It’s hard to be an airline brand. Think about it. Flying makes even the most amicable individual on edge. All it takes is one employee having a bad day to color the whole experience. That’s no doubt one of the reasons that some airlines were some of the earliest adopters of social customer service and social listening. (My favorite is of course the case of Virgin Atlantic.) They understood that the vast majority of customers just want to know that the brand hears them. When it comes down to it we all know that the airline isn’t to blame for the weather or airport construction. But often in the heat of the moment the airline is the nearest scapegoat. A thoughtful response to a frustrated tweet can be that calming force that brings us back into a rational frame of mind.
“The airport is awful, and the weather sucks. But at least I’m flying (airline)!”
Airlines who do social right get tons of compliments and satisfied customers. But that means that those who do it wrong can actually hurt their reputation more! In fact it can actually hurt an otherwise positive experience. “I tweeted to the airline saying that I enjoyed my flight and never got a response”. Or, even worse, the tweet can sound insensitive to a customer’s complaint.
Here’s my recent experience:
I booked a flight on JetBlue to travel to SHRM. I used to fly JetBlue all the time in the mid-2000s back when they were a cheap and cheerful option. $99 each way to CA from DC for a college student was a dream come true! Then JetBlue raised their prices. And I mean REALLY raised their prices. Of course then prices went up across the industry. Now a days I’m shouting from the rooftops if I can get a nonstop non-red eye cross country flight for under $400. But I can never find a competitive JetBlue flight! For that reason it’s been at least 5 years since I’ve flown with them. I was kinda excited. I mean they’re the “fun” airline, right?
Then the worst happened. I got a call right before I was set to leave for the airport that my flight had been canceled due to a “disruption” and I had been rebooked for the next afternoon. I called customer service to explain that I had to be in Orlando by Sunday morning at the very latest and the woman was very kind and accommodating on the phone. She was able to schedule me for a flight Sunday morning and also took the time to explain that the disruption was due to a mechanical difficulty. Overall my impression was positive despite my irritation.
Then I found out that my hotel didn’t allow same day cancellations even due to circumstances clearly beyond my control. This was one of those situations. Technically it wasn’t JetBlue’s fault they my hotel was being so stingy. I knew this but it definitely reduced the warm feeling I had after the helpful customer service phone experience.
When I first heard about the mysterious disruption I had posted a tweet asking if anyone knew what was going on. JetBlue responded about 30 minutes later asking for my flight number so that they could check up on it. So I told them that I had been rebooked for the next day but was out $120 for a hotel night.
Here was their totally tone deaf response:
There are so many relatively costless things they could have done to turn my mood around. They could have given me a seat upgrade for my next flight to their “extra space seat”, a few hundred miles on my rewards card or even just a sincere apology.
Guess what they said next?
Even after my boss, social media influencer Bryan Kramer, got involved and started to generate RTs.
Now some of you may stop and say “well that’s the airline industry for you”. But that’s not necessarily true.
Last month I flew with US Airways to go to IBM SmarterCommerce in Tampa and they blew me away with their social media skills. On my way back I ran into a weather delay and tweeted out my frustration. Here’s their impressive response:
That made JetBlue’s response all the worst.
After all of this you can imagine the mood I was in when I got to my gate. My Saturday flight had been in the afternoon. The rebooking meant I had to wake up at 4:30am to get to the airport. So when I encountered a rude employee at the gate it was the last straw and I took to Twitter.
I included those two airlines because in addition to the desire to rub JetBlue’s face in it, I wanted to see how US Airways and Virgin America (another social airline) would respond. Less than a minute later I got my answer.
Spot on. They didn’t engage JetBlue. They simply make it clear through their rapid response that I’m valued. That’s what an airline customer wants to hear and that’s why the next time I book a flight I’m going to go out of my way to try to make it on US Airways.
Well-executed social listening and engagement is a must in today’s world. Brands need to realize that the value of those positions rivals their ad campaign budget. They need to invest in hiring skilled specialists in community management who are always listening and crafting thoughtful responses. Because in the end, it’s all about relationships.
addendum: JetBlue never responded to my tweets but they did create a Travel Bank account with $50. As far as social listening goes, however, it’s too little too late. The damage has already been done.