You may not have very high expectations for most large companies, but JetBlue has done a great job differentiating themselves on Twitter by finding clever ways to exceed our expectations.
“We call ourselves a customer service company that happens to fly planes,” Laurie Meacham says. (While this phrase isn’t original to JetBlue, it’s been in common use within the company since their first flight in 2000 — before it became popularized by Zappos COo/CFO Alfred Lin.)
Laurie’s been at JetBlue for over eight years now and has spent the last two as Manager of Customer Commitment. I had the pleasure of sitting down with her last week to chat about JetBlue’s uniquely dedicated approach to Twitter as a customer service outlet, rather than simply a social media marketing tool.
“We’re all about people,” she explained, “and being on social media is just a natural extension of that. It’s no different than any other part of the airline.”
Let me give you a taste of what I’m talking about here. In January of this year, a man named Alex tweeted at JetBlue asking about their standby policy — namely, why he would be charged $50 for getting on an earlier flight than the one he was ticketed for. Within three minutes, JetBlue had replied.
But when the JetBlue folks in Boston saw that tweet, they took it to another level — and ten of them greeted her at the gate with signs, smiles, and marching band music.
— JetBlue Airways (@JetBlue) May 28, 2014
Because hey, why not?
Laurie told me about another time this year, when a customer tweeted at JetBlue that he was about to board his 100th JetBlue flight that year. He didn’t mention where he was flying to or from, but Laurie’s team grabbed his name from Twitter and looked up where he was flying out of. It turned out to be Boston, and the Boston team greeted him at the gate with cupcakes and a banner.
It’s magical gestures like these that set JetBlue apart from many other big brands, let alone other airlines. Sure, other brands answer customers’ questions on Twitter, but how many of them have dedicated customer service professionals behind their Twitter handles? And how many of them use these Twitter conversations to delight in the real world, too?
But as you can imagine, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies in the airline industry. Not only are airlines heavily regulated, but there are a lot of moving pieces involved in giving customers great experiences. Plus, let’s face it … air travel isn’t exactly fun and sexy.
I asked Laurie about a big challenge her team has faced this year and how they responded to it. She told me a story from earlier this year when JetBlue — and all airlines — had major disruptions to their schedules because of winter storms in early January. Flight delays and cancellations seriously impacted thousands of people, including those who were traveling home from vacations.
Customers were displaced, plans changed, and many travelers couldn’t get home for days — and when that happens, they often take to Twitter. “Our volume of Twitter mentions went way up,” said Laurie. “We couldn’t change the weather, we couldn’t make conditions safe to fly, and we couldn’t get them where they needed to go. But what we could do — and did do — was keep people updated on what to expect.”
And sometimes, the team just has to accept the hits. And during large-scale events like those winter storms, there can be many hits. But Laurie’s team empathized with their customers on Twitter, informed them, and tried to help whenever they could.
“But we also don’t apologize to everyone,” she said. “We’re definitely sorry they’re having to deal with this, but ultimately, there are reasons that flights get cancelled and if we ignore those reasons, we’re putting everyone at risk. Also, apologizing to everyone just makes us look apologetically sad and like we may not have a handle on things, when the truth is, we’re doing all we can to get people where they want to go.”
JetBlue has had their fair share of crises like any other airline, and it’s something Laurie talks about with the team frequently. “Social media is powerful and things can go south so quickly, so we talk to the team all the time about how to respond appropriately, when to blow the whistle, when to contact Corporate Communications.”
Despite these challenges, JetBlue maintains a 79.1% on-time arrival rate, and a customer complaint rate of just 0.79 out of every 1,000 passengers. They’re right at the top of the industry.
I asked Laurie about branding initiatives from here on out. “We’re doing more with social media content, especially on Instagram and Facebook,” she told me. She and her team will be experimenting with what resonates with customers on those platforms, so keep an eye on their Instagram and Facebook accounts.
In the meantime, her team of 25 will continue working around the clock to reply to customer tweets with the same dedication their customer support teams respond to customers on the phone. They’ve certainly set the bar high in the airline industry — they now have 10 consecutive J.D. Power & Associates awards for “Highest in Customer Satisfaction Among Low-Cost Carriers in North America” — and we hope to see other brands take the hint from JetBlue’s Twitter successes and make similar customer service efforts going forward.
Image credit: Moto “Club4AG” Miwa