NoteWordy Ramblings

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Do Customers Have Responsibilities?

Sometimes it seems like this blog is only based on responses to Seth Godin's blog ... but since he comes up with lots of great topics and ideas I don't feel too bad responding to them (and in some cases clarifying or correcting them).

Today's blog post by Mr.Godin is a good example. He asks whether or not "customers have responsibilities"? His post does not seem to fall clearly on one side or the other. He tells the story about a customer who complains (loudly and vehemently) on a JetBlue flight and seems to give us the impression that the JetBlue staff should not be subjected to such behaviour. In fact, Seth expected that the police would be waiting when they landed.

Did you know that when JetBlue was thinking about how they were going to unique and special, they even considered a dress code for their customers? Clearly if you offer a superior service, you should be able to deal with "superior customers".

I'm surprised Seth did not bring up this angle. If JetBlue eliminated the abusive travelers, it would create a better environment for the remaining passengers and it would add even more value to the "JetBlue Brand". Of course, this is a slippery slope. If you eliminate every customer you do not like, you may end up with very few customers or, even worse, you may become so isolated from true problems that need to be fixed that your service level (and value to your remaining customers) diminishes beyond repair.

But, what if those abusive customers went over to American or United or some other "purely low price" carrier? They would make the experience worse on JetBlue's competitors flights which would, in turn, make a JetBlue flight even more attractive to the "good" or "non-abusive" customers. Sounds like a little selective "thinning of the herd" could do some good for JetBlue!

Now, Seth also brings up the point that consumers are gaining in power and that disgruntled customers can easily publicize their views via blogs and other forums. This would seem to indicate that a company should be careful about upsetting customers. This part is true. If you do something that is not in keeping with the overall value proposition and expectations you have set for your customers, you should heed their warnings and REACT appropriately. The problem comes in when airlines overbook or institute policies without giving the associates interacting with the customer the authority to over-ride the policies if they can make a customer happy. [For an example of "The right way to handle things"... read about Nordstrom's famous customer service.]

I would not be worried about upsetting customers who become abusive with your staff. More likely the person that will end up posting on a blog will be the passenger who sits right next to them. That quiet passenger might be Seth Godin (an A-list blogger with a large readership).

That's why your reaction as a company to situations like the one that Seth describes is critical to the overall success of your company. Listen to problems and solve them. Don't try to write rules for every situation. Publicize what your company stands for in terms of what your customers should expect from you. Let your associates use this is their overall guide. Empower them to take action and solve problems.

And give tall people* more leg room (if you are JetBlue).

Write On !

* Dave Wheeler
JetBlue Customer & Founder of

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