The Customer Confidential Podcast
Imagine a business where customers regularly pay hundreds or thousands of dollars so they can wait in long lines, experience deep anxiety, be confined for long periods of time and be treated with little compassion or respect. For the most part, that’s air travel these days. From crowded airports and complicated security checks to baggage fees, delays and chronic overbooking, few things we pay for inspire as much intense anxiety as commercial flying.
Now add small kids to the mix. Traveling with small children is a stressful dance. Frantic parents try to juggle squirming babies and toddlers, along with all the gear they need to keep them safe and happy—car seats, diaper bags, food, comfort toys, strollers—along with carry-on bags and coats, while a line of impatient passengers forms behind them, scrambling to get to their own seats.
This is such a familiar sight. And every parent has experienced the messy, frustrating and embarrassing struggle of traveling with infants and toddlers. Yet, in all my travels I’ve seen only one airline do something about it—JetBlue. I once watched a JetBlue flight attendant entertain an infant—carrying her up and down the aisle and interacting with other passengers—so that the child’s harried mother could set up her baby’s car seat and load her gear into the overhead bins. It was such a simple gesture, but it meant so much to the grateful mom.
Like many executives, I’ve wondered how JetBlue instills the kind of genuine caring and proactive attentiveness in its staff that makes this sort of gesture commonplace there. On the latest Net Promoter System Podcast, Bonny Simi, JetBlue’s vice president of talent, shares the carrier’s approach to developing customer experiences that leave people talking long after they’ve landed. Her philosophy is very simple, even if executing it is hard: “It’s very much around having happy crew members who love to go above and beyond.”
Since its founding in 1998, JetBlue has been on a mission to “bring humanity back to travel.” Bonny says the company tries to hire people who enjoy engaging with customers and relish in the adventure of travel. These employees “wake up on the right side of the bed every day.” And they look for fulfillment that goes beyond their paycheck. They live to make others smile.
When new employees join JetBlue, according to Simi, they become part of a “customer service organization that happens to fly airplanes.” At JetBlue, it’s not unusual to see pilots help flight attendants tidy up the plane while on the ground, or a manager step into a subordinate’s role to reward her with a day off for good service. It’s part of creating a sense of teamwork and affiliation focused around the customer and demanding that employees do right by customers, even when it’s inconvenient.
I have often told the story about a JetBlue flight that was circling due to stormy weather on its way from Texas to New York. After spending several hours in a holding pattern, the plane was diverted to Rochester, New York, for refueling. We had been on this plane for almost six hours and weren’t going to get to the Manhattan area for at least another two. Everyone was cranky, tired and hungry, so our pilots asked JetBlue’s ground crew to arrange for pizza to be delivered to the plane. As the pies entered the cabin, the atmosphere turned from sullen resignation to friendly celebration. The gesture lifted everyone’s spirits. I imagine getting that much pizza to a landed plane late at night is no small feat. Think about all the logistical and security considerations, let alone the issue of how to pay for this spontaneous decision. Somehow, JetBlue made it happen.
Stories like these come up regularly about JetBlue. Not to say they are always perfect. But they stand in contrast to the culture philosophy of “no” at most airlines, whose policies, working conditions make everyone miserable, from the gate agent to the customer.
You can hear Bonny’s point of view on service on the Net Promoter System Podcast. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or listen to this episode through the player above. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.