Posted May 30, 2017
This interview is from Issue 3 of Customers First magazine – sharing global insights on customer strategy and innovation in the travel and hospitality industry.
Airlines invest a lot in their aircraft, cabin product and services — but all that money has no currency with customers when things go wrong. With a brand that emphasizes a refreshing wit balanced with a laser focus on customer service, JetBlue has remained at the top of the industry.
We spoke with Laurie Meacham, customer commitment and social media manager for JetBlue, to find out what it takes to turn challenging travel experiences into opportunities for customer delight.
Q: How would JetBlue describe its brand character?
A: Our brand character is really important to us and it’s something that we make clear across channels. Whether you’re seeing an ad in the subway or communicating with JetBlue one-on-one on Twitter, we want that voice to have integrity and to feel like it’s the same company across touch points.
Our brand values have been in place for years and include being stylish, smart, fun and witty. We want to maintain the same look and feel that we established when we started 17 years ago.
Q: How does JetBlue establish a standard tone for communication?
A: It’s part of our training and the quality-control process. When we work with our team that engages with customers, be it at the counters or on the phone or through social media, we want to ensure our responses are hitting the right tone.
Our customer experience team has three words to guide them: personal, simple and helpful. If a customer has had a really bad day and they are experiencing a flight delay, or an experience that is not great, we’re not going to respond to them with something that doesn’t show empathy. We want to make sure that our contacts are personal and that we are really mirroring what our customers are offering us.
Q: How does JetBlue encourage free thinking and improvisation for representatives to go “off script” when unique situations arise?
A: It starts with the hiring process. We screen for voice and we look for the people who can express their individuality and uniqueness. We don’t use a lot of scripts or templates for our responses and we encourage the team to be personable and to use their own creativity and humanity. This can be a bit of a challenge for some people, but others embrace it. Those are the types of people that we like to hire. We want them to be comfortable using their own voice but also to know that they are representing JetBlue. The way we refer to that is, “Be you, but be you in Blue.”
Q: What special recruiting and training processes are involved in building great customer support teams?
A: We understand that we can train skills, but we can’t really train personalities. We want to hire the person who can work well under pressure, who can multi-task and who has a passion for JetBlue and our brand.
Q: What’s your strategy for dealing with the inevitable challenges, delays and frustrations that occur during travel?
A: We look at these kinds of complaints as a chance to showcase our humanity and our empathy with the situation that customers are going through. Air travel can have a lot of unpredictable situations. A lot of the time our customers don’t necessarily care what the cause is; they care that their plans are being disrupted, and that’s not fun for anybody. We really like it when we are able to turn a situation around for someone who is having a bad experience to a more pleasant one, just by listening and responding.
Q: How do you know when – and when not – to engage with customers on social platforms like Twitter?
A: A lot of our customers are using social media just as a place to vent. They’re not always looking for an answer from us. [Others] want to know why a flight is delayed, or when a flight is going to depart, or what their options are if they don’t want to take that flight anymore. Those are the people we can help.
[We] talk to our team constantly about smart engagement. If you have information or anything that might help the customer feel better, that’s great. But if you want to tell them something they already know, and isn’t going to [better] the situation, then that’s not the best opportunity to engage.
There have been times when some one is waiting for a flight and was not very happy with the long delay. [We took the opportunity] to help pass the time with a few jokes and they loved that! Customers really enjoy having that sort of interaction with JetBlue. For us, it’s also a lot more effective than just saying ‘we apologize for the inconvenience.’
Q: What is JetBlue’s approach to automation in customer service?
A: We’ve adopted the idea that, when you ask questions, usually the answer can be found through self-service platforms, via our website or our app. It’s easy for customers to find answers to common questions, but we make sure we’re available for the seldom-asked questions, or as we call them, SAQs. These are generally when a customer understands the guidelines, but they don’t understand how those guidelines apply to them personally.
Q: In what ways are staff empowered to make decisions to help relieve passenger stress?
A: Our [contact center] team has the same ability and the same level of empowerment to offer something that any other frontline personnel can offer, and our crew members have the same ability to offer something that customers would get if they called 1-800-JetBlue. We don’t want there to be a big discrepancy between support channels.
For example, there was a customer who had arrived at the airport early for her flight only to find out when she got there that she would have to wait three hours [due to a storm]. She tweeted jokingly at JetBlue “give me some pizza.” The [social] team took note of her name and confirmed what flight she was on and what airport she was in. They notified the airport [staff] saying, “There’s a customer sitting there waiting for a three-hour delay and she mentioned pizza… just FYI.”
The airport staff ended up ordering pizza for everyone on that flight—not just the one customer— because they knew that everyone had that three-hour delay. The customer was really happy. She even tweeted about it and it had a lot of engagement from her followers.
It really illustrates how we work as a team. We’re all in this together!
Image source: JetBlue.com