Jet Blue takes loyalty to heart

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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."

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