At the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, just over the San Bruno hills from the Silicon Valley, they have a guy come out and play “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes every night for the guests who are watching the sun set over the Pacific. It is a moment that is unexpected and unforgettable. As a branding moment for the hotel, it is like a the free chocolates on your pillow times a million.
You can create poignant branding moments like that. Sometimes, however, circumstances thrust branding moments upon you involuntarily. Your survival as a company is contingent on your response to such moments.
My JetBlue flight last night (Thursday 24 June 2010) from JFK to Tampa, originally scheduled to depart at ~7:30pm, did not depart until ~12:30am this morning.
I could go through the details, but suffice it to say the experience was typical. JetBlue, do you want to be typical?
We were eventually told the delay was due to the crew’s having been delayed due to weather. Given the exigencies of summer travel on the eastern seaboard, one would think that an airline attempting to excel above its rank & file competitors would consider having a spare crew or two at the ready, especially at its JFK hub, to forestall customer dissatisfaction and frustration in situations like this.
I have been a fan, and rather loyal customer, since 2000. You have always distinguished yourself as slightly more hip, cool, and fun than your aging competitors, slightly more in touch with the customer as a person. Slightly atypical, in fact.
But last night, you were just another typical old airline herding the geese.
What a branding moment you could have created. It was a moment that mattered more than other moments. You could have made it a positive experience, one that converted a few tired, victimized passengers into evangelists for your airline.
Would it have been so hard to offer cold water bottles or hot towels or blue chips or some other unexpected treat to your passengers in the throes of an unexpected 5-hour delay? (To be fair, the crew did make all the PPV movies free of charge once we finally took flight, but really, who wanted to watch a movie from 1 to 3am?)
Look, flying is a necessary evil. We don’t want to be your customer; we just want to get home. You can’t really do much in the bagpipes-at-sunset department to change that aspect of our relationship with you. We are just pleased when your customer service doesn’t suck as bad as the typical airlines.
But at any time when we’re feeling underserved and that is even partially your fault — and even when it’s not — you might want to find a nice, simple way to say you care. When a flight delay occurs, your customer service performance gets herniated into every customer’s face. It is the only thing we care about for the duration of the delay. We are primed to remember everything you do at a moment like this.
Do more than just not suck. Do something atypical and unexpected. We won’t forget.