Real Life Marketing and Client Service Lessons, Courtesy of Jet Blue

Even after practicing law for 18 years, underneath my general air of confidence and my excess precaution with much of what I do lies a deep fear that at any minute, I could screw up in a major, big time way.  But now, courtesy of Jet Blue, there’s a lesson from the school of real life marketing on how to you can begin to deal with the fallout from those inevitable gaffes (or not).

This article, Jet Blue’s Survival School offers a run down on some of whatJet Blue’s done right since everything went so terribly wrong with its Valentines’ Day Meltdown.  Most significantly, Jet Blue’s CEO, David Neeleman has stepped up to the plate to take responsibility and apologize:

But rather than hide behind his desk and speak through a flunky, Neeleman stepped up. He assessed the situation early on and spoke to the press. He explained exactly what went wrong and apologized. He said he felt “mortified” and “humiliated.” That culminated Tuesday when he appeared on CNN’s American Morning, Today, Fox and Friends and Squawk Box before most people arrived at work. He’s been so visible, appearing live on so many media outlets, that it’s a quasi-miracle he’s been able to traverse New York City traffic to make the appointments.

I’ve read that good bedside matter often spares doctors, and other professionals from malpractice.  So Neeleman’s apology, as well as the compensation (free flights and refunds) and a Passenger Bill of Rights put him on the right track to making amends.  Still, Jet Blue’s efforts may not suffice to win back the affections of customers such as the one who started the blog, Jet Blue Hostage and has collected at least 150 stories from other passengers seriously inconvenienced by Jet Blue.

At this point, it’s not clear whether Jet Blue can avert a class action lawsuit, along the lines of this type of false imprisonment and breach of contract action filed against Northwest in 1999.  And sadly, that’s part of the lesson here as well.  Sometimes, no matter how much good will you build (as Jet Blue did), one huge screw up can spoil your your reputation until you can find a way to rebuild trust.

For lawyers, we need to continue plugging away at good customer service, both because it’s the right thing to do, but also as a prophylactic against the adverse consequences of screwing up.  And when good customer service doesn’t cut it, we have malpractice insurance to fall back on.