JetBlue's crisis response in the airline's Valentine's Day debacle has been superb. Because they are, by themselves, reactive, they miss critical valuable elements: benchmarks and right timing to launch, creating uncertainty despite too many unknowns.A proactive crisis management status delivers predictable solutions. A chief reputation officer or CRO, however, fiercely protects this invaluable, yet fragile asset, suggesting that a kairos (well timed and measured) response would reduce uncertainty and likely produce better, more predictable results.
What were they thinking?
The 2007 JetBlue Valentine's Day crisis falls in the category: "what were they thinking?" Firstly, it was Valentine's Day. Secondly, most of the travelers literally could not wait to get to their destinations to see their loved ones. Thirdly, and most importantly, any form of captivity for one, two, three, four, five, six, and in one case, nine hours on an airport runway was simply bad PR!
Six to nine plane-loads of stranded, hungry, tired and angry executives, men, women and children, for however many hours, was the wrong image to project no matter JetBlue pre-crisis stellar reputation. Because JetBlue built its reputation as a low-cost carrier, chances are financial considerations dominated the company's thinking during the crisis. However, more than its bank account, this debacle threats to irreparably damage JetBlue reputation, an even more valuable and hard to replace company asset.
JetBlue crisis response
JetBlue founder and CEO, David G. Neeleman, describes an A + in his crisis management efforts in the Valentine's Day jetliners' grounding. Underscoring his appreciation for the seriousness of the crisis and the danger of reputation damage, he has been front and center in the fight. He has appeared on every form of media to communicate with JetBlue stakeholders. Contrite, direct and to the point, Neeleman's well-crafted messages have been: "We learned a huge lesson." "We made a mistake, we take full responsibility." "I am humiliated and mortified." – A refreshing change, according to the editorial page of February 22 Houston Chronicle. Evasiveness, pontification, shifting the blame would, in this case, only exacerbate the crisis, increasing the chance for further reputational damage.
A damaged reputation has far reaching, long term negative ramifications on a company's good name, operations and bottom line. ExxonMobil still bears the scars from its 1989 Valdez oil spill environmental crisis; Houston based Enron Corporation is no more. The name ValuJet airline ceased to exist after its 1996 Florida Everglades crash, and its subsidiary merger with AirTran. The cost of reputation neglect is simply too high to pay. Smart organizations, therefore, spare no expense and no efforts in their quest for survival when facing a threat to their reputation.
That's the reason for announcing the $ 30 million dollars overhaul of procedures at JetBlue. That's the reason for proposing a rather capitulating passengers' bill of rights guaranteeing reimburss and vouchers for delays caused by the airline in the future. It remains to be seen, however, how effective JetBlue efforts are long term, based on the number of return passengers.
Although almost flawlessly executed by David G Neeleman, crisis response strategies, by themselves, have inherent flaws. Firstly, they are responsive, missing two very critical elements: benchmarks and right timing to launch. Secondly, they depend on too many unknowns for success: possible new damning revelations, misquotes, unexpected lawsuits, and so on. Thirdly, cynics are more likely to question JetBlue's motives for such generosity after a potentially devastating crisis.
A proactive approach to crisis management, on the other hand, provides a better chance for survival. Imagine if the bulk of the same proposals from Neeleman were put forward before the crisis, by a duly appointed chief compensation officer of the company. Not only would the overhauling price tag be far less than $ 30 million, the proposed customer bill of rights would probably have been less conciliatory, yet be just as effective, possibly enhancing JetBlue already solid reputation. From a proactive situation, the Chief Reputation Officer would have carefully monitored the situation for benchmarks and the all-important crisis "tipping point" to launch a planned response, sparing passengers the nightmare; and the company precious time, embarrassment and money.
Chief reputation officer
Because JetBlue built its reputation as a low-cost carrier, financial considerations possibly dominated the company's thinking during the crisis. More than its bank account, this debacle will dent JetBlue reputation, an even more valuable, and hard to replace asset to the company. Just as JetBlue has a chief financial officer in charge of financial matters, it needs a chief reputation officer or CRO to take charge of company reputation. His or her core mission will be to create, shape and fiercely protect the company's hard earned reputation. The cost of reputation neglect is simply too high to pay.