Featured Image for the blog: The JetBlue Story: Customer Service in an Industry Americans Hate

The American Customer Satisfaction Index reports that airlines dwell in the bottom 30% of major industries for their customer satisfaction rating. In an industry that suffers from an overwhelming number of negative customer service stories and reviews, there’s room for airline companies to soar above their peers to support their customers more. 

Delayed flights. Lost luggage. Cutting-it-way-too-close layovers. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time flyer, flying is often stressful. But, that stress amplifies if your experience goes south and airline staff members aren’t interested in making it any better. 

Christopher Elliott, travel contributor to Forbes, writes about why airline customer service is so frequently bad. He writes, “no matter how much airline passengers complain about ridiculous fees, indifferent cabin service, or lengthy delays, they’ll keep buying tickets… until passenger threats translate into lower ticket sales, the airline industry has a green light to continue mistreating its customers.” 

He’s not wrong. Airlines aren’t incentivized to satisfy their customers because the customer expectations are so low. And yet, there’s an opportunity for airline companies to surprise us. JetBlue was founded with a different idea of customer service in mind. 

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JetBlue Prioritizes Customer Satisfaction

JetBlue founder and former CEO, David Neeleman, set out to create an airline that was truly different from the rest. He sought to create one that revolved around customer service and customer satisfaction.

With this framework, JetBlue Airways has nabbed a top spot in the J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction study. This year, amidst the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, JetBlue Airways still managed to rank in the top three airlines for customer satisfaction. 

JetBlue doesn’t avoid the usual stressors and customer complaints that occur when flying. The company surely deals with their fair share of frustrated customers, logistical mishaps, and complex issues, many of which are out of their control. But, despite all the challenges they face, JetBlue consistently earns praise about their service from the same consumers who are conditioned to hate them.

How does JetBlue maintain customer satisfaction?

JetBlue has a birds-eye view of the customer journey

JetBlue commits to exceed customer expectations for value and comfort. To meet those expectations, they recognized they needed to fully understand their customer journey from start to finish using customer data

Danny Cox, Director of Customer Support and Insights, has said that JetBlue is “committed to turning customer feedback into real insights for the company and real benefits for the customer.” How do they do this? 

Here are a couple examples:

  1. After analyzing customer pricing studies and evaluating flight frequency, JetBlue found that 82% of their passengers didn’t care about free bags and instead preferred cheaper ticket prices. So, JetBlue responded by rolling out different rate structures and pricing options for passengers so passengers had options for how to spend their money. 
  2. By taking a deep dive into passengers’ feedback in Philadelphia, JetBlue was able to trace dissatisfaction to the lack of airport shops and amenities open early in the morning. JetBlue responded quickly and started passing out water, juice, and coffee at the gate to boost customer morale.

By evaluating customer feedback and data, JetBlue put their data to work to deliver a better customer experience. They listened to customers to identify pain points in their customer journey and go above and beyond to satisfy them.

Download Now: How To Build Customer Experience Strategies Using The Data You Already Have in Your Contact Center

JetBlue Customer Experience Puts the Passenger at the Center of Design

JetBlue’s customer experience is great because they place the individual passenger at the center of their processes. This mindset is how they designed their Bill of Customer Rights. The Bill of Customer Rights supports customers who are delayed or have cancellations due to controllable reasons.

If JetBlue is to blame for a changed schedule or a cancelled flight, they own the error and give customers credit for future flights or offer refunds on their flight.

As JetBlue was designing their user experience for self check-in and self bag drop offs, they thought through what would make for the easiest individual passenger’s experience. They chose to require customers to provide their Passenger Name Record (PNR) code for all self-check-ins to start the journey. Instead of asking for a lengthy 16-digit ticket number, they chose to use the PNR code, an easy-to-find, 6 digit code. 

As they design seamless experiences, JetBlue prioritizes how each individual customer experiences their processes.

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JetBlue Creates a Culture of Employee Empowerment

JetBlue prioritizes their customers’ satisfaction and happiness by empowering their employees with the freedom to give their customers the best experience possible. JetBlue empowers their service team to be responsive and creative in how they help customers. By eliminating strict protocols and red tape, the company inspires their employees to deliver incredible heartwarming service.

Here’s a firsthand customer story to give an example of what I mean: 

I was sitting on the runway in Orlando as my homeward-bound JetBlue flight was about to taxi toward takeoff. Like just about every other flight that hadn’t already been canceled that day on the Eastern seaboard, ours was a couple of hours late departing. The lead flight attendant gets on the P.A. system and says: 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we know we’re late taking off, and even though it’s the weather and not something we caused, we’re going to comp everybody’s movies for this flight.  We know you’ve all had a long day and we want it to end with something nice and relaxing. And for those of you who were supposed to be on the Continental flight and ended up here, we don’t ever want you to go back.”

The mood on the flight — which could have been a rather dreary late evening affair — took an immediate upswing. People joked and smiled and made eye contact. They were noticeably brighter and calmer as the flight progressed. 

When asked why this act of kindness was extended, a flight attendant on the flight told the passenger, “We’re allowed to make almost any decision as long as we can justify it on the basis of one of the airline’s five core values: Safety, Caring, Integrity, Fun or Passion. If we can tie doing something back to one of these principles, the decision is going to be supported by the company.”  

In this circumstance, the JetBlue employees were empowered to do their job and keep customers cared for in a stressful situation.

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JetBlue Excels Customer Expectations

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.

Read Next: Keeping Your Customer Focus and Investing in your Agents Through the Rest of the Busy Holiday Season

We originally published this post on October 4, 2016, and we updated it on December 13, 2021.