by Elana Varon

JetBlue Gets Email Rollout Right

Dec 07, 20072 mins

Kudos to Nate Quigley, the chief executive of LiveTV, which is managing JetBlue’s rollout of new email and instant messaging services. Quigley is quoted in today’s New York Times: “Sometimes, you just have to put things out there and see what happens when people try to use it.”

Admitting that a new product or service isn’t perfect isn’t just a good strategy for heading off customer grumbling. It’s an acknowledgement of reality, and a smart approach to pushing innovation. For customers, its risk free; for those who want to stay connected while they’re in the air, spotty access is an improvement over no access at all, and it doesn’t cost anything. For JetBlue, rolling out the service now provides an opportunity to work out the bugs (as Quigley noted in the Times story)-and to get real feedback about customer demand-while competitors catch up.

I don’t think IT departments try hard enough to push out new services so broadly, whether internally or externally. Name the last time your IT department threw a new tool out there and said to employees here, use this, tell us what you think about it. The tendency is to hold new apps close and test them with hand-picked, tech-savvy end users. But that approach no longer makes sense when apps are web-based and everyone has ideas for how IT can improve business processes.

In this case, JetBlue will try one plane on different routes. I’m sure they have some idea of the passenger demographics for those flights, but what about their email habits? How many connections will it take to crash the system? What happens when someone tries to download an attachment? (I don’t have high hopes there. I don’t usually have the patience for that when my feet are on the ground.)

If JetBlue is responsive to customer feedback and fixes problems iteratively, it can stay a step ahead of competitors who won’t be rolling out similar services for several months, or who are betting on making a splash with more extensive, fee-based Web access. There’s nothing stopping JetBlue from offering Web access later, once the kinks are worked out of email – and customers clamor for more services. And maybe those customers, in on the development process, will have ideas that the people at JetBlue never even though of.

Just as long as they don’t allow phone calls.