Becoming a Beloved Brand: Lessons from JetBlue’s VP of Marketing

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Airlines are notorious for pissing people off. And unfortunately for the industry, much of what drives customer experience – the weather – is beyond anyone’s control. But some airlines, like JetBlue, inspire heartfelt customer advocacy in an industry not known for rave reviews. So how do they do it?

To learn more, we invited Jamie Perry, former VP of Marketing at JetBlue, to share how the airline leverages customer feedback to thrive and evolve – an important lesson for anyone running a business.

First Jamie shares a brief video in which a JetBlue customer named Paul Brown tells the story of his relationship with the airline in a way that reads more like a bonafide love story than a customer review. Paul actually refers to JetBlue as the “love of my life, the person that puts the wind beneath my wings.” He then goes on to describe how he and JetBlue met, over a Starbucks venti mocha that a JetBlue flight attendant hand delivered to him on the plane after Paul tweeted at JetBlue asking if his frequent flyer status (131 flights and 140,000 miles over two years!) came with Starbucks delivery.

From that one small gesture and moment of surprise and delight, the love affair grew. If you listen closely to Paul’s story, you’ll realize that the relationship goes both ways. Paul may be the one traveling around the country evangelizing the JetBlue brand, but he does that because he’s been inspired by the way JetBlue has engaged him in fun, surprising, and completely “human” ways, all of which leads us to Jamie’s first insight.

It takes two to tango.

Focus on authentic, two-way customer engagement. You can’t just phone it in.

JetBlue categorizes customer interactions into two types of touchpoints, micro and macro. Paul’s story is a perfect example of a micro touchpoint – something that allows the brand to go deep with a single customer. Macro touchpoints, on the other hand, are all about scale. Approximately 36 million people fly JetBlue each year, and JetBlue uses the massive amount of data collected on those customers to capture, analyze, and optimize universal macro touchpoints.

It’s important to note, however, that JetBlue approaches each customer interaction – whether micro or macro – with a commitment to authentic, two-way engagement and action. Whether the brand is talking to one individual or all 36 million of their guests, JetBlue has developed a solid reputation as the airline that listens (and actually cares) about its customers. This isn’t an accident. JetBlue was founded in 1999 specifically to deliver a heavily customer service-oriented travel experience. Almost two decades later, they are still delivering on this promise, and they’re using today’s social media and other tools to do it.

>JetBlue has a team of about thirty people who monitor the brand’s social media platforms 24/7/365. These are real people who engage customers in real time and in a very personal and “human” way. JetBlue’s approach is a far cry from their far less sophisticated competitors who can appear tone-deaf with stale and automated replies.

Apply this Lesson to Your SaaS Company

You already know that (even) B2B brands need to have a social presence, but do you know how to avoid the trap of creating a one-sided “communication” channel? Too many SaaS companies see social media as just another way to get in front of their target market; they forget that just getting in front of the audience is only half the battle (and not the most important half). Social media is a two-way street. You have to not only respond to your customers, but truly engage them by listening, caring, and taking action. Social media should be treated with the same level of engagement as email and chat. If you aren’t engaging with your customers, you should ask yourself what is the point of this channel?

Change the world – one happy customer at a time.

Shift your customer’s perspective to drive advocacy.

There’s an interesting truth about customer experience gone wrong: the customer who had a problematic experience that was fixed quickly and efficiently will actually score a brand higher than the person who had a flawless experience. And that’s why JetBlue’s mindset is “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

To turn a crisis into customer advocacy you have to “break the schema.” A schema is a psychological preconception or a mental shortcut that tells people how something works. In the case of airlines, the schema is that they don’t care about their customers. To break the schema you have to do something that’s completely the opposite of what the customer expects.

For some airline customers, a “crisis” can be inability to connect their VPN. Rather than just dismiss a customer’s frustrated tweet regarding this very issue, the JetBlue team contacted the satellite provider so subject matter experts could sort things out. In the meantime, JetBlue’s social media team reached out to the customer to get more details about the problem. Boy was he surprised!

Long story short, JetBlue was able to fix the problem. As it turned out, it was a pretty specific problem that would impact only a very small number of customers. However, the bigger story is how what started out as a customer having a bad day and looking for a fight turned into a customer being blown away by JetBlue’s immediate and helpful response.

Apply this Lesson to Your SaaS Company

Complaints are clear signs of customer pain points. They are valuable on both the micro and macro levels because even when it looks like you’re only solving one customer’s problem, there’s a good chance that there are many other customers experiencing the same challenge. The most self-aware software companies proactively seek out negative feedback by doing systematic loss reviews. By collecting feedback from multiple lost deals, they are able to glean valuable insights about the friction points in the sales process. Taking the time to solicit feedback on the end-to-end journey from prospect to customer can be a very worthwhile effort.

You have the technology. Use it.

Plan ahead to take full advantage of available data as your company grows.

With 36 million annual customers and multiple ways to collect information on those customers, JetBlue has a lot of data to work with. Each year, JetBlue not only collects basic customer data as people book travel plans, they also send surveys to about a third of their customer base. Of the 12 million surveys, they typically get about 4 million responses.

JetBlue can drill down to an incredible level of detail, giving each general manager at each airport access to all kinds of information about their flights, crew members, and trends based on days of the week and other factors. There are always more opportunities to discover important insights. Looking at the data might help them see, for instance, that if the pilot comes out of the cockpit to say hello at the beginning of a flight, the NPS scores for that flight go up.

As an example of how macro data drove monumental changes for JetBlue, let’s look at a strange phenomenon where customers who “love” JetBlue chose other airlines for transcontinental flights. After analyzing the data, it turned out that while these customers did love JetBlue, they also loved having specific amenities on longer flights, specifically reliable WiFi and more comfortable seating. Based on these data-driven insights, JetBlue launched Mint (their premium product featuring lie-flat seats and larger TV screens) and Fly-Fi (their free, broadband-speed onboard WiFi). Both of these initiatives were expensive (including launching a satellite!) and time-consuming (taking approximately three years to complete), but JetBlue was able to move forward with confidence because the macro data made the problem (and the solution) clear.

Apply this Lesson to Your SaaS Company

Startup and expansion stage software companies may not yet have the luxury of mining a dataset as large as JetBlue’s, but they can incorporate performance metrics and voice-of-the-customer research as key inputs into their marketing, sales, product, and pricing decisions. This is especially critical for expansion-stage companies that are laying the groundwork for scale and need to think about not only how to systematically collect the data, but also how to ultimately make it available to all employees so they can make smarter decisions.

What would JetBlue do?

Put the customer at the center of everything.

Whether you’re an airline or a SaaS company, creating a brand that’s loved by its customers is about knowing what your customers care about, understanding their problems, and then using that information to create a product and an experience that exceeds their expectations in insightful and surprising ways.

From the intimate, one-on-one interactions that turn one customer’s day around to the universal, audience-wide transactions that provide you with feedback at scale, every touchpoint with your customers has to be focused on showing that you’re not only listening, but also that you actually care and are willing and able to do what it takes to break the schema and change perspectives.

Think about the possibilities – where could you take your company if your customers weren’t just customers, but were evangelical super-fans who actually loved your brand?