Tuesday, June 09, 2009

It's (Suppossed to be) All About The Customer

Customer service is a critical area where a company gains loyalty or loses a customer, possibly for life, during brief interactions with day to day company representatives. Companies who win loyalty during these tough economic times are poised to come out on top once the economy picks back up. Consumers want to see who sticks with them when they were in need. A new loyalty between brands and their consumers will be formed and possibly in a manner like we have never seen before.

I rarely see customer service talked about (outside of The Consumerist), most especially in terms of quantifiable value of customer service and the contribution or lack thereof to the lifetime customer value. (Note: Someone should do this, but I am not going to be doing that here)

When it comes to customer service, good or bad, I am very vocal amongst my colleagues, friends and social networks in explaining the situation and how I was treated.

A recent situation happened to me and appeared to have a simple solution behind it. A resolution would have kept me a very satisfied customer with a continued commitment to the business, that certainly wasn't the outcome.

The Back Story:

I fly JetBlue from SFO to JFK frequently for business. I go out of my way to book through Jetblue.com as I get 12 points for the round trip flight (6 each leg) and 6 for booking online. 18 points for one flight. 100 points gets you a free flight. Do the math and 6 flights = 1 free flight+.

During the winter months JetBlue shifts their flight schedule to accommodate more north to south travelers heading to warmer climates for the winter. Due to this change I had to recently move to Virgin America or American who had much more accommodating non stop flight schedules from SFO to JFK during the winter months.

My previous commitment to flying JetBlue paid off a while back as I had gotten my free round trip flight. While I haven't had the time to think about basking in the sun for a vacation with my free flight, I am certainly keeping an eye on my finances as the times call for, which brings me to

My current situation

I am heading to a wedding in Chicago in a couple weeks and flight prices have been high. I figure it is a good time to cash in on my flight credit with JetBlue. I log on and find that my 2 credits are gone.

Seeing this, I follow up with customer service (a lady named Ann) who seems mildly concerned and ends up passing me along to a service lady in the TrueBlue department (can't remember her name). The TrueBlue lady goes on to tell me that my awards expired in April (it is June 9th) and her supervisor (automated computer protocol sheet) will not let me get the awards back as I am outside of the 30 days window. I asked if I could purchase them back at a fee(i've done this with Southwest, and it is great. Doesn't make you feel as if you wasted a bunch of time and had the reward taken away from you), to which they said no.

I explained to the customer service lady at TrueBlue my frequency of flying with the airline when their east to west flights schedule picks up. She didn't seem to care about my loyalty to JetBlue and said she was sorry and there was nothing she could do. This was all fine, there was no heated conversation or argument. But in customer service you SHOULD CARE about your customers. You SHOULD want to make things right.

I then tweeted @JetBlue about my situation and received the following response, "Sorry - I'd end up sending you to those folks myself and they'd give you the same response".

Briefly I hopped over to gmail while writing this and had an email from JetBlue to save $20 on my flight if I used bill me later. Enough is enough Jet Blue!

I really wonder how hard it is to give back the 2 awards I had in my account 2 months ago. The answer is easy, very easy.

Customer Service goes all wrong with following protocols and guidelines. They need to be thinking about the cost of accommodating a customer versus the cost of not doing so.

1)What is the cost of giving this customer back 2 awards (which would make this customer ecstatic, much more loyal and a possible brand advocate)?


2)What is the cost of losing this a customer who is a frequent traveler, in his mid twenties and likely going to be a frequent traveler for the next 25 years of his life? On top of that what if he lets his friends in his networks (face to face, twitter, facebook, and so on...) know about this experience.

Well I am #2 here. My response isn't geared to attack the airline, but to highlight the serious never ending problems with customer service. Good or bad, when these situation arise I talk about the brand, how they do/don't understand me and so on (many of my other friends do the same thing). On top of that I make a conscious decision to either engage deeper with that brand or completely pull myself away from that brand unless absolutely necessary.

The problem is the brand itself doesn't understand or they do not have flexability in their processes and policies to adapt to the best interest of the customer - something like a common sense policy if you will.

I committed to flying JetBlue and have come away empty handed. Is that the type of customer service you want to give to your loyal customers, have them walk away feeling empty handed and somewhat robbed?

Zappos, Amazon, Endless, Hertz and Southwest are all brands I continue to have great customer service experiences. I buy from, am loyal to and talk more about them.

Why, if you are a brand would you not shoot for this? JetBlue, your customer service is inhibiting you from doing this and as a result you just lost a customer for life.

UPDATE: Great post from Andy Beal on one consumer who didn't receive attentive customer service after a blatant mishandling by an airline he flew and ended up taking things into his own hands with a video - to the tune of 1.9M+ views. Can you guess the airline?