Should Focus Move to “Worst Practices”?

Is it just me?
Or should focus move to “worst practices”?

I’ve posed this question to seminar and keynote audiences for several years now all over North America. I’m not surprised that so many have readily agreed with this observation. I think we’re all very much aware of the tremendous value derived from the review of “Best Practices.” I would never suggest that we cease this beneficial exercise.

However, I would recommend that we invest more time and energy in paying close attention to many of the “Worst Practices,” which increasingly appear in our media spotlights. There are obviously many more examples available to us in this area and the ROI (Return On Investment) of that time and energy can be invaluable. Let’s face it; it’s often much easier to learn from witnessing a headline-grabbing guffaw spotlighted on the world’s stage than it is to emulate the performance of an organization or individual continuing to do almost everything without a flaw. Allow me to share a recent glaring example.

Recent Disaster May Revolutionize Airline Industry!
I, among thousands of others, was a recent victim of the “Valentine’s Day Massacre” that struck North American airports with very little warning. I was stranded in Toronto as a result of ice, snow, wind, drifting, and sub-zero temperatures combining to create a devastating blizzard that crippled air travel over much of the east coast. Emerging from that calamity was a most unexpected, atypical event that may very well transform every airline transporting passengers today. A class action lawsuit is currently in the formative stages and may very well result in a “Passenger’s Bill of Rights.”

In the shocking details of this sad event is a very obvious and valuable lesson for anyone who is involved in the challenge of serving and satisfying customers. However, I’m afraid there will be far too many in that category that will ignore this lesson simply because it involved an industry other than their own.

I believe one of the most valuable aspects of this particular lesson lies in the fact that ANYONE can fall victim to unsuspecting circumstances. Avoid the critical mistake of thinking it can’t happen to you. Prior to sharing some of the startling details of the scenario that still has the media in a feeding frenzy, let’s examine the organization in the center of all of the controversy.

When first hearing the shocking details of what sounded like a horror movie, I was indeed astounded to learn it was JetBlue generating all of the dissension. As you probably know, JetBlue is a very young, exciting, creative, low-cost airline that reminds many of industry leader Southwest Airlines. In fact, CEO David Neeleman and several members of his leadership team were once part of the Southwest family. Many credit the Southwest culture for many of JetBlue’s exciting innovations, which have garnered them so much positive publicity as well as a growing legion of loyal and very satisfied customers. That’s why so many were shocked to learn of the recent charges leveled at JetBlue during the Valentine’s Day blizzard!

  1. Hundreds of passengers on nine different flights were forced to sit aboard grounded airplanes for up to 10 ½ hours because of weather related delays in New York City! The storm grounded at least 1,000 flights in New York’s three major airports.
  2. Doors had to be opened every 20 minutes just to get fresh air.
  3. Food was made available during the 10 ½ hours — at a cost. Ex.: $3 for a cookie.
  4. Passengers were not allowed to leave the plane even though they were just yards from the terminal, which offered warmth, food, drinks, adequate bathroom facilities, room to move around, and a choice of whether to wait out the storm or return home.
  5. Passengers complained that they felt like prisoners as they were told nothing of the current situation or projected options.

These conditions seem very hard to believe — much less from an organization that has gained notoriety for their customer focus, concern, and support. They have invested so much in dollars, technology, training, marketing, and staff development in order to lead the industry in a variety of areas. They are, indeed, very unique in their efforts to offer a truly distinctive experience for any and all who choose to fly with them. For instance:

  1. Plush leather seats and more leg room than any competitor.
  2. Low fares, on-time arrivals and departures, comfort and great service.
  3. Every seat is provided with 36 channels of FREE live DirecTV satellite TV programming.
  4. Every seat is provided with 100 channels of FREE XM Satellite Radio.
  5. Fox TV programs and 20th Century Fox movies for its in-flight entertainment.
  6. In addition to the list of typical soft drinks and cocktails, you can choose from FREE Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and/or tea, Lipton Cup-A-Soup, or Hot Chocolate.
  7. Choose from unique FREE snacks such as “Terra Blue chips”, a brand of potato chips made from naturally blue potatoes, the official snack of JetBlue, and Jungle cookies, Wheat-Thins, Pistachio Biscotti, Chocolate chunk cookies, Jumbo Cashew Halves, and Doritos Munchies Mix.
  8. For those of us who have to endure the trials and tribulations of flying the “Red Eye” flights, JetBlue has even tackled that problem … something that no other airline has yet to attempt. On all overnight flights from the west, a very unusual “Shut-Eye Service” is provided. Customers are enticed to sleep with the help of a Bliss® Spa amenity kit containing breath-freshening mint lip balm, lemon+sage body butter, an eyeshade and ear plugs. Night owls can make the time fly by taking advantage of DirecTV or Satellite Radio, or stretch their legs with a visit to the complimentary, self-service snack bar in the galley. Then, just prior to arrival, customers are treated to a “good morning” service of hot towels and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and tea, orange juice or bottled spring water. It’s hard to believe that no other airline has even attempted to address this delicate issue so dreaded by anyone forced to “Red Eye.”(The last two examples I’d like to share are truly unconventional and far exceed anything their competition has done, is doing, or will probably attempt to do in the near future.)
  9. Founder and CEO of JetBlue Airways flies on a different JetBlue flight every week in order to talk to customers to discover how they can improve their airline!
  10. JetBlue is very proud of their efforts to keep what they call “OUR PROMISE,” which is “To continue to bring humanity back to air travel.”

Think of their “Promise” as you review the circumstances that occurred in New York last week! All of their investment of time, training, dollars, technology, marketing, advertising, creativity, and innovation was immediately overshadowed by one single 10 ½-hour period of confusion, poor judgment, lack of communication, and bad weather! Have no doubt this is an excellent organization with a tremendous leadership team and dedicated staff. Jet Blue is a class act! It can happen to anyone at any time.

At what point did someone decide to keep those passengers captive for 10 ½ hours? Why weren’t buses ordered to return passengers to the terminal? Who decided not to order fresh food and water? How many poor decisions were made and why? We may never know. We do know this. CEO Neeleman provided more than 1,000 passengers full refunds, free roundtrip tickets, and a promise that this situation will never occur again at JetBlue. Will that be enough? Time will tell. Will anyone believe their “Promise” again? We’ll see. These kind of miscalculations can be costly. In 1999, a $7-million settlement was reached with Northwest Airlines on behalf of 7,000 Detroit passengers who suffered similar discomfort as a result of a snow storm. As a result of this recent occurrence, Congress is now investigating the creation of a “Passengers Bill of Rights.” If enacted, this could bring even more turmoil to an already tumultuous industry.

Hopefully, you may share my view of investing as much time and energy in reviewing “Worst Practices” as often as we do “Best Practices.”  Much can be learned from a balance of both approaches. If something as disastrous as this can happen to an organization as successful as Jet Blue, it can happen to you!  Have you prepared your staff for just such an occasion?  Will you be ready?  You’d better be!

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

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