Damn You, JetBlue

Every new employee’s first week at Digital Bungalow begins with a Core Values luncheon. It’s my chance to indoctrinate them into our culture and talk about our company strategy. I’ve written before about our core values and how important they are to me and to our team; they’re (literally) painted on the walls. On a weekly basis, employees bring a Core Values Story to their department meeting. We even give out prizes for the best Core Values Stories at our monthly company meeting. That’s how crucial they are to Digital Bungalow’s mission.

In advance of my Core Values Lunch with each new employee, they are given a copy of one of my favorite business books, Raving Fans. The book, which is over 20 years old by now, is a short and simple read. It’s a business fable on how consistently over-delivering by just 1% enables companies to grow through word of mouth. Customers are so used to being disappointed that they will go out of their way to tell people about how great a company is who consistently delivers just a little bit more than they expect. The message works, too. We built my first company, Thrive Networks, around Raving Fans and it has played an important role in our rapid growth at Digital Bungalow.

When we talk about Raving Fans, part of our message is that building the culture is simple, but it isn’t easy. It is surprisingly difficult to think of companies who consistently exceed our expectations by just 1%. What’s amazing is that when someone mentions a company they are a Raving Fan of, almost everyone invariably agrees. It’s no accident that people frequently cite Apple and Zappos as companies that consistently deliver +1%, but no one has ever mentioned Microsoft, Verizon, or Comcast. Great customer service is endemic to Raving Fans companies. A focus on the customer as the center of everything they do is part of their vision, systems, and culture.

This brings me to my problem: JetBlue. I love that David Neeleman built JetBlue from the ground up as a customer-centric airline. Everything about JetBlue was designed as customer-centric, from a point-to-point route map (as opposed to hub and spokes), using the same planes across their fleet, installing TVs for every passenger, providing the most legroom in coach and endless complimentary snacks, and flight attendants with a sense of humor. This approach is also reflected in JetBlue’s booking process; they employ stay-at-home moms instead of an overseas call center.

In an industry where all other airlines both consistently lose money and provide highly inconsistent customer service, JetBlue and Southwest have stood out as the only two major domestic airlines that have great customer service built into their corporate DNA and make money doing it.

I’ve always used JetBlue as one of my prime examples of a Raving Fans company. However, their announcement this week about reducing leg room and adding checked bag fees are a step away from the Raving Fans philosophy I previously discussed. JetBlue is now moving toward the same misguided strategies that have plagued many other airlines. Adding checked bag fees may result in more revenue for the airline, but it also means that more passengers will carry on rolling suitcases to avoid the fees. This change causes planes to take longer to board, have less time in the sky (lower revenue for the airline), and an inferior customer experience.  Reducing leg room may make sense to the financial analysts crunching numbers, but it’s a step in the wrong direction for a company whose brand is built on the comfort level of their customers’ flying experience.

For me, it’s a sign that yet another company has gone from being one of the few who get it, to the many who don’t. This decision would never have happened when Neeleman when was running JetBlue, as it submarines what the company stands for. Unfortunately, this change also means that I need to take JetBlue out of my Core Values presentation, and find a new Raving Fans company to put in.

Damn you, JetBlue.

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