JetBlue and Comcast show the downside of quashing customer complaints


The people at JetBlue may be realizing the true cost of fighting customer-complaint fire with fire.

After passenger Lisa Carter-Knight tweeted about an incident between the pilot and other passengers on a delayed JetBlue flight Tuesday night, she was not allowed to board the plane.

Where did she go to express her anger? She took to social media, of course.

In response, a JetBlue representative made the following statement:

If we feel a customer is not complying with safety instructions, exhibits objectionable behavior, or causes conflict at the gate or on the aircraft, the customer will be asked to deplane or will be denied boarding especially if the crew feels the situation runs the risk of accelerating in the air. In this instance, the customer received a refund and chose to fly on another carrier.

Carter-Knight argued it wasn’t unruly behavior that kept her off the flight; JetBlue never went into detail about her being barred from the plane.

Though the incident is a brand vs. customer “it said, she said” standoff, one thing is certain: JetBlue has received a lot more bad publicity since denying the woman flight access than it would have because of the original tweets.

Carter-Knight posted six tweets about the event, which included the following:

Combined, these tweets have a total of eight retweets and 11 favorites. However, the two tweets (one seen below) she sent after she was not allowed to board have a total of 56 retweets and 31 favorites.

In addition, more than 1,300 tweets were shared about the experience using the term “JetBlue woman,” according to Topsy. Hundreds of additional tweets were posted using additional keywords, and thousands of retweets, comments, and additional shares came from those original tweets as well as by people reaching out to Carter-Knight.

Those numbers are on top of reader views and comments for the more than 190 articles written about the incident from publishers such as Mashable, CNN, USA Today, and CNET.

Perhaps it’s because the online community thrives on negativity or likes a scandal, or perhaps it’s because they want to stick up for the underdog, but organizations really don’t benefit from taking action against the customers who complain about them.

JetBlue is only one of many brands caught in this sort of situation. Comcast is still under fire for reportedly contacting a complaining customer’s boss and getting him fired.

Charlie Herrin, Comcast’s newly appointed senior vice president of customer experience, said this regarding that situation:

We need to make sure that every interaction is excellent … from the moment a customer orders a new service, to the installation, to the way we communicate with them, to how we respond to any issues.

We’re holding ourselves accountable and we are working hard to make real improvements across the board. While it will take us some time, we can and will do better than this.

Here’s a way brand managers might do better:

Respond to complaining customers in a way that shows you care. Don’t ignore them, don’t delete their comments, don’t give them an umbrella “sorry not sorry” apology, and definitely don’t start fighting with them.

Stay patient, and listen. Responding with compassion and making a few concessions will help quench the firestorm—and you’ll be far less likely to get burned.

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