If you had asked for my opinion on JetBlue Airways' (JBLU) customer service in the early hours of Feb. 15, when I'd finally left New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport after hours of waiting for a flight that was then abruptly canceled, I would have agreed that the airline is toast. However, JetBlue's response since then is worthy of a B-school case study, like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and the famous Tylenol recall ("Customer service champs," Cover Story, Mar. 5).
Not only did the airline move quickly to apologize, accept full responsibility, and proactively introduce a passenger's bill of rights (all effectively communicated by e-mail from CEO David Neeleman) but they actually had someone call me to apologize. When I wasn't available, they even e-mailed me to find out when would be the best time to speak with me.
When they reached me, the caller was not some outsourced telemarketer working from a script. Instead, she actually asked me for my opinion of what went wrong and how they could fix it. She engaged me in a dialogue about the steps the airline was considering and sought my opinion on whether the measures would be enough. She thanked me for my help and patience and asked me to give the airline a second chance. They got it.
Many companies, when faced with such a consumer crisis, first deny the problem, then promise to study the issue, then "resolve" it with some personnel changes. In stark contrast, JetBlue moved swiftly to own up to its failures, honestly explain why they happened (too much expansion without sufficient infrastructure), and worked to both fix the problem and mend fences with customers who were harmed. By bringing customers into the process by actively seeking our opinions and feedback, JetBlue has deftly turned its "extraordinary stumble" into an exemplary lesson in customer relations.
By the time BusinessWeek went to press, JetBlue had launched itself back to the top of my list.
You state that JetBlue had piled up service accolades faster than most airlines rake up complaints, which contributed to its passengers' high expectations. Some writers in the field, and one mentioned in your article, seem to feel that JetBlue may have a difficult time regaining trust since those high expectations were shattered during the recent meltdown. I disagree.
Research I conducted on airline customer loyalty as part of my doctoral studies at Case Western Reserve University in 2001 (after the major carriers' meltdown during the summer travel season of 2000) found that the airlines had created a climate of low expectations, which led to "passive submission and unresisting acceptance of what is imposed," or a mode of satisfaction referred to as "satisfaction as resignation."
The research would indicate that JetBlue's implementation of a number of system and policy changes to support CEO Neeleman's "service guarantee" will bring back passengers who were inconvenienced but resigned to the fact that this sort of thing happens occasionally. JetBlue's systematic service-recovery process will result in its passengers continuing in the future to receive the service they expect. Therefore, they will forgive JetBlue for an occasional lapse.
Southwest Airlines (LUV) and JetBlue understand this. Too bad the other carriers haven't figured it out.
Paul Merage School of Business
University of California
In this time of corporate greed and scandalous white-collar crimes, company managers often hide behind press releases and spokespersons. I applaud the manner in which JetBlue handled the situation.
As CEO, David Neeleman could easily have hidden or made excuses for the airline's delays and cancellations. Instead, he was front and center in admitting his mistakes, apologizing, and detailing plans to help ensure that those mistakes do not happen again. His business ethics and sincere passion for customer service are the backbone of what the company is all about.
Unfortunately, in our society we flock toward the negative. Even in bad times, JetBlue was able to show the corporate world how things should be done.
Excising JetBlue from BusinessWeek's first-ever ranking of customer service champs showed poor judgment and casts doubt on the criteria used to arrive at the rankings. This omission was treated with self-serving theatrics by featuring the graffiti-like reprimand on the cover. It was out of balance with the airline's fine reputation.
I am one of the millions of travelers who know that JetBlue has a nonpareil record of concern for the public. No other airline, and few U.S. corporations, can match JetBlue for superb customer service. While it's true that the airline could have been better prepared for this emergency, it was a singular instance that did not speak for the airline's extraordinarily great care, day in and day out, for its passengers.
On September 11, 2001, JetBlue was among the first responders to aid passengers stranded at JFK by other airlines as well as JetBlue. It provided information, emergency money, and long-distance ground transportation. JetBlue has been quick to respond in many emergencies, and David Neeleman was extraordinary in his candor and apology. These are the same traits that will put JetBlue right back on your list of top customer service companies in short order. Shame on you, BusinessWeek, for your rash and brash scolding of this fine corporation.
Ronald D. Salk
Long Beach, Calif.
I was appalled that United Parcel Service (UPS) was rated eighth in your customer service ranking.
UPS is the worst at delivering packages to your home. It does not consider the recipient to be its customer. Rather, UPS considers the sender to be its customer, ostensibly through a long-term delivery agreement between UPS and said merchant.
How do I know this? I've placed several calls to the UPS customer support center to complain about delivery debacles from packages being crushed by UPS vehicles (with the tire tracks to prove it) to packages left uncovered in the rain to botched delivery dates.
Has UPS made any attempt to correct these situations? Not to date. Why? Its answer is short and sweet: "You are not our customer."
UPS may have all the latest whiz-bang navigation software your article depicts, but don't mistake software capabilities for customer focus. For all my delivery needs, I'll stick with No. 24 on your list: FedEx (FDX).
I have been a customer of USAA since 1962, when I was a brand new lieutenant and had no concept of what made an outstanding insurance company. This has been my only insurance company since, and I would never consider switching.
As good as you made USAA's customer service sound, I think it's even better. The representatives are polite, knowledgeable, and extremely responsive. And if a customer has a valid claim, USAA is there to help, not impede. There is a strong bond of trust between the company and its customers, which is quite rare.
It certainly has a lot to do with the integrity of the client base, which is current and ex-military personnel and their families. But it also reflects on a management that is strongly motivated to serve that client base and whose interests are above and beyond pure financial reward for themselves. You nailed this one.
Todd L. Bergman
"WHo Will Get Shredded?" (News & Insights, Mar. 19) expresses an erroneous view about Magnetar Capital and the impact of its exposure to the subprime mortgage market. We are a multi-strategy fund. Our investment strategy in mortgages is fully hedged and set up for volatility. We anticipated the current volatility, and in fact today's environment is very favorable to our strategy. In short, our timing has been great. This strategy has enjoyed strong positive returns to date, and we are well-positioned going forward.
CEO, Magnetar Capital