Editor’s Notes: Real Money Talks
Valentine’s Day is a holiday meant for showing your affection to people who are important in your life. With all the “love thy customer” lip service being passed around by CEOs these days, this circle of appreciation has spread from family and friends to companies’ customers. But the concept doesn’t always translate into actual behavior.
Case in point: This past Feb. 14, when an ice storm wreaked havoc on air transportation, JetBlue delivered some of its customers a bouquet of dead flowers in the form of six-to-10-hour flight delays while they sat in planes on the tarmac. With an immense public relations disaster on its hands—and the spectre of regulation hovering—JetBlue pulled together within a week a Passenger’s Bill of Rights for its customers that makes certain service guarantees and that offers gifts for not meeting a whole host of service expectations. For example, an onboard ground delay for a departure that lasts between three and just under four hours merits $100 … well, not $100 in cash, but a voucher for a future flight on JetBlue. After spending a nightmarish 10 hours stranded in a plane on the runway, without adequate food, water, toilet services or fresh air, who in his right mind would be swayed by a voucher for a roundtrip ticket just to go through that again? And again after the next incident? That’s like accepting free meals from a restaurant that gives you salmonella poisoning, followed by hepatitis A and E. coli.
While not an equal comparison, a customer service situation I encountered recently with Ameriprise left a more positive impression of how a company can make things right. A check I sent to my financial advisor was lost at corporate headquarters. My advisor contacted me promptly to apologize sincerely for the inconvenience, communicate that Ameriprise would pay the stop-check fee my bank would assess, and ask for a replacement check. With little difficulty, I took care of the situation and moved on. A week or two passed, and a letter arrived from an Ameriprise service support representative, hand-signed and accompanied by a $25 American Express gift certificate. I had no expectations of such a thank-you for my time and trouble—a JetBlue customer would have had to sit in a plane for 30 minutes to an hour past the scheduled arrival/departure time to earn a $25 voucher.