Thursday, September 4, 2008

Social versus business relationships: It's a tightrope

Someone recently turned me on to the book "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely. It's about how humans make decisions. Very entertaining. Worth reading.

There's a section in the book about how some companies try to make a social connection with their customers. These companies, through marketing and branding, want us to think of them as friends or family, not just a vendor of products or services.

Ariely cites:

- State Farm Insurance: "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there."
- Home Depot: "You can do it. We can help."

The problem comes when the company has to break that "social" relationship and go back to being a business. He uses the example of a bank charging a late fee. If you have a purely business relationship with your bank and it charges you a late fee, well then you are annoyed, but, hey - it's business.

If your bank, however, tries to portray itself as your neighbor and then charges that late fee, that's sort of... un-neighborly. Friends don't charge friends late fees.

This brilliantly captures one of my (many) problems with JetBlue. As discussed before on this and other blogs, JetBlue wants to portray itself as a different kind of airline. Friendlier. More civilized. Better than the others.

But when it comes to treating me - a customer - in a friendlier, more civilized fashion, JetBlue blew it. Big time. Not only did JetBlue wait six hours to cancel my red-eye flight, it wanted to strand me and 149 other passengers in the Portland airport for three more days until it got around to flying us to New York.

This is how friends treat friends? This is how an airline does better?

When I tried to explain this - calmly yet with conviction - to the JeltBlue corporate person who called me after starting this blog, she read chapter and verse from JetBlue's "Contract of Carriage."

With a single cancellation and subsequent mishandling (in my opinion) JetBlue went from being "Happy Jetting, Aren't We Too Cool, Fun-Time Travel Buddies!" to "F--k off, this is business, case closed!"

OK then.

We thought JetBlue was better. Remember - I was a fan-boy before this happened.

But JetBlue violated a trust and an image of its own creation. This blog is the result of that violation. Live by marketing, die by marketing.


darryl ohrt said...

Dead on. And companies need to understand that a social media campaign extends beyond advertising messages.

Zappos is a living example of how to do this right. They're active in the social media sphere - but they also EXCEL at customer service - like a real best friend or neighbor.

Bill Baker said...

I agree re: Zappos' customer service. Top notch. Another one known for its great customer experience is Common theme, there - shoes, tires, where the rubber meats the road.

I am thinking about starting up "Horse". Could be big!

Anonymous said...

You keep stating that they stranded you and 200+ passengers in Portland. Thats funny because an A-320 that operates this flight only holds 150 passengers when every seat is sold.

Bill Baker said...

Thanks for the correction.