Nowadays, we all use Social Media on a daily basis and have adopted it as a regular thing in our life. Sometimes frequent travelers feel the urge to consult their travel providers with their questions or to vent as well. With mixed results!
There have been a good amount of famous and infamous Tweets and Facebook avalanches in this ‘social media decade’ but how effective is this channel really to communicate with (mostly) frustrated customers?
Monitoring the average Twitter traffic every day that reaches airlines and hotels, I find that you can break them down into
- Complaints / Frustrated Vents
- ‘Check-In’ with applications such as Swarm (formerly Foursquare)
- Personal Images / Holiday Snapshots
- Compliments to the Business
These messages range from very simple, not to say banal to more complicated issues that a traveler might encounter. I have personally experienced a very broad mix of replies from airlines and hotel chains over the years. Mostly these have been positive and especially FAST compared to the usual customer relations channel but sometimes I really wondered if the Social Media representative of a major corporation is a five year old.
CNN Traveller had an interesting report this week (you can access their online version here) that shines some light on the overall situation how airlines respond to Twitter messages.
Airline Twitter feeds are the digital equivalent of an airport customer service counter. There is anger. Despair. Grudging acceptance of mildly satisfactory compensation.
The feeds are an endless litany of air travel woes: complaints about surly gate agents, photos of damaged luggage, desperate pleas to hold a gate so a traveler can make their connection.
In an age when customer service takes place in public view — and one bad response can ricochet around the globe in seconds — handling customers’ emotional baggage in 140 characters or less is no small feat.
I sometimes use the Swarm App myself to check in at hotels and take some pictures with it. It posts automatically to my twitter. In the case of Hyatt either the HyattConcierge or property often replies to the tweet (keep in mind: this sometimes happens automatic, doesn’t mean an actual person handles this).
Sometimes however things take a turn to the ugly and inappropriate. The article goes on:
Representatives often discreetly direct the conversation away from public view, inviting them to directly message them to avoid posting personal information or flight details.
“We encourage our customer service representatives to be conversational, approachable, and that it’s OK to have a little fun when appropriate,” says Jonathan Pierce, director of social media for American Airlines. “Striking the right tone is about reading the signals in the conversation.”
The mother of all airline-related tweet catastrophes occurred on April 14, 2014, when a disgruntled passenger tweeted US Airways about a disrupted spring break trip.
Attached was a pornographic photograph of a woman using a model Boeing 777 for a purpose for which it was not intended. The tweet was live for 22 minutes, long enough to go viral and inspire countless comebacks.
If you are curious, John wrote about this incident back in April last year (access his article here). It was a rather graphic matter so to speak. Don’t worry, John’s article is still ‘workplace appropriate’ but the original link is provided as well.
No large company can afford anymore to ignore social media as part of their customer relations efforts. In some industries though if often seems to backfire as the company gets more flack than positive responses. The danger from a PR perspective is that all this ‘dirty laundry’ is washed in the open for the public to see. The incident with the US Airways toy plane is just one example.
On the other hand, this is a chance where a company can really shine and excel.
Social Media has the ability to bring attention to matters much faster and often help to resolve problems which customer relations teams (often outsourced in some developing countries) sometimes like to ignore. Especially when the customer has no airline or hotel status I find this channel very efficient as the service from the traditional department at the company is often appalling.
If you send tweets to a travel provider on a regular basis keep in mind these social media teams are usually quite small. It would be helpful and fair to also send a few nice things every now and then and not only bombard them with rants, I’m sure this will be remembered and there is more empathy in case you really encounter a problem some day.
What are your experiences with airline or hotel social media teams? Comment below!