NACCM 2009: Fueling Loyalty with a Mile High Customer-Centric Culture

During this crazy economic time, companies have two choices, according to Vicky Stennes, VP, Inflight Experience for JetBlue Airlines:1. Think the economy is cyclical and wait it out.2. Think customers have changed, and will continue to change. Now is a time to create a long-term strategy to create a more customer-centric culture.JetBlue has followed the 2nd choice. With their mission of ‘bringing humanity back to air service,’ they must be doing something (or should I say many things?) right. J.D. Power & Associates has ranked them 2009 Top Low Cost Airline for Customer Satisfaction.Not that JetBlue hasn’t had it’s share of public bumps and bruises. Many people remember the public relations nightmare that occurred when JetBlue customers were stranded on the runway for hours with no food, bathroom, etc.This innovative airline has managed to keep it’s chin in the air and continually focus on one of it’s main challenges: how to get people to give them a try. One of the things they’ve done is study the amazing difference in perception between people who are simply aware of the airline, and the people who have actually flown on the airline. People who have flown on JetBlue have a very high opinion of the attributes and features offered. People without flight experience on JetBlue pretty much rank them with all the other low cost carriers in terms of service and features.To create the ‘mile high customer-centric culture’ they are becoming known for, JetBlue started with a clearly defined set of values:

  • Safety
  • Caring
  • Integrity
  • Fun
  • Passion

Then they identified behaviors that embody the values (They call them The Five ‘Be’s’):

  • Be in Blue always
  • Be personal
  • Be the answer
  • Be engaging
  • Be thankful to every customer

These values and beliefs stem from JetBlue’s core belief: Culture and service are one in the same. One way they convey the culture both internally and externally is their ‘blue’ vocabulary. Everything is ‘Blue’ ‘ memos are called ‘Bluenote’; cities they fly to are called ‘Blue Cities.’ They’re cornering the market on the word!Another interesting idea that helps to spread the culture of service throughout the company is their attitude that everyone is a ‘crew member.’ This echoes of Disney’s ‘cast member’ philosophy, and it seems to work equally well.What’s the JetBlue ‘Secret Ingredient’? Crew members make experiences.The right kind of leadership is critical to leading a customer-centric organization. According to the JetBlue leadership philosophy, if you want to know what kind of leader you are, look at your calendar. If your calendar doesn’t reflect 70% of your time is spent working with your crew members, you’re not living the JetBlue culture.Employees are equally important. So much so that JetBlue has instituted some tried and true, as well as some ground-breaking employee engagement efforts, including:

  • No salary cuts
  • Investment in retirement and profit sharing
  • High levels of communication via Crewmember channels

JetBlue also understands who it’s core customers are. Internally, they’re called VFRs ‘ Visiting Friends and Relatives. As business is down overall in this economy, JetBlue’s share of this audience is up ‘ a testimony to the service it provides at a value price. And a testimony to the fact that when people are visiting friends and relatives, they truly value what they get from JetBlue.Continuous Innovation is another key element of JetBlue’s service culture. It is their believe that innovation can take many forms, and it’s not always the new & different.An example of JetBlue innovation during the recession. Their very successful (so successful they don’t release the actual results) ‘All You Can Jet’ campaign. This program offered $599 unlimited travel between Sept 8-Oct 8. The results:

  • Demand far exceeded expectations
  • Nearly 50% of customers in this program had never flown JetBlue
  • Viral Launch ‘ 133 million reached through various social media channels and PR sources.
  • They received an estimated $14 million worth of media coverage
  • ‘Outrageous’ response from customers ‘ in a good way!

This program was amazingly more successful than they had hoped. Some flying fanatics actually flew more than 80 times during the program!JetBlue’s new terminal at JFK ‘ T5 ‘ is a fresh new look at air travel. By paying attention to what travelers need today (as opposed to 1950), JetBlue offers a bright, energetic space that includes:

  • lots of electrical outlets
  • free wifi
  • 22 restaurants and food outlets
  • 25 retail stores
  • a large kids area

One of the most fascinating stories about the new terminal was how JetBlue even thought through the security experience. They understand that even when you go through security, that’s still part of the JetBlue experience. So they created a better experience for TSA (the security agency) by improving the layout of the security area, and giving them padded floors among other improvements. The result is happier TSA workers who, in turn, help create happier customers.The Q&A at the end of the session included some thoughtful questions from the packed room:Q. How does idea generation work in your company?A. Through the continuous dialog with our crewmembers. We do ‘pocket sessions’ several times a year ‘ listening tours to get feedback from customers.Q. Are there certain behaviors you strive for to create the culture?A. It starts with how we teach and treat each other. If treat each other right, it will flow to the customer.We send surveys to 6 customers from every flight. One of the questions is on how much camaraderie there was among the crew. How much fun were they having? We use that information to see how we’re doing.
JetBlue, like many other companies represented at this year’s NACCM Customer’s 1st Conference are utilizing Net Promoter scores to help them increase the number of people who will refer them to other travelers.Vicky’s final message to customer service leadership: ROLE MODEL the behaviors you want. Your people are always watching you. You can put them through training, but your example means more than anything else. Great advice to end the session.Takeaways that the audience shared also make a great summary of the session:

  • It all starts with how we treat each other
  • Culture is service
  • When asked what makes you different, answer with a story instead of a soundbite
  • Focus on continuous innovation as well as consistency
  • Culture and profit should work together
  • Manage the balance between making crew members, customers, and shareholders happy.
  • Leadership should spend 70% of their time with crew members
  • Acknowledge imperfection. Things happen. Be honest and deal with it.