The Perfect JetBlue Apology

Despite the role apologies play in our lives, and the almost daily news reports on celebrity, political or business apologies (as in this perfect JetBlue apology), there is a surprising absence of research on the subject.

The most active work appears in the legal and business professions primarily because of litigation and financial implications, but also because corporate leaders have come to realize that a well timed and effective apology can save customers and avoid a rapid drop in profits.

Which brings us to the JetBlue apology— "We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry...(for) the worst operational week in JetBlue's seven year history."

The consensus emerging from research on apologies in corporate or business settings is pretty clear—the most effective apologies typically include the ingredients detailed on this site.

The JetBlue apology and the letter to its customers written by founder and then CEO David Neeleman, the video of his apology posted on YouTube to express his regret, and the announcement of JetBlue Airways Customer Bill of Rights amounts to the perfect business apology—in fact, it is likely to become a generally accepted standard for how business errors should be handled.

When combined, Neeleman's response provides a crystal clear illustration of the time tested philosophy that the customer is always right. And this is especially true when, as in this case, the company or its representatives extend an apology regardless of who is at fault or whether JetBlue was capable of controlling the weather during a very busy President's day weekend.

This Jetblue apology will be remembered for a long time to come for so many reasons. No excuses, no defensive explanation—just a straightforward acknowledgement of the pain experienced by passengers and a very credible promise to fix it.

The content of the letter was brilliant,

Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration and inconvenience that you, your family, friends and colleagues experienced...JetBlue was founded on the promise of bringing humanity back to air travel, and making the experience of flying happier....We know we failed to deliver on this promise last week....You deserved better—a lot better...and we let you down.David Neeleman

When carefully crafted, a proactive approach to delivering the perfect business apology, as was the case here with JetBlue, will help solidify relationships with existing customers, acquire new ones, enhance customer confidence and improve overall loyalty to the brand.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the company's strategy was the inclusion of JetBlue Airways Customer Bill of Rights, which satisfied two essential ingredients of a perfect business apology—a credible expression of a commitment to change and some form of restitution or compensation for the damage caused (or that may unintentionally or unavoidably be caused under similar circumstances in the future).

Consider some of the costs: $25 voucher for 30-60 minute delays, $100 for 1-2 hour delays, free trips for 2-3 hour delays and a full $1000 for customers who are involuntarily denied boarding. The costs to JetBlue will be incredibly high, but the potential payoff will be even higher over time.

This was a perfectly rational strategy designed to turn a disaster into a brilliant marketing opportunity. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this—it captures the best features of market capitalism and should be welcomed by all of us.

Read the apology letter sent out by JetBlue to its customers. Or learn about other public apologies made by business leaders, celebrities and other notable figures.