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.
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:
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…
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.
One 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!