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  Fly The What Skies?
by Michael Levine [publicist] 11/17/06

Thanks to their pilot fatigue experiments, jetBlue may be in hot water with the FAA recently. But is this an example of a careless company risking lives, or something else? JetBlue revolutionized customer service for the troubled industry, so why not give them a shot at tackling productivity as well? The airline industry needs a shot in the arm, and jetBlue could be the one to deliver… once again.

Michael Levine - Contributor

Michael Levine is the founder of LCO- Levine Communications Office, a Los Angeles-based public relations firm, and the author of 17 books, including Broken Windows (Warner Books, 2005). www.brokenwindows.com
[go to Levine index]

Psychologists and criminologists once developed something called the broken windows theory which stated you must first attack the smaller more noticeable crimes in order to bring peace to any neighborhood. I combined this theory with my experience in public relations to create something that will revolutionize the business world just as it once revolutionized the world of criminology. It’s something that jetBlue seems to take to heart.

Just as graffiti in a neighborhood, the smaller things in business may seem insignificant, but they are not. Most businesses, not unlike neighborhoods – are overlooking these problems and sending subconscious suggestions that those in charge simply do not care. And who wants to live, shop or fly under that pretense?

Customer service can be one of the biggest broken windows for any business and the airline industry is no exception. The food has become a tired punchline, the seats are uncomfortable and the service is at best neutral. Instead of fixing these problems, the airlines were slapping their key customers in the face with higher fees and sub-standard service.

This is not for a lack of knowledge. Large air carriers are slaves to customer surveys so it’s safe to say that they were aware of the problem. But why were no measures being taken to better their service?

They knew that since there was no quicker way to travel, the public was stuck with whatever service they were offered. Their sense of customer service had in fact atrophied.

If truth in advertising were that important to United, their slogan perhaps should have been “Fly the Apathetic Skies of United.” It is not merely enough to tell your customers that you are friendly, you must actually be friendly.

American Airlines had once advertised more leg room in coach. However, no immediate profits were seen so their seats were returned to the same uncomfortable position as before.

As in both cases, advertising a service that simply isn’t there (or is quickly revoked) can be more damaging than the initial problem was to begin with.

The question remained though: with the broken windows of the airline business not being fixed, what could be done?

Enter: jetBlue.

The company, founded in 2000, strived to find the middle ground that was overlooked by their competitors. All of the seats were the same, the flights were equipped with satellite service and snacks were a far cry from the sad bag of pretzels offered in “the majors.” The staff was professional and efficient without being apathetic and the attention to the details was evident.

As jetBlue’s service expanded to airports on the East coast, other companies including United and Delta opened smaller more fare-friendly divisions named Ted and Song, respectively. But alas, jetBlue proved to be the exception and not the rule.

Although cut-throat price matching wars began between Delta and jetBlue and other offers began piling on from other airlines, it still seemed that customers were given a clear choice: Sign up for lower fares with better service on fewer routes, or pay full price for the same miserable experience from before.

Sure it was nice to see the companies offering lower fares and better staffing (thanks to pressure from jetBlue), but was this the way to fix the broken windows of the airline industry? Yes and no.

So far the attitude and philosophy pioneered by jetBlue has not bled through to the major airlines but rather smaller companies within a company. The major airlines have seemed to rush to imitate what works without questioning why it works. Instead of fixing the problems plaguing the industry as a whole, what the public is greeted with is a sub industry of sorts of companies that are like jetBlue but would rather put jetBlue out of business so that their parent companies can return to the sub-standard service from before.

The broken windows of these airlines are not fixed, but merely glued together in order to produce some semblance of a fixed window. Until the big boys of the industry are willing to fully adopt the customer service techniques necessary for survival in today’s world it would seem as though we are all in for quite a bumpy flight. Something is fatigued, and it may not just be the pilots. CRO

Michael Levine is the founder of LCO- Levine Communications Office, a Los Angeles-based public relations firm, and the author of 17 books, including Broken Windows (Warner Books, 2005). www.brokenwindows.com <http://www.brokenwindows.com>

copyright 2005 Michael Levine



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