Even before JetBlue left planefuls of customers stranded on the runway for hours, earlier this month, I had a bad JB experience that broke my heart. My flight left late for fueling reasons that are still beyond my comprehension, but that were totally preventable. With one of the lavatories out of order, the tension on the plane was palpable.
And you know what? I still plan to fly JetBlue!
Even though a silly planning snafu delayed my flight by hours, and I returned home from an already grueling business trip at 4am, even before David Neeleman's unpolished apology was made available on YouTube, I was willing to believe that JetBlue would fix what's broken. Here's why:
1. JetBlue empowers its employees to make good when the company fails to deliver. I—like most JB customers—have been an advocate of the airline (witness my story of how JB saved me the aggravation of re-booking a flight, even when the mistake was MY FAULT). These positive experiences add up to good karma later.
Even while cursing under my breath because I'd just been told that my flight would be delayed another three hours, I appreciated that our flight attendant made all fee-based entertainment on that flight free. I appreciated that I received a voucher for $25 off my next flight, and when I learned that I used that voucher improperly—after booking my next flight, not before—the customer service supervisor understood that a few extra bucks in credit card processing fees was worth my business and let the credit stand.
Because JetBlue worked hard to acknowledge the importance of customer satisfaction early, the carrier has, in effect, built in a forgiveness contingency in it's implied agreements with its customers.
2. JetBlue opens the kimono. While some crisis management professionals would have cried if their CEOs used words like JetBlue CEO David Neeleman used to describe how he felt about his companies failings ("humiliated and mortified," among others), customers see it differently. We see someone who flies just like we do and would move heaven and earth to rectify what happened.
Unfortunately most companies prep their spokespeople like trial defendants and insist they take the Fifth before admitting to not just wrongdoing, but regret for wrongdoing. Neeleman's imperfect delivery, his visible discomfort when conveying his regret for what happened appeals to my sense of humanity, and my desire for something real. I don't want measured, restrained phrases like "We regret the inconvenience" to define my experience, I want to know the airline understands how it feels to be trapped on flights for ten hours. I need to know this even before I am reimbursed financially for my suffering.
3. JetBlue provides positive customer experience. I am willing to wait out a little discomfort and let the carrier rectify its mistakes before taking my business elsewhere because my experiences with other airlines ain't that great. Sure, I may have come home sooner on another airline, but I wouldn't have enjoyed that flight as much. I wouldn't have had free wireless while waiting in the terminal, or a selection of quality movies, or endless supplies of free biscotti.
Companies that do not build stellar customer experience into their services won't have second chances like JetBlue. And when I say customer experience I don't mean friendly service reps, but something much deeper and more integrated into a company's offering. Customer experience happens before a crisis.
Mark Hurst, founder of Creative Good and the GEL Conference, provides a very clear distinction between customer service and customer experience on his blog, goodexperience.com, when he describes a dissatisfactory situation he encountered when ordering office furniture:
Customer service is the job of front-line workers, servicing customer requests for help - via an 800 number, e-mail, or a retail desk. It's important to invest in good customer service, but that's just the tiniest sliver of the customer experience.
Customer experience is the job of everyone in the company. My customer experience was bad because the product, and the refund policy, are both broken. Everyone from the CEO and CFO to the product designers and manufacturing facility contributed to this bad customer experience; and as a result, they've lost a customer and generated bad word of mouth. The good customer service I received didn't - and couldn't possibly - fix the overall experience.
Note that I said earlier that my negative JetBlue experience "broke my heart," not "inconvenienced me" or "pissed me off." This is a notable distinction, the language of a customer who is used to positive customer experience and not just decent customer service. The thought of having to potentially sever my relationship with JetBlue is not emotionless, nor one that I care to make. It would mean giving up a lot of good to avoid another potentially negative outcome.
In the end, these reasons don't excuse JetBlue for their recent mistakes, but they do mean that the company keeps me as a customer.