3 Customer Satisfaction Lessons From JetBlue

JetBlue has come up trumps again, leading all airlines in passenger satisfaction for the third consecutive year. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), JetBlue scored 79 (out of 100) to top the airline category. Southwest (78) and Delta (71) rounded out the top three.

So how does JetBlue keep winning this customer satisfaction accolade year after year?

What does JetBlue do differently from United (ranked a distant sixth) that makes its customers so much happier?

Through analyzing research from some of the industry’s most knowledgeable experts, I’ve compiled a list of four lessons JetBlue offers to help you achieve industry-high customer satisfaction.


1. JetBlue focuses on company culture.

JetBlue ranked number one for customer satisfaction in the United States (image source).

David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue airlines, once confessed, “What keeps me awake at night is figuring out how we grow this culture. How do we bottle this and keep it going. At the end of the day it’s all about attitude.”

He’s talking about company culture and ways JetBlue leverages that culture to create amazing experiences that keep customers clamoring for more. Through its culture, JetBlue empowers employees to make decisions for the best of the customer, even if those decisions don’t quite follow regular protocol.

I love this – too many times employees are scared to break the rules for customers – that’s why most companies only deliver bland, scripted experiences.

So how does company culture translate into high customer satisfaction?

Gordon Tan, founder of Client Heartbeat and Managing Director of R & G Technologies, explained in a recent ASCII presentation: “Culture is social control. It is sets of information that tell staff what to do in the absence of procedures.”

Culture helps to frame actions employees take. Culture is formed through the values your company embodies. Through these values, your employees get direction as to how they should properly engage, interact, and communicate with customers.

For example, let’s say you tell your employees to treat customers like friends. If they receive a phone call at 5PM, they won’t leave the customer hanging just because it’s time to go home. They will stay a couple of minutes later to help the customer.

Gordon Tan believes that you affect culture in four ways: through your values, incentives, symbolic changes, and celebrations of success.

To create a consistent culture and garner buy-in from your team, you must ensure consistency in everything you do inside your company. You can’t incentivize staff on a personal level if your values say teamwork – that wouldn’t be congruent and would damage the culture you are trying to create.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes about culture from Ram Charan and Jerry Useem:

“It’s impossible to monitor the actions of every employee no matter how many accounting and compliance controls you put in place…a company’s cultural code is supposed to equip front-line employees to make the right decisions” – Fortune Magazine

Key lessons you can learn from JetBlue about company culture:

  • Examine your existing culture. Is it customer focused? Do your values speak about your own goals or those of your customers?
  • Make sure your incentives align with your values.
  • Empower employees to ‘break the rules’ if it means creating an amazing experience for customers.


Related: How to Leverage Company Culture to Improve Customer Satisfaction (4 Tactics)


2. JetBlue offers friendly, personalized service.

Friendly JetBlue staff – they are always smiling and putting the customer first (image source).

Erika Anderson, business thinker and Forbes contributor, flew with JetBlue and loves its customer service.

She wrote in an article: “JetBlue didn’t spend more money ‘serving’ me. The difference in my experience was 100% in the attitude of the customer-facing employee.  Somehow, the management of JetBlue has figured out how to build a positive, friendly, respectful way of interacting with customers into the DNA of their company.”

Every company tells employees to smile and treat customers in a friendly manner. But how many companies actually do that?

It’s tough to keep a strangle hold over all your employees. However, somehow JetBlue can. I believe this comes back to the company culture – every employee has a set of values ingrained into them so they already know how to handle each and every customer interaction.

Erika Anderson speculated, “I suspect they hire for it, train to it, and reward it.  And I also suspect that JetBlue employees are treated pretty well themselves — in my experience, if you treat employees badly, they’ll treat customers badly.”

When it comes to personalized service, JetBlue doesn’t stop at a friendly smile. They leverage mobile, Wi-Fi, and tablets to extend the experience through digital. I previously explored ways Disney uses digital customer experiences, and JetBlue appears to be on the same path.

Most of the JetBlue digital experience revolves around the JetBlue mobile app, which was refreshed three years ago. The app handles the company’s loyalty program and offers consumers the ability to store their boarding passes in-app, making it even easier to fly with JetBlue.

