JetBlue has come up trumps again, leading all airlines in passenger satisfaction for the third consecutive year. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), JetBlue scored 79/100 to top the airline category. Southwest 78 and Delta 71, rounded out the top three.
So how does JetBlue keep winning this customer satisfaction accolade year after year?
What does JetBlue do differently to United (ranked a distant sixth) that makes their customers so much happier?
These are the questions I want to explore today. Through analyzing research from some of the industry’s most knowledgeable experts, I’ve compiled a list of four lessons you can learn from JetBlue to help you achieve industry high customer satisfaction.
The first lesson…
1. JetBlue focuses on Company Culture
David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue airlines, once said, “What keeps me awake at night is figuring out how we grow this culture. How do we bottle this and keep it going. At the end of the day it’s all about attitude”.
He’s talking about company culture, and how JetBlue leverage it to create amazing experiences that keep customers coming back for more. Through their culture, JetBlue empowers employees to make decisions for the best of the customer, even if it doesn’t quite follow regular protocol.
I love this – too many times employees are scared to break the rules for customers – that’s why most company only deliver bland, scripted experiences.
So, how does company culture translate into high customer satisfaction?
Gordon Tan, founder of Client Heartbeat and Managing Director of R & G Technologies, said in a recent ASCII presentation: “Culture is social control. It is sets of information that tells staff what to do in the absence of procedures.”
Culture helps to frame employees into taking actions. Culture is formed through the values your company embodies. Through these values, your employees get direction as to how they should properly engage, interactive and communicate with customers.
For example, let’s say you tell your employees to treat customers like friends. If they get a phone call at 5PM they won’t leave the customer hanging just because it’s time to go home. They will go out their way, stay a couple minutes later to help the customer.
Gordon Tan believes that you affect culture in four ways: through your values, incentives, symbolic changes, and celebration of successes.
To create a consistent culture and get buy-in from your team, you must ensure consistency across everything you do inside your company. You can’t incentivize staff on a personal level if your values say teamwork – that wouldn’t be congruent and would damage the culture you are trying to create.
Here’s one of my favorite quotes about culture from Ram Charan and Jerry Useem:
“It’s impossible to monitor the actions of every employee no matter how many accounting and compliance controls you put in place…a company’ cultural code is supposed to equip front-line employees to make the right decisions” – Fortune Magazine
Key lessons you can learn from JetBlue about company culture:
- Take a look at your existing culture. Is it customer-focused? Do your values speak about your own goals or your customers?
- Make sure your incentives align with your values.
- Empower employees to ‘break the rules’ if it means creating an amazing experience for a customer.
2. JetBlue offers friendly, personalized service
Erika Anderson, business thinker and Forbes contributor, flew with JetBlue and loves the customer service.
She wrote in an article: “JetBlue didn’t spend more money ‘serving’ me. The difference in my experience was 100% in the attitude of the customer-facing employee. Somehow, the management of JetBlue has figured out how to build a positive, friendly, respectful way of interacting with customers into the DNA of their company.”
Every company tells employees to smile and treat customers friendly. But, how many companies actually do that?
It’s tough to keep a strangle-hold over all your employees, however, somehow JetBlue can. I believe this comes back to the company culture – every employee has a set of values engrained into them so they already know how to handle each and every customer interaction.
Erika Anderson goes on to speculate: “I suspect they hire for it, train to it, and reward it. And I also suspect that JetBlue employees are treated pretty well themselves — in my experience, if you treat employees badly, they’ll treat customers badly.”
When it comes to personalized service, JetBlue doesn’t stop at a friendly smile. They leverage mobile, Wi-Fi and tablets to extend the experience through digital. I talked about how Disney uses digital customer experiences previously, and it looks like JetBlue are on the same path.
Most of the JetBlue digital experience revolves around the JetBlue mobile app, which was refreshed three years ago. The app handles the company’s loyalty program and offers consumers the ability to store their boarding passes in-app, making it even easier to fly with JetBlue.
