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Is Your Airline Anti-Social?

Paul Johns
By Paul Johns on Nov 8, 2014 7:14:00 AM

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Like most of us, I have spent much of my career traveling for client events, customer meetings and conferences. As a frequent flyer, I have shamelessly chased status and meticulously managed loyalty points to try and fly in comfort. I maintain a personal best for disassembling myself for TSA screening, whisking through most airports on my own kind of auto-pilot. I spend way too much time on tarmac and so let's be honest we all want to turn left at the door and have someone bring us something bubbly before takeoff.

As I write this blog post I am preparing for a trip in the morning back to London. As something of a perpetual passenger, I maintain a separate, transparent toiletries bag and reach easily to a roller bag that seems never emptied of the basics - power converters and cables and the like. In preparing this post I took the conscious decision not to call out any of the airlines by name - good or bad. I did this partly because service is a very personal concept, or at least it should be and partly because this blog is not about the specific brands themselves but how protagonists in the industry must embrace more than social 'marketing' to compete in this fiercely fought contest to win and keep winning the frequent traveler - This is instead, a story about an industry that needs to innovate constantly, and today that means embracing social customer service that moves beyond promotional reach and into full customer resolution - social first.

Let's face it, air travel - once glamorous, has become complacent, heavily unionized and utilitarian. For most people our simple reward is to reach the destination as unflustered as possible but there was a time when the journey was as exciting as the destination.

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And so in recent months I have been exploring how airlines, traditional and challenger, have been innovating to bring back some of that excitement and which airlines are innovating, and adopting social customer service to pull passengers through a convenient service experience via Twitter and Facebook. How are they 'meeting the tweet' to quote one major airline, and how have they managed to not only entice customers to buy through social media but to engage with them - servicing passengers completely through social? Upgrading tickets, changing reservations and managing disruptions all through a social channel.

I have talked recently with five major airlines. Three flag carriers (two european and one american - all transatlantic) and I confess I have been surprised by what I have found. I expected the younger more spritely challenger brands to once again have led the way. Youthful, disruptive carriers have traditionally been first to offer various innovations such as all-seat entertainment and on-board wifi, however what I found was that some of the older flag-carriers have really taken to social customer service. Some of these airlines now favor social interaction with customers which can result in a much more 'sociable' and sticky customer experience.

Social customers can tweet issues and make reservation changes, and these can increasingly be fulfilled through twitter. One dutch carrier has recently adopted #socialfirst so that it proactively invites its customers to tweet before calling (you can check out the hashtag #happytohelp for more on that) - and for anyone lost in a contact center's IVR this is an attractive prospect. Most call centers today are highly mechanized battery farms processing 'users' with an almost contemptible haste. They lack heart and they lose ground quickly to a more social experience.

For the airline industry the numbers are appealing. Customers who have a good service experience through a social channel such as Twitter or Facebook are twice as likely to tell others than on any other channel and that commentary is public. Some airlines are seeing between 10 and 30% volumes from customers coming in through twitter and Facebook and in just 18 months those customers went from being surprised that they were being responded to, to now expecting issue resolution - and fast. But those customers are also spending. One airline making $1m a week through social reservations.

So the question is - is your airline embracing social?

Two hours ago I tweeted one transatlantic carrier. I just tried to use my Airmiles with that airline over Twitter - no response. I should add here, this is not one of the more progressive airlines I have spend time with at a social customer service conference recently (#CSMSC) but it is an airline I have sparkly status with. Perhaps it's time to switch to a more social airline.

Follow me on Twitter @paulj0hns

Topics: Best Practices, Customer Service, Airline

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