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JetBlue--The Problem With Customer Loyalty.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on April 9, 2008

I’m getting slammed here for my post complaining about JetBlue service by a lot of very loyal customers. JetBlue has worked very hard to cultivate this kind of loyalty and very few companies, with the exception of Apple and Starbucks, can match it.

But the comments by JetBluers blasting me raise an interesting question—can a company be blinded by its own loyal consumers? Reading through the comments, it’s clear that most of the people reacting to my post didn’t get the point. They framed me as complaining about price—paying $20 more for legroom in Exit Row seats when I actually complained about trust—JetBlue taking my assigned seats away and splitting them up across rows. And then charging $20 extra per seat on the return for seats I had already paid for. Again, breaking trust, not changing the business model, is

the issue.

So what gives? Are pople reading blog items very quickly and missing the point? Is it blind loyalty? I like the blind loyalty argument because it gets at something important. If a company succeeds in building a very loyal customer base, will it fail to receive feedback on problems (or changing trends or competitors)as a result? Is loyalty good but blind loyalty bad in the long run?

For companies that build a very loyal base of consumers, it may be important for them to monitor the edges, where a few people are saying things that contradicts the majority.

Thought for the day.

Reader Comments

RitaSue Siegel

April 10, 2008 12:54 AM

I agree with you 100%. If a customer reserves and pays for certain seats, the airline has no right to give them to someone else. Secondly, if the airline decided to charge a premium for the seats the customer has already reserved and paid for at the going rate at the time the reservations were made, to ask the customer to pay the new rate is not good business and is a breach of trust. You are 100% right.

Sinan E

April 10, 2008 12:28 PM

There is a simple equation: Customer Satisfaction is the difference between Customer Perception of the Service and Customer Expectation of the Service. If JetBlue has created an expectation (and your right) for assigning the seats you have asked for, they have to stand behind this service, but not change it. If anyone suggests that it is only $20 for the customer, what is the big deal? Then exactly, what is the big deal for Jet Blue?
So, the big issue here is how Jet Blue violates the most important service management rule. It is the mindset that lets these companies fail eventually.

dave new york

April 10, 2008 12:37 PM

i disagree assigned seats are changed constantly. i have been bumped from my assigned seat on several carriers. my last experience was even worse. i won't mention the carrier because i'm not 100% sure. i know it was not jet blue. but feb 2008 i'm traveling ny to sf with my family of 4. we board the plane only to find our reserved seats are in the last row of the plane. a,b,c,d. of course the other surprise is there is no d in that row. several other people were reserved/assigned seats that were also unavailable. the plane had been changed last minute and of course the one we got was smaller than the original. i was lucky i got to sit 20 rows from the family, but at least on the same plane.

lighten up francis.

The Small Biz. Guru

April 10, 2008 12:39 PM


I just posted on the previous post stating a lot of people did miss the point.

In this day and age, people just jump to conclusions immediately, not really reading into anything or really thinking about anything. Individuals want to attack people on the internet to make themselves feel better without having to actually develop a valid argument.

JetBlue did break the trust and broke the agreed upon price, weakening the customer loyalty. I would have been the exact same way.

It's almost as if the $20 was an unintentional red-herring. Most people ate into it.

I thought it was a great post.

~the GURU

Bill Thro

April 10, 2008 2:15 PM

I am a former crewmember of jetBlue and I find the transition to this new revenue program inconsistent with the jetBlue model. In David Neeleman's days at B6 this would not have happened. I am surprised the new leadership did not evaluate the matter and adjust for fairness. That was the jetBlue way.


April 10, 2008 2:35 PM

Bruce, you were complaining and rightfully so. And, your point is so solid that it rattles the cages of our diminishing ROI as a consumer. I too love Jet Blue and hate to hear a negative statement about them. That is simply because I grew up loving the airlines, especially Pan Am. But, they let me down. The built up my dream of be pampered and feeling so special about myself and slowly let me down. I remember all too clearly having a similar experience with them. I flew them for years internationally, since I was 7. But, there I was explaining to an agent that there unannounced changes in policy were extremely poor consumer relations. They were after all a service business, facilitated by jets but a service. The rest is history for Pan Am. Lets hope that brands see as clearly as we do.

Steve Portigal

April 10, 2008 2:54 PM

Sounds like what happens to people that criticize *another* beloved brand, right?

[you know what brand I'm talkin' about]

Christa Avampato

April 14, 2008 6:37 PM

Bruce, I believe you are on to something when you raised the question if a company can be blinded by its loyal customers. In the same way that it can be blinded by executives who believe so fervently in their company, loyal customers sometimes lead companies to believe that change isn't necessary. It seems that so many companies are afraid of the idea of continuous improvement because they feel as if they're always falling short of expectations. It would be helpful for all companies, and for their customers as well, to recongize that our society is built on improvement. Seeking improvement is human nature, and there is nothing wrong with always looking at ways to make things better. Afterall, if there were nothing to improve, wouldn't we, as innovators, be bored, not to mention out of work?


April 14, 2008 7:17 PM

You were assigned exit row seats. The assignment of these type of seats is governed by FAA rules of who can be seated here, and the assignment is never guaranteed until you present yourself at the gate and check-in. I do understand your point about being separated, and JetBlue did reassign you to be seated together in the first row, which are also desirable seats. On your return trip you decided to pay the $20 seat fee. If you had decided not to pay this fee, you would have still been guaranteed seats, just not the exit row seats. It seems like you are quibbling over a very small thing. The bigger picture is that JetBlue has excellent customer service, with reasonable fares, and they are still in business.

Mitch Thomas

April 17, 2008 7:33 AM

But how does the blind loyalist - or a whole gaggle of 'em honking and snorting - somehow confine or suppress the feedback from an unhappy customer? I can see the mad gaggle galvanizing or enhancing loyalty between customers, ala Apple vs. Microsoft... but suppressing feedback, particularly at the level of shoddy service you received from JetBlue?

After thought: I wonder if the blind loyalists banging away in the blogosphere isn't just a variant of "Any press is good press"?


May 20, 2008 5:36 PM

What this amounts to is that the JetBlue crowd is a click... It's the banner airline of the stuck up kids from high school. Those folks that get THEIR mileage from excluding and putting others down. Like the little cutie who standing behind the counter at the mall. Snearing down at the other less perfect wannabe girls and providing horrible customer service. The recent scandal where an outsider (apparently not WHITE) was downgraded to the bathroom in favor of a self-absorbed debutant. Exemplifies the rules of the click. All these folks who are attacking you are doing nothing but defending the click. The JetBlue loyalty mileage has nothing to do with quality of service or honor. But everything to do with maintaining the club. Somehow they have managed to create a corporate culture or attitude that supports and reinforces the click.


August 7, 2009 7:18 AM

Just want you all to know that I have recently booked a vacation package for my 5yr old daughter, my husband and myself to Disneyland. It's our very FIRST a family. I am so bummed....I had spoke with a nice lady from jetblue asking general questions about Disneyland and the area as well as our hotel. She had told me that the earlier I book the cheaper it would be... well I booked over a month ago and I decided to look at our vacation and price it out again tonight. Well I found out that if we would have booked it today we could have stayed in a hotel inside disneyland for 300.00 cheaper than what we had booked. Our hotel is 4 blocks away from disneyland... all I can say is I am calling corporate office tomorrow morning!!!
Hope you all can have better luck with jetblue....
A broken hearted mom.....


October 13, 2009 1:57 AM

What I am wondering is how much money JETBLUE is making on flyers who received their one year use it or lose it credit because the flyer could not or did not use it in time. Apparently fine print and fees only work in favor of the big companies.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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