Twitter Takes Flight

Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to travel to Europe for spring break. However, I was unlucky enough to be traveling during a snowstorm that produced hurricane force winds, and ultimately delayed me for a couple of days.

I was tempted to write that I was unlucky enough to travel with Turkish Airlines, but I don’t think that’s fair. I’m not here to trash airline services. I think they catch enough slack as it is. It’s impossible for someone not to be unhappy, whether it’s a snowstorm or a broken part. At the end of the day, a lot of the problems they have are not really their own, and their goal really is to keep you safe, but when something goes wrong it is their name stickered all over the side of the 747.

Frustration with airlines is a tale as old as time. However, the way we’ve come to deal with it in the past five years is a lot different than it used to be. The only option we had in the past was to get fed up and internalize the experience, because there really was nothing that could be done. Maybe you’d bring it up to a friend or two like an old war story, but that was about it.tenor2

So here’s my war story: I called customer service five separate times, spoke with five different people, racking up roughly 100 minutes on the phone. Every one of them was “very sorry for the inconvenience”, but had nothing to offer me. That was just at the call center. When I tried to call the sales office at Logan Airport, no one even picked up. I sent an email, and never got a response. I was out of luck. I started venting to a friend, who knew I was taking this class and he joked, “Maybe you should rant about it on Twitter.” And that was how times had changed. I felt stupid for not thinking of it. I wasn’t going to rant, but Twitter is the fastest way to get news, so it must be the fastest way to get customer service too, right? I found Turkish Airlines’ support page (which, as with many airlines, had a separate customer service handle) and shot them a direct message. Still nothing. I was frustrated. They prided themselves in responding to tweets in an average of 22 minutes in the past three hours, so why wouldn’t they answer my DM? That’s when I decided I would tweet at them. Here’s what I said:Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 12.03.51 AM

A little harsh? Yeah, I’m not going to deny that. Probably even hyperbolic and unwarranted, but I  was frustrated. Anyway, guess what happened?

They responded in 4 minutes.

Four minutes! I spend half a day calling, emailing, DMing, and waiting, and a 276 character Tweet ended up solving all of my problems. They compensated me and made sure that I had a flight scheduled in case mine was cancelled due to the snow. They were extremely pleasant, much more so than over the phone, and I was off to Europe the following day.

What was up with that? I think the answer is simple enough. I, a lowly college student with less than a hundred followers, transformed myself into an influencer. It might sound pessimistic, but I really don’t think the airlines cared too much about what I had to say, until I started sharing it with people outside of the company. Once the complaint was out in the open, it was time for the company to take action. We’ve talked in detail about how celebrities can be influencers, and I don’t want to beat a dead horse. In contrast to celebrities, however, I think that airline travel is a prime example of an industry in which your “Average Joe” has been able to have a massive impact.

Everyone has a phone, and not a single story goes unnoticed. Take for instance earlier this year when JFK’s baggage claim was completely flooded. On a much grander scale, who could forget United’s big blunder, when a man was dragged off one of their flights and suffered a concussion. Every move an airline makes, the entire world could be watching.

The way airlines have had to interact with people has changed drastically for this reason. A recent study published in 2017 demonstrated that a resolved negative tweet leads to 3 times more revenue potential than a positive tweet. Not surprisingly, forty-three percent of airlines cite delivering customer service via social media as their top priority for 2018. A social media presence is important, but in the social media realm, speed is the name of the game, and some companies understand that better than others…

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 12.37.27 AM

The Conversocial Airline Benchmark Report (2017)

Some airlines, including JetBlue, Virgin America, and Alaska Air, have actually developed a “rapid response” strategy, and evidently many of the other airlines, especially in North America, have started to follow their lead.

giphy12One method for this has been developing social “bots”, which are able to ask initial questions of customers to improve routing accuracy and save 15–20% of messaging volume, which ultimately saves a lot of time for both the agent and the customer. So far, however, these bots have not been particularly useful. People still expect a human element when they reach out for social care.

Social media has become a true double edged sword for airlines. They are able to respond to customers more quickly, and there is no better press than when they resolve a customer service issue. However, they are expected to respond to everything, and in a very public manner. I am happy Twitter was there for me when it seemed as though everyone else was not, however I can’t help but take a step back and think that all of this is a bit ridiculous. At the end of the day airlines are giving us a means of flying anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. Even if we are delayed a few hours, we are still eventually experiencing the miracle of human flight. I really need to remind myself of that next time something like this happens.

Thanks for tuning in!


