It could hardly have been better timed. After writing last week about achieving the remarkable, I received a newsletter from Charles Bennett, Partner and Thought Leader at The Focus Group, illustrating what achieving the remarkable means when it comes to customer service. In it he tells a powerful story from his experience. Like any good story it inspires and demands retelling, so it is with great pleasure that I share it with you. Here it is in Charles’ own words, exactly as I received it.
My personal example
I had completed a sequence of workshops and consulting assignments, firstly with Nielsen in New York then Microsoft in Seattle. My return from Seattle to London was via New York with Delta and then a scheduled BA flight for the final leg to London. Check-in, passport control and security procedures in Seattle were all uneventful and I settled down to talk to one of my favourite customers who were seeking ideas on a problem that they were struggling to solve. It turned out to be great call and we made a lot of progress, interestingly using the techniques I speak about in my workshops (but that is not the point of this story!!). I was busy patting myself on the back when I spotted the Delta I was supposed to be on, taxiing slowly down the runway.
Cursing my brainless stupidity, I hobbled over to Delta information (I was on 2 sticks as I'd picked up a foot infection previously in Saudi Arabia) but they told me there were no flights on Delta until the following day. BA in New York (where my original London - New York - London flight was issued) did not even answer their phones, even though I called during normal working hours. I then called the ticketing company who handled my original booking. They were able to get me a flight with BA a day later, but BA informed them the ticket change would incur a 2,000 GBP surcharge (even though I was flying with them business class and there was plenty of availability). I needed to find another option otherwise it was a day’s delay and a stupid level of extra cost.
It was then I spotted the Jet Blue desk, went over to talk to them and my luck changed! Jet Blue not only had a flight but it was the best price of any carrier by a country mile, not even charging disproportionately for buying a single. They were able to get me to New York in time for my connecting BA flight but there was only 75 mins connection time. The situation was more difficult in that a) the Jet Blue arrived at a different terminal to where my luggage arrived (it had managed to catch the Delta flight without me) b) the BA flight was in a different terminal again c) I could only move slowly with sticks and 1 foot off the ground.
Jet Blue ticketing could have simply sold me a ticket and left it at that, but they didn’t! They looked at every option to get me through the airport. They managed to get through to BA in New York who were not able to help me even though I had purchased a premium ticket almost 10 times more expensive than the single Jet Blue fare. Apart from having no suggestions BA also told me it was very unlikely I would make the connecting flight.
Jet Blue however said they could do it.
They seated me right at the front of the plane in the aisle so I would be the first to get off. They also made special arrangements for the fittest of the porters to be available with a wheel chair prepared for exactly where I needed to go. I have never been in a wheel chair in my life and in truth did not want this to be a first, but Jet Blue assured me if I swallowed my pride this was going to be my best chance.
The transit was incredible. The plane arrived early and the Jet Blue stewardess allowed me to get off the plane first. The porter literally sprinted between the Jet Blue terminal to the Delta terminal (baggage) to the BA terminal in record time. They got me to the front of all the queues whilst another porter followed along at almost the same pace with my baggage. The whole process was completed from exiting the plane to picking up baggage in another terminal to the BA check in in just over 25 minutes. There was no charge for any of this although of course I gave a very generous tip to the people who so kindly went out of their way to help me.
Jet Blue could have easily said once they had got me to New York their job was done - but they did not.
They understood enough about the customer experience to extend where the process started and stopped. The Jet Blue Service Agents who helped me understood customer obsession well enough and made an incredible difference to me and my journey. I could not fault BA once I was aboard but in truth they saw their job as based around operating an airline and offered nothing outside what they traditionally saw as their job. Jet Blue understood enough about the customer experience to realise the start and end point to the customer process was considerably wider and went out of their way to make it happen
Result? I talk about Jet Blue when I speak at workshops and conferences. I recommend Jet Blue to all my friends. I write about them in my blogs. I would actively seek them out again when next travelling in the States. The cost to the airline? Almost zero! Did I deserve that level of service? Not really – it was my fault I had missed the flight but one company found a solution when everybody else said NO!
Achieving the remarkable inevitably results in a story – in fact it guarantees it. This example proves that guarantee. It does so because it resonates. We would all like to have customer experiences like this, while every organisation would, ideally, like to provide them. As Charles points out, the benefits far exceed the costs and effort expended. But, more importantly, his story answers the key question, “How do you achieve this?” It offers lessons that can help you to create an organisational culture that makes it possible.
There is no indication of whether Charles’ experience was an almost miraculous one-off, or typical of Jetblue service, but their reputation seems to suggest this is a standard that the company aspires to, and with some success. This means that Jetblue seems to have effectively crossed the divide that is the bane of any executive’s life and been able to turn strategy into effective execution and implementation. But, while that’s impressive, it still doesn’t answer the “How did they do that?” question.
It seems to me the answer lies in a clearer vision or sense of purpose. While the other airlines in the story looked only at the passenger’s flight needs, Jetblue looked at his journey needs. In other words, they focused on what Charles was trying to achieve, rather than seeing him as only needing a flight between Point A and Point B. This fundamental difference is implicit at several different junctures in the story. For instance:
- It is unclear what effort Delta made to locate Charles, but he would have checked in already, they must have been aware of his not being on board.
- The Delta flight departing with his luggage but without him. This amazes me because I cannot tell you how often I have experienced departure delays while luggage has been removed for a passenger who has not made the flight. (I understand it is against IATA rules – to say nothing of the security risk – to fly with unaccompanied baggage; a requirement that makes the previous point more puzzling.)
- Both BA and Delta seemed to be more interested in making additional sales from Charles’ mistake, than sorting out his problem. Neither explored any other option for him to get to New York, and BA were unable to help when presented with a solution and asked to do so.
Now I am by no means belittling the complexity of ensuring the on-time departure of an aircraft containing 200-300 people or the impact that one ‘delinquent’ passenger can have. The airline industry may be one of the more complicated fields to be in, but this story shows that it is possible to differentiate and move away from rigid adherence to conventional performance measures. Whatever industry you are in, you will have processes with steps along the way that can cause problems and disruption. But, you can more readily iron them out when:
- You have a clear vision;
- It is universally understood; and
- People care.
But, as I described last week, all demand that you recognise that ‘Every Individual Matters.’