Jetstar: nothing more than pickled onions in a jam jar

'JetStarred' (verb): to be crapped on.

kaleb francis the problem with jetstar idealogBelieve it or not, there's a Facebook page dedicated to discouraging people from flying Jetstar, so before you press 'confirm order' and purchase cut-price tickets to Dunedin, Durban or Doha (do they even fly there?) you may want to check out facebook.com/DontFlyJetstar. The page has nearly 1,500 likes and lists a litany of genuine reasons not to fly with these guys.

Before I get started, a word of warning, this isn’t a ‘feel good, let’s look at the positives’ sort of blog post. My objective is to highlight why Jetstar needs to better manage the expectations of its customers. Cut-price doesn’t need to mean ‘budget’, because budget does not translate well to air travel.

Jetstar crew held hostage

As if Jetstar’s brand wasn’t battered enough, recently NBR ran an article, Jetstar Crew Held Hostage. When I read the article, it was 6.30 am and it took a moment or two for my eyes to confirm that I wasn’t seeing things.

Why the hell did this happen? It wasn’t because the flight was delayed, or because the crackers were crap and it definitely wasn’t because they didn’t receive a smile or had failed to receive up-to-date information. So what was the reason? Why did passengers take matters into their own hands?

It was all of the above. It was because Jetstar has systematically failed to manage the expectations of customers.

“It is understood the passengers did not trust the promises of the crew and refused to let the captain and crew leave.”

Lower prices + tighter margins = less room for error

It is notoriously tough to make a profit in the air travel business. Warren Buffet won’t touch airlines even if the stock is being given away. So while Jetstar has the lowest prices, it also means margins are tighter, which means there is less money to invest in the business and to improve its service.

Here’s a question for you: what is Jetstar’s most valuable asset? All those who said ‘people’ buy yourselves a chocolate fish and send me the receipt (I’ll reimburse). It’s the employees who engage with customers, massage their egos, reassure them, make them feel good – and ultimately help keep them.

If you’re like me and need to see facts in black and white then consider this:

* The estimated cost of employee turnover is up to 150 percent of the base salary

* Organisations with highly engaged employees have the potential to reduce staff turnover by 87 percent and improve performance by 20 percent

* Increasing employee engagement investment by 10 percent can increase profits by $2,400 per employee per year

Rude, abrupt and generally unhelpful customer service, failure to deliver information in a timely manner and broken promises are not traits or behaviours people deliberately want to project. They are symptoms of a deeper problem, so we must be careful not to be too hasty and lay all the blame at the employees’ feet. The service they deliver will undoubtedly mirror the way they are being treated by the company.

Playing for the long term

In waging a war on price point alone, Jetstar has made a critical mistake, stacking all its branding chips on the proposition that customers only care about saving a few bucks. The smart move would have been to play the long game and invest more in its people. A smile doesn’t cost anything and is more likely to result in a positive encounter with a customer as opposed to the deafening rant across social media channels of  “I’ll never fly with CrapStar again!”

‘No Frills’ paper towels aren’t as absorbent as Handee Paper Towels, but they still do the job. Home brand Countdown tins of tomatoes may lack flavour but they still contain tomatoes. Jetstar claims to be a jar of ‘no frills’ strawberry jam and has positioned itself alongside full priced, higher quality jams without checking what’s inside their jars.

Jetstar is pickled onions packaged in a jam jar.

Kaleb Francis is digital brand strategist at Marque - Brand Partners