A few weeks ago on Valentine’s Day, a major winter ice storm caused jetBlue Airways to experience an unprecedented operational breakdown that caused over a thousand flight cancellations, hundreds of flight delays, and left customers stranded on runways for over 10 hours. As a Client Services VP and a jetBlue customer, I was shocked to hear about this huge customer service disaster, but was very glad I wasn’t flying with them that week!
You probably heard about it too because it generated so much negative word of mouth that it spread like wildfire across the Internet and news media as angry customers rightfully vented their frustrations toward the company. It was clear that this PR nightmare would have a devastating impact on jetBlue’s previously high-flying reputation. Something had to be done fast to save it!
What did jetBlue do in an attempt to turn highly negative word of mouth into positive word of mouth?
1. Listen to their customers, admit their mistakes and show sincere remorse
Dave Neeleman, the CEO of jetBlue (not just their VP of Customer Service), responded quickly (not weeks later after a full investigation) with a written apology letter to jetBlue’s customers. But this was not your typical form letter written by the marketing department – this was a sincere, thoughtful apology that repeatedly expressed remorse and embarrassment while openly admitting the mistakes that were made by the company rather than trying to make excuses for them. Haven’t we all grown tired of hearing empty excuses from airline companies!
2. Commit to making significant changes to improve customer service
Mr. Neeleman described specific corrective steps to address their operational issues and committed to implementing them. He then went a step further by publishing the jetBlue Customer Bill of Rights, a first in the airline industry, which describes how operational issues, like flight cancellations and delays, will be handled and what rights jetBlue customers have when they do.
3. Back up their promises with real results
Knowing that “talk is cheap” and results are what matter, Mr. Neeleman made the very public decision to replace their Chief Operating Officer as a result of this incident. This is not at all surprising, but it does demonstrate a commitment to making significant changes quickly to resolve their operational issues and restore customer and investor confidence.
How will these steps result in positive word of mouth?
In jetBlue’s case, by listening to the concerns of their customers, accepting responsibility for their mistakes, and showing sincere remorse, the CEO demonstrated that the company cares about its’ customers. But to effectively turn this crisis into a positive word-of-mouth opportunity, jetBlue must remain dedicated to making significant changes to their operational and customer service strategies, such as the Customer Bill of Rights, that will deliver measurable improvements in service levels and customer satisfaction. They cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes that caused this incident or they will lose most of the positive word of mouth gained up to that point.
There is no doubt that it will take a long time for jetBlue to restore their reputation, but if they succeed positive word of mouth will prevail and their customer community will be more loyal than ever before. Their stock price will go back up too. And I will be happy to fly with them again!
The jetBlue situation illustrates the fundamental truth that customers want to know that a company cares about them, listens to their feedback, and takes action to address issues. At Bazaarvoice, my team helps our clients use customer ratings and reviews as a valuable source of product feedback, and take corrective action like redesigning a product to lower its return rate, thereby increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty. An excellent example of this is how PETCO shares 1 and 2 star rated reviews with their customer service department so they can proactively reach out to customers and determine how to address their issue.
We also provide a tool called the Client Response tool to allow clients to directly respond to customer reviews online. This lets their customers know openly that issues have been clarified or resolved, showing that our clients listened and took action if needed. The positive word of mouth that ensues not only improves the company’s reputation, but also increases customer satisfaction and loyalty, which are the keys to driving company growth.
How does your company turn negative word of mouth into positive?