After a long weekend in Las Vegas with barely any sleep, I embarked on my long journey home at 2pm Sunday afternoon (west coast time). I was flying first from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, prepared to enjoy a long dinner and a celebratory glass of wine at LAX during my layover (I had just found out that I had passed the Bar Exam!), and I was set to fly the redeye flight back to Boston. Upon Delta texting me an update (as I requested) that my flight would be delayed by an hour, I decided it was a good opportunity to have a glass of wine and watch some football at the restaurant near my gate. While enjoying my brief delay, I received another text that my flight was to be delayed by an additional 20 minutes. I extended my restaurant stay while catching up on some emails and then headed back to my gate to await the boarding process. When I got to my gate, I saw that Delta had delayed my flight for a 3rd time – they had not texted me this update as they had the previous 2 times. I went to the gate desk to inquire about any possible further delays and tried to explain I had a connecting flight to catch (at this point, I was still okay for time). The Delta employee refused to tell me why the flight was delayed and ignored my concerns. So what did I do next?
I sent out a tweet to Delta asking why my flight kept getting delayed. No response. My flight was then delayed for a 4th time (no text from Delta, again) – now on my 4th hour at the airport. I went back to the desk and asked politely what potential options I would have if the flight was further delayed, as I could not afford to miss my connection. My politeness was returned with sheer annoyance and rude brush-offs by the Delta employee, who simply refused to address my concerns.
Now I was becoming increasingly frustrated with Delta and their lack of customer service.
I sent out a second tweet, this time mentioning my preference of JetBlue over Delta. Finally, this tweet elicited a response, but it was a meek one at best.
After that experience, I knew I needed to investigate and write a post about airlines, twitter, and customer service. Airline Twitter feeds are the digital equivalent of an airport customer service counter, filled with complaints, travel woes, and pleas to hold a gate so that a traveler can make their connection. Addressing travelers’ “emotional baggage” in 140 characters or less is a huge challenge that airlines need to overcome, and keeping up with this job requires 24/7 attention.
1. Delta = Suspicious:
According to a CNN article I read, the majority of customers’ tweets on airlines’ twitter feeds are dominated by dissatisfaction and impatience – except for Delta. The article states that Delta’s feed is “unusually lacking in negative inquiries” and seems to be “relentlessly cheerful” and “oddly flirtatious.” I dug deeper by investigating Delta’s feed and my two tweets (one a mere inquiry, the other a complaint and the response to the complaint) were nowhere to be found. Unusual indeed…and quite suspicious.
2. Twitter Personas:
Developing a persona on Twitter is more of an art than a science, and airlines have had varying results in doing so. Sometimes airlines have a calm and soothing presence like a crisis hotline or a therapist; other times they can be “impressively unhelpful” and “resolutely immune to sarcasm.”
Not all airlines have been successful in creating a successful persona. American Airlines, however, does have a good strategy. The director of social media, Jonathan Pierce, was quoted saying:
“We encourage our customer service representatives to be conversational, approachable, and that it’s OK to have a little fun when appropriate…striking the right tone is about reading the signals in the conversation.”
The downside to this strategy, though, is that not all employees will be able to read the signals and sometimes the conversations can go terribly wrong (i.e. US Airways recently made an “honest mistake” by replying to a customer tweet with a pornographic image).
3. Separate Social Media Customer Service Twitter Account:
Airlines are faced with the decision of whether to include customer service communications on their universal account or whether to have a separate customer service account. A recent study found that having a separate customer service account is actually less effective because a considerable amount of questions were left unanswered in the main account and the majority of travelers were not redirected to the dedicated customer service account. American Airlines and British Airways have both determined that a universal account is better suited for their customers (leaving the work for the airlines not for their customers), and have responded to a greater percentage of questions than other airlines. Conversely, Delta has two accounts – @Delta and @DeltaAssist. While @DeltaAssist appears to be responding to inquiries more often than not, there were significantly more questions being asked to @Delta – of which only a mere 4% were responded to by either @Delta or @DeltaAssist (I guess I am not the only displeased Delta customer).
The study determined that brands that have universal accounts perform 12% better than airlines with dedicated accounts based on Questions-to-Reply-Rates.
4. Exceptional Customer Service on Twitter – JetBlue:
JetBlue excels in responsiveness, a quality that ultimately allowed them to excel at customer service. Not only does JetBlue engage with their happy customers, but they also respond to and help frustrated customers as quickly as possible. JetBlue ensures they are responsive to their customers because they understand it is important for continued customer loyalty. A great example of this can be seen by @yanesval and her recent experience traveling with JetBlue:
5. How Customers Should Complain on Twitter:
The airline industry is both blessed and cursed by customer service via Twitter – it is a great new medium through which to solve problems, but customer tweets can be difficult and confusing to respond to. Luckily for us, Forbes has provided recommendations for how customers can affect the customer service they receive:
- Take Emotion Out of the Equation – if you want an airline’s help, stick to the facts, talk through solutions and communicate with civility. Apart from releasing steam, an impassioned tweet will not provide you much benefit.
- Use Your Twitter Tools Effectively – tweet at the appropriate handle (i.e. @DeltaAssist rather than @Delta – even though I know it is a pain to know when and who to tweet at when you are having travel woes!), calculate your tweet to be concise yet effective, and keep the conversation on the same public thread so the airline can better track your problems.
- Empower the Airline – supply adequate resources for customer service to help by including information such as departure date, flight number, departure/arrival airport, name if not obvious, and baggage tag numbers when needed.
- Know the Limitation of the Airline and Your Schedule – give the airline an idea of how they can help you, but know that online agents face certain limitations in doing so.
- Escalate the Right Complaints – Twitter is a great medium for short-lived problems that require a quick response, but it is not the ultimate tool for categorizing and filing complaints (best to do so directly on the airlines’ website).
Admittedly, maybe I was not as strategic as I could have been when tweeting @Delta and then @DeltaAssist on Sunday, but I still believe that Delta and other airlines should be aware of their customers’ willingness to participate in the customer service process. Make it easy for your customers to complain/praise and quickly respond to them – you will not drive customer loyalty without doing so!
Has anyone else had a similar experience with social media customer service with an airline, and did you feel like the airline was successful in driving loyalty? Did they hinder the process?