juliann DeSutter of DeveloperTown. “To complicate things, their data was locked up in such a way that remote employees couldn’t do self-service or had to get to company terminal, which was sometimes a mile from their gate at certain airports.”
Morale was low, and employees were friendly but wary as the DeveloperTown team approached them for input. “The first time we went out with pilots at the training center, we heard variations on the theme of ‘We’ve heard it all before, no offense,’” DeSutter says. “Everyone was kind but expressed their skepticism.”
To get concrete insight into the daily operations of prospective users, an eight-person team first conducted informal interviews with employees. They then shadowed Republic employees for a half or whole day. “That’s where the magic came from,” recalls DeveloperTown CEO Mike Kelly. “They’d show us something, and you’d see something no one had mentioned. Some unusual exception to the rule would arise and they’d say, ‘Oh, yeah, this kind of question comes up once a month.’ Those little things add up and can get really frustrating and time consuming. We knew we needed to address them.”
The notes from these encounters were distilled into more than a hundred problem statements and used to establish the priorities for a first couple of releases. After that the employees could give feedback. “The pilots and flight attendants got a group together that did the prioritization and flagged issues,” notes DeSutter. “As we worked with them, they got more enthusiastic and more opinionated.” They found themselves not only building a software product, but boosting morale, as people who had once felt disempowered and isolated were given tools to change their work life significantly.
“This is where the intersection of design and marketing pays off, and we see marketing techniques and practice as essential to our work at every stage,” remarks Nick Wangler, DeveloperTown’s Director of Marketing Services. “The solution is already there. The potential customer is already solving the problem in some unattractive or inefficient way. We work to marry qualitative feedback with quantitative insight to create something that works in users’ worlds, in their context.”
“We take a more holistic approach to building software. We look at the entire organization to understand the impact of introducing a new system,” DeSutter muses. “We understand the things that are bothering people that aren’t tied to software. We understand that the context software is used in is as important as what it does. Situation and solution have to align, or the app just won’t be used.”
DeveloperTown is a consulting firm specializing in launching new software products for large and small companies alike. By leveraging their experience with startups, DeveloperTown designs, develops, and delivers software to help innovative leaders solve business problems. As an Inc 5000 fastest-growing company, their focus is cloud-based software-as-a-service and mobile solutions. DeveloperTown offers a full suite of award-winning design products, including branding, marketing strategy, user experience and visual design, online marketing, and social media.