04/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Disconnect Between Promise and Delivery

In 2000 Jet Blue took to the air with its first flight. Founder David Neeleman, had a precise prescription for success: "The right mix of a strong business plan, an experienced management team, dedicated employees, a great product and service, service, service."

In the last decade Jet Blue went from start-up to major carrier. Neeleman is out and outstanding customer service is no longer critical for survival.

While Jet Blue still touts itself as "#1 in customer satisfaction," I am not sure what that means. Tried to change a Jet Blue flight online lately? How about print a boarding pass?

Last week I took a Jet Blue evening flight. My overhead light did not work and so I could not read. I asked the flight attendant if she could help. Her response: "yes ... I can notify engineering when we land." And she walked away. (There were no vacant seats.) How about a free drink? Or some kind of voucher? Not exactly outstanding customer service.

Perhaps Jet Blue knows exactly what it is doing. Perhaps because it is now a large airline customer service is less of a priority than cost cutting and profitability. I mean being #1 in customer satisfaction is not that big a deal when compared to all the other airlines. But, maybe they should tell the truth and say "we're the least bad."

I don't mean to pick on Jet Blue. My bank advertises itself as "America's most convenient." Last week when I tried to send a wire, I needed to go to the bank and sit for 15 minutes while a trainee learned how to send wires. That's convenience?

Here's what I really care about: big companies who think they can fool people with clever marketing, need to just stop it. Stop telling the world you are the most this or the most that, and either actually do what you say you will or, and just tell people what you can realistically deliver on.

I happen to think Ryanair, an Irish airline, has the right idea. Their promise: "we will get you from Point A to Point B as cheaply as possible. If you want anything resembling customer service, go elsewhere." Recently they were thinking of charging people to use the restrooms -- not sure where that came out.

I think people will put up with anything if they are treated honestly. It is the gap between promise and delivery than can drive people nuts. And, unfortunately, when a company goes from entrepreneur to small to big, the gap sometimes becomes a chasm.

Jim Randel is the founder of The Skinny On book series.