Jet Blues — How NOT to Do Crisis Communications

Jet Blues -- How NOT to Do Crisis CommunicationsJetBlue is in hot water, big time. This company, formerly the darling of its customers, investors and the press, is fighting for its life. And the same could happen to your nonprofit or program if perceptions change, even if the reason behind it all isn’t true.  So read on to learn how to  make the greatest impact with your crisis communications.

Last week’s outrageous delays (the more experienced airlines canceled earlier, and didn’t have as many passengers sitting on planes), anti-customer service (9 planes filled with passengers sat on the tarmac for more than 6 hours with no food, drink or polite handling), poor decision making, and a complete system breakdown that (even more frighteningly) indicates that JetBlue doesn’t have the infrastructure or policies to cope with challenges that are going to crop up from time to time in the airline business.

The JetBlue brand (all about customer service) is toast, and the company might not be far behind. They’ve already reported a significant fall in earnings from the more than 1,200 cancellations, and it’s hard to imagine that bookings won’t fall.

When you do something very wrong, you have to do a lot — completely right — to make it even a bit better. JetBlue needs to execute the best in crisis communications, and that’s not happening.

Here’s what JetBlue did do right:

  • " I’m mortified," said CEO David Neeleman on February 19th, acknowledging responsibility, and getting that acknowledgment, and his vision for making things better covered in major print and broadcast media
  • Put customers first. JetBlue built its reputation on customer service so last week’s events really hurt. Yesterday, nearly a week since the problems, they released a Customer Bill of Rights feature it on the JetBlue homepage.
  • Brought CEO Neeleman to customers via a heartfelt conversation delivered via a YouTube video.

Here’s what they should have done:

  • Acted more quickly to make a broad apology, via broad scale print and media
    • Ideally, they would have immediately (i.e. February 15) run a full-page ad, with a simple, heartfelt apology
      from Jet Blue CEO David Neeleman, his photo and his promise to make
      things work.
    • JetBlue finally ran full-page ads starting today (a week
      later), and will run them in 15 cities over the next few days. Too late, and probably too little.
  • Feature the apology (and Neeleman’s face and video) on JetBlue’s home page — it’s  just as important as the Bill of Rights
  • Put Neeleman and his colleagues in touch with who were on the planes stuck on the tarmac
  • Make the Customer Bill of Rights truly customer-centric.
    • At this moment, at least, they should be giving every passenger who suffered a significant delay on the runway or in the airport one or more round trips to the destination of their choices.
    • Instead, this complicated policy drips rebates/free tickets depending on the length of delay. Not good enough, JetBlue.
  • Get the passengers who were stranded on the planes or otherwise inconvenienced, but whom still believe JetBlue is worth flying (perhaps after Neeleman’s call), out as spokespeople
  • Used FlightLog, their CEO’s blog (or fake blog — no opportunity to comment) as a primary vehicle to talk with disappointed flyers, and the business community.
    • The latest entry (Feb. 1) is headlined "2007 Takes Off in Right Direction," and boasts on JetBlue’s 2006 earnings.
    • The blog is designed as a way for Neeleman to converse with key audiences. Why ignore it?

Any other recommendations for JetBlue’s crisis communications? The point here is that JetBlue should have had a crisis communications strategy up and ready to go — it’s not unreasonable to realize that an airline is going to face just this kind of weather crisis. They didn’t, and it shows, although they’re trying very hard to fix that.

Here’s more guidance on crisis communications for your nonprofit.

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Nancy Schwartz in Case Studies, Crisis Communications, Nonprofit Communications | 6 comments
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