The story of Steven Slater dominated the news for a few days recently. He is the JetBlue flight attendant who reportedly responded to a rude passenger with a torrent of publicly-delivered verbal abuse. He followed that up with an exit from the aircraft via the inflatable emergency ramp with beer in hand. I have since read that many passengers had no recollection of any altercation involving Slater. And one passenger vouched for his generally pleasant, bubbly disposition. Some are calling Mr. Slater a hero for telling off a rude passenger. Others deride him as unstable and out-of-control. My question has to do with the effect of Steven Slater’s actions on the experience of JetBlue’s customers.
Many companies seek to build reputations for delivering superior quality, outstanding customer service, or unique customer experiences. The ultimate goal is to grow revenues and profits through the creation of loyal customers. But what is a loyal customer and what are the key factors in creating one? A loyal customer is one who will do business with the company again and proactively refer the company to others. How does this differ from a satisfied customer and why is the distinction important? A satisfied customer generally has his/her expectations met. The customer will usually indicate that service wasn’t bad…but it wasn’t exceptional either.
The value of a loyal customer when compared to the satisfied customer is that she drives revenue growth and profitability for your company.
Studies have shown that acquiring customers is a costly endeavor. Having a customer base comprised largely of loyal customers infers lower costs and higher revenues. And thus the loyal customer is of greater value to a company than a satisfied one. But how do you create a loyal customer? The essence is creating an emotionally positive experience for customers every time they come into contact with the company. We know that most purchases are based on an emotional response. To hold that customer…earn their loyalty…the company must create positive emotional reactions from the customer at every point of connection. A high level of trust must be created, an emotional tie must be created, and empathy must be used to strengthen relationships.
Conventional wisdom says that loyalty is created by products that are highly differentiated, higher-end products where price is not a significant factor, products with a high service component, and multiple products for the same customer. Think Apple or Mercedes-Benz. A product/service orientation is important but I contend that the emotions are an equally important factor. It was critical in the original decision to purchase and it is just as important in the creation of a loyal customer.
So here is the connection to the Steven Slater event. Customer interactions are always experiences that generate an emotional response. At each point of connection with your company there is an opportunity to create an emotional bond that can lead to a loyal customer. Where that point of connection is manned by a human being he/she must know and respond appropriately to customer emotions and…know and control his/her own. If an employee is not self aware, cannot identify and manage his/her own emotions, what are the chances that he/she will be able to identify and respond to the emotions of your customers?
Regardless of the motivation or trigger for Mr. Slater’s actions I assert there was an emotional impact on the JetBlue customers. Depending on whether they were positive or not the passengers’ response to his behavior created a positive experience upon which to build a relationship of trust and loyalty…or not. Customer loyalty is created by exceeding customers’ expectations at every point of connection. Your employees’ ability to manage the emotions (theirs and the customers’) is a key factor in the process. Is your company looking to ensure growth and profitability through the creation of a loyal customer base?