Jet Blue takes loyalty to heart
Jet Blue Airways issued a Customer Bill of Rights promising
passengers payback for delays in response to a large breakdown in the
airline's service that left passengers stranded and stuck over
Presidents' Day Weekend.
CEO David Neeleman sent out a formal apology letter and video
address, both of which were featured on the airline's Web site at
www.jetblue.com and e-mailed to customers. The letter was also seen
in print in a full-page ad in The New York Times and the video was
also posted on YouTube.
"There are a couple of things that you can do: you can ignore it and
pretend that it's an aberration, or you can do an examination and
determine if there is something that you can do internally to make
sure that that never happens again," Mr. Neeleman said in the video.
"And I wanted to assure you as the CEO of this company that the
events that transpired last week and the way that they transpired
will never happen again."
The breakdown occurred in the infrastructure of the New York-based
airline as a whole. Phone lines were down, the site did not have
information and crew members did not have access to important
information which left many passengers stuck in airports and a few
stuck on the tarmac for as much as six hours.
JetBlue's Bill of Rights was scripted to respond to this failure in
communications and promised to notify customers of delays prior to
scheduled departures, cancellations and diversions and their causes.
According to the bill, customers whose flights are cancelled will
receive a full refund or re-accommodation on a future flight at no
additional charge or fare. And if JetBlue cancels a flight within 12
hours of scheduled departure and the cancellation is due to what the
airline calls a controllable irregularity, the customer will receive
a voucher valid for future travel in the amount paid to JetBlue for
the customer's roundtrip.
The rewards for delays are equally as impressive. Customers whose
flight is delayed for 1 to 2 hours will get a $25 voucher good for
future travel on JetBlue, 2 to 4 hours a $50 voucher, 4 to 6 hours a
one-way trip and more than 6 hours a roundtrip voucher. JetBlue also
promises customers experiencing ground delays food, drink, restrooms
and even medical treatment.
These promises are aimed at rebuilding the brand image that was
marred with bad press during the breakdown.
"We are the airline of the people and we messed up and didn't come
through," said David Bushy, vice president of operations at JetBlue.
"But we see this failure as an opportunity to reconnect with our
customers and provide even better service than we did before."
While the response has been quick and transparent, it still remains
to be seen if this contrition will help mend the damage that has been
done to the JetBlue brand.
"In my opinion, their response will become a textbook case for how to
solve a PR problem," said Laura Ries, president of Atlanta-based
marketing strategy firm Ries & Ries. "Much like the Tylenol case in
the 80s, 'We'll do it like JetBlue' is bound to be the rallying cry
of future brand leaders."
Even though the brand image as a whole may be saved, the challenge of
keeping customers loyal to the airline, and not lumping it with all
its rivals, is an even greater task that JetBlue faces.
Rick Ferguson, editorial director of loyalty marketing publisher and
consultancy Colloquy, Cincinnati, agreed that the airline took the
right first steps with the public apology and customer bill of
rights. But he said that they are going to have to offer more to
loyal customers to keep them happy.
"The customer loyalty factor depends on how well they've managed
their customer data," Mr. Ferguson said. "They should do something
above and beyond what they have done publicly for members of their
loyalty program, like offering free flights, to keep these customers
happy. There is a danger when you build your whole brand around
customer service, so they'll have to take extra steps that other
airlines wouldn't have to, to keep customer's loyal."