Do Airlines Care About Customer Service?
Delayed flights. Lost luggage. Cutting-it-way-too-close layovers. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time flyer, taking flight is often stressful. But, that stress is amplified when your experience goes south and airline staff members aren’t interested in making it any better. In the U.S., airlines aren’t exactly known for their warm-and-fuzzy customer service. It’s easy to feel abandoned or dismissed by an airline who places blame elsewhere instead of working with customers to actively solve problems. Unfortunately, for many customers, that’s the reality of the service experience.
But wait! There is a silver lining in the dreary clouds of airline customer service after all. And it comes in the form of a JetBlue airplane with a friendly service team.
JetBlue was born with different in mind.
JetBlue founder and former CEO, David Neeleman, set out to create an airline that was truly different from the rest – one that revolved around customer service. He explained the idea that sparked the company’s stellar service-based model:
“We asked ourselves, ‘Could we become the best customer service airline out there?” he said. “Then we thought, ‘Wait a second. Airline customer service – that’s like an oxymoron. They don’t go together.”
JetBlue Airways has nabbed a top spot in the J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction rankings for over a decade. And, in 2018, J.D. Power ranked JetBlue as the low-cost carrier with the best customer service experience. Plus, they were among the best when it comes to overall customer satisfaction, placing second in two categories. Their recent ranking score marked a nine-point year-over-year improvement.
JetBlue’s story of customer service success is pretty remarkable, given that airlines rank right alongside cable and insurance companies as the most hated industries in the U.S.
Flying isn’t cheap, it’s stressful, and even with careful attention to detail, a lot can go wrong. Often times, flyers are on edge before they even step foot in the airport. That means JetBlue surely deals with their fair share of frustrated customers, mishaps, and complex issues, many of which are out of their control. (Hello, thunderbolt and lightning very, very frightening.) Despite all the challenges they face, JetBlue consistently earns praise about their service from the same consumers who are conditioned to hate them.
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The magic lies in the little things.
Like Zappos, JetBlue empowers their service team to be responsive and creative when they help customers. They’ve eliminated strict protocols to inspire moments of incredible, heartwarming service.
Take the traveler who tweeted at JetBlue and casually mentioned he was bummed he wouldn’t have time to grab Starbucks before catching his flight. The JetBlue social media team saw the tweet and sent a message to the airport customer service team. As the man took his seat on the plane, a JetBlue customer service rep handed him a Starbucks coffee. This was an incredible customer experience for the traveler, and it wouldn’t have happened without a team of employees who are empowered to make snappy decisions that benefit customers. And for JetBlue, that tiny moment of joy for a customer meant public praise from the traveler on social media and weeks of positive publicity to follow.
As you can see from the assist by the social media team, all of JetBlue’s employees who monitor support channels are encouraged to take individual situations into account rather than using policies to define every action.
In another save-the-day service scenario, a traveler ranted on Fodor’s Travel Forum about a negative experience she had with Air Canada’s customer support before switching to JetBlue. She was appalled at their refund policies and lack of empathy during a difficult time. She ended her post with a promise never to fly AirCanada again, and with praise for how JetBlue handled a similar issue.
Here’s how JetBlue handled the situation.
She said, “When I called JetBlue to cancel my husband’s flight and make a different reservation for me to get back home to care for him, JetBlue was considerate and applied the cost of his ticket (non-refundable) to my new reservation – that’s the customer service I expect from a service provider.”
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Be kind, listen, and have fun.
Of course, situations come up where a Starbucks coffee or a waived flight fee won’t do the trick. As an airline, flight schedules shift and things go wrong on a daily basis. But, JetBlue anticipates these difficult situations and trains their employees to be genuine and considerate from the first customer touchpoint.
They even shout out potential delays and important customer messages on social media.
They take a proactive approach to customer service with the goal to help customers before the frustration sets in. Agents are trained to take frustrated, angry customers under their wing and deliver the best possible outcome. When agents handle interactions with a calm, personable tone, and when they listen and express genuine empathy, customers are less defensive.
Plus, JetBlue employees are renowned for being fun, sympathetic and caring. Travelers love interacting with them and rave about their experience with the crew on review sites.
Erika Anderson, a contributor to Forbes, wrote about an interaction with a JetBlue flight attendant. And, she marked it as the reason she looks for JetBlue flights, first.
“On a JetBlue flight tonight from New York to Burbank, I watched as the flight attendant was unfailingly kind and respectful to every passenger with whom she interacted during the six-hour flight. When she had to tell people to do something (for instance, getting me and the other passengers in the first row to put all our stuff up in the overheads), she did it with such an air of helpfulness (“I know this is a pain, but let’s work together to make it happen”) that no one minded at all. After we were underway, she handed me my computer bag and gave the woman next to me her purse, all without being asked and with a smile and a cheerful comment.
And this simple but critical difference goes right to the bottom line: because I’m nearly always treated well on JetBlue, I tell my assistant to look first for JetBlue flights whenever he’s making travel arrangements for me.”
Prioritize good customer service.
Perfect customer service doesn’t exist. But, JetBlue comes close. They excel at customer service because they make it a priority, even when competitors don’t. That customer-focus also gives employees a larger purpose and makes for a happier company internally.
In an industry that’s not so keen on putting customers before profits, JetBlue customer service agents, flight attendants and pilots are inspired to be spontaneous and personable. They feel empowered to make a difference every day. Even a small gesture like a cup of coffee is enough to make a customer’s day.
Regardless of your industry, your revenue, or your budget, every company can afford small, memorable moments that make customers happy.