Christopher Elliott interviews Bob Faw about culture
See the USA Today article with the brief quote from Bob.
Below is the full interview.
CE: Is JetBlue abandoning the values that made it great, in the minds of consumers, or simply adjusting to the needs of the marketplace?
BF: I think that JetBlue has slipped a bit from its original values, but the company can still regain its best DNA through a combination of diligent effort and thoughtful changes. Sometimes a company does have to change certain practices simply to continue to be viable. JetBlue has made some changes well, such as its ticket change fee, which was reasonable. The key is to avoid the lure of quarterly earning goals trap. The company needs to continuously nurture its culture, and make decisions based upon the long-term ability to stay true to its best DNA.
CE: What is JetBlue’s corporate DNA? Has it changed at all, in your opinion, or is it the same company, only bigger?
BF: JetBlue’s CCO Robin Hayes says this about its DNA: “We focus our professional energies on creating a great JetBlue Experience for our customers, and a big part of that is in creating a brand and environment that is welcoming. The true honorees are the 12,000 JetBlue crewmembers who bring our brand to life every day, every flight.”
Based on this, JetBlue is focused on creating a welcoming dynamic as a key part of its DNA. The challenge becomes maintaining an authentically welcome environment even under circumstances that are less than ideal. Providing a consistently perfect customer experience is beyond even the best companies like Nordstrom and Disney. However, JetBlue’s customer experience must be consistently high enough to make its brand inviting.
Pleasing the FAA, TSA, fearful flyers, and the customer can be a huge challenge. This was demonstrated during a recent kerfuffle that ended with a 3-year-old urinating in her seat, and her mother almost kicked off the plane for cleaning the seat. No matter their size, it’s fair to say that all airlines want their employees to gracefully handle challenges like this, but especially a company that values a welcome customer experience.
CE: Can you think of a travel company that has stayed true to its original mission?
BF: Southwest Airlines has come the closest to staying true to its original mission. It not only offers low-cost flights, but it also has a customer-friendly policy for changing flights and free baggage check. And by keeping its seating process mostly egalitarian, the company has been able to maintain its DNA. These conveniences and perceived value stand out compared to most airlines that are adding more and more fees.
CE: How can travelers tell if a company has “good” corporate DNA?
BF: Companies that treat their people well usually have better customer service. Many companies have issues that hit the news from time to time. You can tell a lot about a company’s DNA by how quickly, gracefully, and authentically they apologize and fix problems.
You can also discover plenty about a company’s customer experience simply by visiting user-review sites. That’s the beauty of the social media experience—a company’s best DNA is on display and regularly tested, which causes companies with good DNA to constantly evaluate how their values are being reinforced throughout the company.
CE: Is there anything a large corporation can do to return to its original mission, or are changes inevitable?
BF: Depending on how far a company has strayed, it is possible, but often not easy, to return to a company’s original best DNA. That is, if top management is still aligned with the original DNA.
Starbucks has been a great example of this. When Howard Schultz retook the helm in 2008 and redirected the company back to his original vision—a focus on coffee and the customer experience—it was a massive undertaking. But obviously it worked.
JetBlue and other airlines could improve the customer experience by developing “caregiver” employees through training that enables them to clearly understand what the laws require, but also to know how to give the warmest, most welcoming service that those laws allow. Employees can adopt a “yes and” mindset. This means that they either find some way to give passengers the care they ask for, or empathetically guide them to the care they are allowed to give.
For example, in the incident with the little girl, the attendant could have apologized profusely, explained that the FAA doesn’t allow people to stand up while the plane is awaiting take off, and provided a plastic bag to put under the toddler, or helped clean up the mess herself. Also, rather than seeing the mother as “noncompliant” could she have empathized with her and promised to help as soon as they were at cruising altitude. The key here is giving the warmth and service that is possible, rather than simply saying “no.”
Employees need to be given a fair bit of leeway, and to be held accountable, to achieve a high level of service. This culture of service needs to be continuously nurtured as Zappos so famously does, with plenty of training, employee perks, and most of all by treating employees the way the company wants its customers treated.