Key lessons you can learn from JetBlue about offering a friendly, personalized service:

  • Focus on your employees – if you treat them right, they’ll treat your customers right.
  • It doesn’t cost anything extra to offer friendly, personal service. Make sure your employees are delivering a friendly experience – help them if they don’t know how.
  • Use digital to extend the customer experience – leverage mobile to enhance convenience and Web sites to distribute important information.


3. JetBlue exceeds customer expectations.

JetBlue exceeds customer expectations by offering in-flight entertainment on all flights (image source).

Exceeding customer expectations is one way JetBlue has been able to climb to the top of the customer satisfaction rankings.

Understanding expectations is simple — when customers have high expectations and reality falls short, they will be disappointed and will likely rate their experience as less than satisfying.

The real challenge with expectations lies with knowing how to exceed them. If a customer has a perception of the level of service offered, what can you do to exceed that?

JetBlue entered the airline market as a low-cost carrier. But the company didn’t want to follow its predecessors and skimp out on customer service. JetBlue matched low-cost with nice-to-have extras to create a customer experience rivaled by no other airline at the time.

Here are some examples of how JetBlue continually exceeds expectations. Remember – at the time of launch, a lot of these were considered luxury extras that customers had to pay more for on traditional carriers.

  • Free luggage. Say goodbye to luggage charges. Get a free bag with JetBlue.
  • Cheap cancellation and change fees. Instead of paying hefty fees upward of $50-100 dollars, JetBlue charges a flat $25.
  • Direct flights. No one likes hanging out at airports.
  • TV entertainment on all planes. Full cable service with DirecTV channels makes those long flights just that little bit more comfortable and entertaining.



Picture yourself back in 1999 choosing an airline. You have the traditional big boys like United that offer a blank, standardized customer experience with close to none of the above.

Now visualize yourself flying with JetBlue for the very first time – you are blown away by all these added benefits.

As a customer, you leave JetBlue feeling very satisfied, so you start telling all your friends about the experience, and you will most likely fly with JetBlue again on your next trip.

This is the power of exceeding customer expectations.

Ted Reed, a Forbes contributor who has been covering the airline industry since 1989, read the recent ASCI survey and knows a thing or two about airlines. Here’s what he had to say about customer satisfaction in the airline industry:

“Major causes of airline passenger unhappiness included in-flight service and seat comfort, which scored 67 and 62, respectively.  Also, passengers who had to pay a fee to check a bag awarded the baggage handling experience a 66, while passengers who paid no baggage fees ranked the experience at 71.” – read more from Ted Reed.

Key lessons you can learn from JetBlue about exceeding customer expectations:

  • Low cost and competing on price doesn’t mean you have to deliver a poor customer experience.
  • Focus on the little details that are important to your customer. What can you offer them that they wouldn’t expect from your competitors?
  • Customer expectations are always changing; make sure you are up to date with these changes so that you can stay ahead of your competition.


What’s next: How can you improve customer satisfaction?

JetBlue succeeded in the competitive airline industry by focusing on creating happy customers. In an industry where companies lost a combined total of $54 billion from 2000 to 2009, JetBlue managed to carve out a solid slice of the market and become a big player.


Michelle Hansen, JetBlue’s Director of Customer Support Operations, said in 2009, “If customer service is embedded in the core of an airline, that can lead to happy customers and profitability.”

I think that one quote sums up JetBlue perfectly.

The airline focuses on customer service and ingrains it within every employee that works for the company. This attention to customer service has led to happy customers and profitability.

Now wait… I don’t want you to go back to your team and start preaching customer service, customer service, customer service!

I want you to think more deeply, to think beyond customer service. Think about what you can do to create a company culture that breeds awesome customer service and high customer satisfaction.

You can start with these three questions:

  • Do you need to tweak your core values?
  • Are you offering a personalized service?
  • How can you exceed expectations?


If you’re looking for more inspiration, I recommend these resources:

Gordon Tan

Gordon Tan is an entrepreneur based in Australia who has started and sold multiple technology companies with a combined value of $150m. This included a client satisfaction benchmarking platform which gave him first hand insight into the best practices of over 6,000 businesses. After retiring at 35 he is now a recognised thought leader on winning and retaining clients - His two passions: making clients the heartbeat of a business no matter what the product or service and this blog.

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