Marketer of the Year: JetBlue Focuses on Customer

JetBlue Airways chairman/CEO David Neeleman may not know much about direct marketing, but he certainly knows something about treating the customer right. Maybe that's why he will receive the DM Days New York Conference & Expo 2005 Marketer of the Year award June 29.

“All of our policies and procedures are designed around what would make our customers' experience the most hassle-free,” said Andrea Spiegel, vice president of sales and marketing at JetBlue. “From the design of our Web site to the tone of voice of how we speak to our customers is about this notion of bringing humanity back to air travel. It's really about catering to the basics … our customers' very basic needs.”

Spiegel said Neeleman was surprised when they received word of the award.

“While we're a paperless airline, we also do virtually no direct mail. Having said that, we are greatly increasing our amount of e-mail that we send out. But to date, our success has really been direct to our customers and in the form of word of mouth,” said Spiegel, who started with JetBlue in February. “And while we may not have used traditional direct marketing tactics, we are all about communicating very clearly about and very directly to our customers.”

Neeleman began his career in the airline industry in 1984 as co-founder of Morris Air, a low-cost carrier out of Salt Lake City. While there, he implemented the industry's first electronic ticketing system. After selling Morris Air, Neeleman helped launch WestJet, a Canadian low-fare carrier, and continued to develop the e-ticketing system. He named the system Open Skies, which was sold to Hewlett-Packard in 1999.

With $130 million in capital funding, Neeleman announced his intent to open a New York-based airline in July 1999. JetBlue launched in February 2000 from its base at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and now serves 29 cities across the United States and the Caribbean.

Behind all that, treating the customer right has been key to JetBlue's success.

“The other airlines have lost sight of the fact that they're in the customer service business. And I think that because of budget cutbacks and a malaise among their employees, the whole industry has suffered as a result,” Spiegel said. “The real secret of our success is our crewmembers. We recruit based on people's ability to communicate and people who understand what customer service is all about — not necessarily people who have airline experience or travel industry experience, but people who understand the importance of knowing how to deal with people.”

Another unique aspect of JetBlue is its call center, something that Neeleman developed while at Morris.

“We receive up to 80 percent of our bookings online, but we do still take a nice percentage of our business through our 800 number,” Spiegel said. “Though we have a call center in Salt Lake City, the majority of our agents work from home. The reservation center is really more for training. Because of that, we're able to get a very diverse work force. They're very willing to pick up shifts at various times of the day, and their job satisfaction is extremely high. The concept was unique, but it was immediately embraced.”

Regarding its marketing, Spiegel said JetBlue relies mostly on search, though the airline is doing more e-mail and looking into other online ad opportunities.

“With e-mail, we're focusing on retention,” she said. “Our biggest success has been word of mouth and people recommending and forwarding our messages to their friends.”

So what's next for Neeleman and Crew? In the fall, the airline will add more aircraft that will let it add flights to smaller markets, Spiegel said.

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