Customer care has always been paramount to the perceived quality of service within the airline industry. But for airlines, being there for customers in real-time goes further than just response times. The traveller of today has higher expectations and a lower resistance to brand change, despite the air miles they may have accumulated. These travelers have been empowered, finding their voice over new social platforms both in public and private channels. The new competitive advantage for airlines is humanity in service at all customer touch points. Airlines that are attempting to capture, understand, and win the “always on” travelers of 2017 are first faced with the prospect of having to initiate a personalized experience.
Over the past year, social channels rapidly matured. As public dissatisfaction aired on social channels increasingly turned into private conversations that were resolution-focused, we witnessed the development of Messenger from Facebook, Twitter DM Dispatcher and the introduction of Bots. These new emerging channels are designed to support 1-2-1 private resolution. This positive shift signaled the market maturity of Social Customer Service.
With this in mind I sat down with Michael Roy, who leads Social Care Strategy for Alaska Airlines, to find out how Alaska Airlines has built, grown and scaled a social team - whilst remaining human at the same time.
1. Given that social service for the 'always on’ traveler is often in-the-moment, how has social changed the way Alaska deals with their customers?
"Social allows us to be truly "in-the-moment" with our customers and to help solve travel-related issues when they happen, as they happen. Customers no longer need to wait to have a customer service issue addressed. Our trained Social Care agents are available within moments to assist our customers with an average response time of less than 6 minutes."
2. What surprises, or unexpected issues, did you encounter while implementing your social strategy? And what steps did you take to overcome these challenges?
"Alaska Airlines has been engaging with customers on social media since 2009. What we’ve noticed is that social customers don’t interact with us during traditional business hours. They want to engage with us at their convenience, so we had to adapt and change our hours of operation. In fact, we changed our “listening/response” service hours several times before we got to where we are today, which is 24/7. We track every customer communication that through Conversocial, and have worked very closely with our customer care team to expand our hours of operation. Being available 24/7 has made a huge difference. Today we are available to handle a customer’s travel pain point at 3 a.m. just as we would at 3 p.m."
3. How does Alaska Air remain "human" even when dealing with such a wide variety of customer engagements?
"The philosophy that we adopted early on was to "use real people to have real conversations.” For example, we discourage quoting company policies and procedures verbatim. Instead we encourage our team of social care agents to communicate like they would with a friend. If we have a policy that needs to be shared with our customers, we empower our team members to share using their own words when crafting their responses. The result has been fun. Some of our followers have taken a liking to our social care team members, each of whom have different interests and insights to share. Your readers can learn more about our awesome team here."
4. What platforms have you seen the most customer service engagement over? And how are you dealing with this at scale?
"Most of our customers prefer to engage with us using Facebook and Twitter – that’s where they’re at by far. We use Conversocial to help assist us with rapid response solution. With their listening and workflow skills, we can put conversations in front of our agents who can immediately engage our customers."
5. Are your customers easily adopting Messenger as a viable support channel? Have the conversations on this channel changed?
"Easily? No, but we try to direct conversations to Facebook Messenger when feasible. We believe Messenger is the better experience for customer and company, because they can effortlessly share their experience in greater detail and with privacy. This allows us to solve the issue more quickly and it also lessens the opportunity of social shaming, which is a reality when you share personal travel details publicly."
6. Where do you see the biggest opportunity for Alaska Airlines’ social media customer service strategy in 2017 and beyond?
"Our biggest opportunity is to make our guests aware that Social Customer Care is available to them wherever they are. This year we are testing Twitter DM and Facebook Messenger links on our “Contact Us” pages on alaskaair.com and through out apps."
7. How do you make sure senior management understand what it means to be social, understanding the benefits and know how to support you in the right way?
"By sharing the social experience with leadership daily. We share learnings and stats about our social engagement with leaders across the company every day. From typical guest comments to trending topics, it’s important to share the customer experience as seen through the eyes of social. If we see repeating trends, we want to make sure the operation, corporate communications and even our systems operation center know what customers are saying about us on social. Acts of above and beyond events are important to recognize as well. For example, we recently had two off-duty pilots complete a flight when it seemed all hope was lost. It was important to share that with leadership so they could recognize these heroic efforts."
8. As one brand begins to lead the way, or change the baseline of what good service looks like, what does that do from a competitive point of view?
"Competition in this industry is fierce, and it pushes us to stay close to our customers and nimble as technology and tools change. As social continues to mature, our goal is to mature along with it and continue to be responsive and deliver the excellent customer service that sets us apart from other airlines."
To find out where Alaska Airlines ranks among global airlines for social care checkout our Airline Bench Mark report here.