Brokers, it's time to get out of the cockpit

Brian wrote this piece just about a year ago. The title became the basis for a live presentation we have given throughout this past year on a variety of topics including branding, marketing and communication, sales and creative thinking. 


“Good morning, folks, my name is Brian Marsh and I’m your first officer on today’s flight out to Aruba [pauses amid chuckles].


How many people on this plane have never flown jetBlue before? Great, how about you stand up and tell us a little bit about yourselves?

Seriously, I’m grateful you’re on board with us this morning. We’ve got some tailwinds, so our flight time out to D.C. will be a quick four hours and thirty minutes. And all reports indicate a smooth ride.

Sit back and enjoy the jetBlue experience – and thanks again”

I was headed out to Washington from Oakland on a jetBlue flight last week.

The screen in front of me had already told me I “look good in leather” – the material covering my seat – and commended me for being a “good screen reader”. Now the first officer had come out of the cockpit to greet us, joke around a bit, and tell us what to expect.

The week before I had flown from Houston to Oakland on Continental. My seat smelled of body odor. The flight attendants were surly. My tray table restricted my breathing. I arrived home with a sore back and headed straight for the shower.

The guy flying the plane could have made me feel a little better about this, but he chose not too. He remained, as most pilots remain, a leaden voice coming through the squawk box, distant and unconcerned.

I hate Continental. I love JetBlue.

Brokers, it’s time for you to get out of the cockpit too. Times are tough. People are hurting. They’re angry, and unsure.

It’s been a long flight and the peanuts aren’t helping.

How often do you, your office mangers or your VPs, personally greet clients in your office? How often do you call buyers to congratulate them upon closing? Or send them a handwritten note?

Do you speak candidly and sympathetically to your customers about the challenges facing home buyers and sellers? Or do you remain ensconced in the soundproof cockpit of the executive suite and let your marketing department do the talking?

Have you lent humor to your interactions with sellers? Or are you still hoping to still the anxious minds in your market with postcards?

All this buzz about blogs? It’s not about technology: it’s about you, your voice, and a conversation you need to be having with your customers.

I know. There are reasons to stay put. You don’t want to edge in on agent relationships. You don’t want exposure to criticism. Let me tell you something: When you speak to your customers with a human voice you are forgiven for your mistakes. JetBlue botched hundreds of flights and stranded a hundred and fifty passengers on the tarmac at JFK for nine hours last winter in an operational meltdown. People gave them the flack they deserved and went on loving the company.

Get out there. Hold a town hall meeting. Spend 20k to hire a top shelf economist or personal finance expert to help your customers navigate a challenging economy. Give them the data they need, however ugly it may be.

Speak frankly. Be open. Push yourself to communicate in new ways. Take a look at this. I know — it’s far from perfect. And the opening video is filled with cant. But he’s trying. He’s left the cockpit. He’s telling us what to expect and injecting his brand with a dose of humanity.

I know a lot of smart brokers. People who’ve been through rough times before and have a genuine passion for helping people. Trouble is, they don’t have – or don’t think they have – the moves in them to pull something like this off. I think they underestimate themselves. The tools are there. It’s what Web 2.0 is all about.

Get out of the cockpit and face the crowd. It’ll make everyone feel better.

— Brian Boero