Key lessons you can learn from JetBlue about offering a friendly, personalized service:
- Focus on your employees – treat them right and they’ll treat your customers right.
- It doesn’t cost anything extra to offer a friendly and personal service. Make sure your employees are delivering a friendly experience – help them if they don’t know how.
- Use digital to extend the customer experience – leverage mobile to be more convenient and websites to distribute important information.
3. JetBlue exceeds customer expectations
Exceeding customer expectations is one way JetBlue has been able to climb to the top of the customer satisfaction rankings.
Understanding expectations is simple — when a customer has a high expectation and the reality falls short, they will be disappointed and will likely rate their experience as less than satisfying.
The real challenge with expectations lies with knowing how to exceed them. If a customer has a perceived perception of the level of service they expect, what can you do to exceed that?
JetBlue entered the airline market as a low-cost carrier. But, they didn’t want to follow their predecessors and skimp out on customer service. They matched low-cost with nice-to-have extras to create a customer experience matched by no other airline at the time.
Here are a couple of examples of how JetBlue continually exceeds expectations. Remember – at the time of launch, a lot of these were considered luxury extras that customers had to pay more for on the traditional carriers.
- Free luggage. Say goodbye to luggage charges, get a free bag with JetBlue.
- Cheap cancellation and change fees. Instead of paying hefty fees upward of $50-100 dollars, JetBlue charges a flat $25.
- Direct flights. No one likes hanging about at airports.
- TV entertainment on all planes. Full cable service with DirecTV channels makes those long flights just that little bit more comfortable and entertaining.
Picture yourself back in 1999 choosing an airline to fly with. You have the traditional big boys like United that offer a blank, standardized customer experience with close to none of the above.
Now, visualize yourself flying with JetBlue for the very first time – you are blown away by all these added benefits.
As a customer, you leave JetBlue feeling very satisfied, you start telling all your friends about the experience, and you will most-likely fly with them again on your next trip.
This is the power of exceeding customer expectations.
Ted Reed, a Forbes contributor who has been covering the airline industry since 1989, read the recent ASCI survey and knows a thing or two about airlines. Here’s what he had to say about customer satisfaction in the airline industry:
“Major causes of airline passenger unhappiness included in-flight service and seat comfort, which scored 67 and 62, respectively. Also, passengers who had to pay a fee to check a bag awarded the baggage handling experience a 66, while passengers who paid no baggage fees ranked the experience at 71.” – read more from Ted Reed.
Key lessons you can learn from JetBlue about exceeding customer expectations:
- Low cost and competing on price doesn’t mean you have to deliver a poor customer experience.
- Focus on the little things that are important to your customer. What can you offer them that they wouldn’t expect from your competitors?
- Customer expectations are always changing; make sure you are staying up to date with these changes so you can stay ahead of your competition.
What’s Next: How can you improve customer satisfaction?
JetBlue succeeded in the competitive airline industry by focusing on creating happy customers. In an industry where companies lost a combined total $54 billion from 2000 to 2009, JetBlue managed to carve out a solid slice of the market and become a big player.
Michelle Hansen, JetBlue’s director of customer support operations, in 2009 said: “If customer service is embedded in the core of an airline that can lead to happy customers and profitability.”
I think that one quote sums up JetBlue perfectly.
The airline focuses on customer service and ingrains it within every employee that works for the company. This attention to customer service has led to happy customers and profitability.
Now wait… I don’t want you to go back to your team and start preaching; customer service, customer service, customer service!
I want you to think deeper, think beyond customer service. Think about what you can do to create a company culture that breeds customer service and high customer satisfaction.
You can start with these three questions:
- Do you need to tweak your core values?
- Are you offering a personalized service?
- How can you exceed exceptions?
If you’re looking for more inspiration, I recommend these resources:
- How to meet and exceed customer expectations
- 9 strategies to improve customer satisfaction
- How To Leverage Company Culture To Improve Customer Satisfaction
- Why Customer Satisfaction is Important (6 Reasons)