  1. murphycobc · ·

    It’s so interesting how a platform like Twitter has truly changed the landscape of customer service! I know a lot of companies are quick to respond because of how viral certain incidents have gone (I’m looking at you United). Even where I work, there’s a constant eye to mentions to figure out which path we take: Respond, Delete, Ignore.

    It’s also interesting to think about volume. You talk about how the bots can respond to many tweets (I know Comcast employs that strategy), but it does allow them to triage complaints much faster than a human in a call center. Certainly something to think about when weighing the time-cost scenario of where to reach out to.

  2. nescrivag · ·

    Jake, this is a great post about the power of social media and it is so relevant to the course because it shows how companies care more about their social presence than keeping their customers happy individually through other traditional ways.
    Negative PR is something that all companies are afraid of because it really harms the way their customers and the public in general perceives them. A tweet that mentions a company is public and therefore the company can’t hide it. Interacting with call centers is different because it is a private interaction between you and the customer service representative.
    I think that the fact that they responded so quickly over Twitter but were not that great at customer service through the phone is not that great for a company because what happen to all those people who don’t have a Twitter or other social media accounts? How can they get the same level of customer service? I think this is something that companies have to learn to balance because there is a split in the population between people who are super engaged on the internet and those who are not very active in the online social world.

  3. graceglambrecht · ·

    This is awesome. I’ve always been tempted to tweet at airlines or companies that i have had problems with. If i knew how fast of a response time i would get if i did i would have stopped calling customer service a long time ago!!
    This definitely speaks to the importance of service now. A bad experience is no longer limited to a nasty email or am avoided phone call, as you said complaints can be OUT THERE. Reviews have become such an important part of service experiences both online and in the real world. Damage control isn’t as easy as it used to be so nipping issues in the bud early is important. Many companies even respond to negative yelp reviews now to stop an overall negative reputation. very awesome article and definitely speaks to the power of the average joe becoming an influence as you said!

  4. mqzhang · ·

    Thanks for sharing your flight experience, Jake! I’m sure anyone who has flown can relate to how frustrating it can be to simply depart and arrive on time. I’ve actually had a similar experience with JetBlue this past winter break!

    I think the problem that airlines now have with customer service is that it’s impossible to keep customers in the dark about receiving poor service quality in today’s social media-focused age. In years past, each customer was an island; a single entity in a vast sea that had no means of communication. During these times, it was easy to simply convince customers that the poor treatment they were receiving “can’t be helped” and that the airline was “doing everything they could” to ensure the highest quality of service.

    Today, however, our customer experience today is, on average, much better since we can easily form bridges from our islands to others, sharing experiences and comparing the differences in treatment quality to verify company claims. Negative experiences can reverberate across a country in an instant due to the network effect, presenting a powerful case to airlines to attend to each complaint as quickly as possible.

    I’m sure we can be thankful we aren’t the ones manning the Twitter feeds of these airlines! Representing these companies on social media platforms probably feels like an endless game of whack-a-mole, considering the number of dissatisfied customers from the countless flights that take place each day. I only hope this won’t develop into a case of customer empowerment gone rampant if too many customers begin publicizing their experiences at the slightest inconvenience. I’m all for evening the odds and fighting back against unjust treatment. But I can’t imagine what airlines would do if they become backed into a corner from increasing complaints across social media.

  5. Great post, Jake! Like @mqzhang mentioned, horrendous travel experiences is something humanity can bond over more likely than not. I had a terrible experience trying to get a hold of a human when flying Spirit Airlines this winter break with no luck after waiting on hold for a total of 2 hours. Yippee! Had I thought to tweet out to the masses, I could have cut my wait time down to 14 minutes, as I see from the average response time chart you provided!
    I completely see your point about airlines needing to combat negative tweets… and fast. While an unanswered DM or phone call may lead to an unhappy customer briefly venting to a friend, an unhappy tweet can reach the masses. Once the masses see an airline associated with a bad experience, it’s hard to reverse it’s effects without some resolution occurring. For example, previous to your post I would have felt neutral about Turkish Airlines. Then, I made a mental note at the beginning of your post to consider avoiding flying Turkish Airlines in the future, however, now that I know they do seem to care about their customers I feel positive about the airline. Funny how that works.
    While I was surprised to hear that a resolved negative tweet leads to 3x more revenue than one positive tweet, reflecting on my emotions towards the airline throughout reading your post, it does seem to make sense.

  6. In the early days of this class, there was a running gag of Prof. Kane tweets at the airlines. Delta, Jetblue, and Southwest always did a great job. United, American, and USAir, not so much. Then Quantas only answered Twitter from 9-5 Australian time. Seriously?!?!

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