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Southwest Airlines Computer Glitch Creates Chaos For Facebook Fans

Marie Rose
By Marie Rose on Aug 7, 2012 2:40:00 PM

A Facebook promotion turned into a disaster for leading Airline, Southwest. 

To celebrate 3 million likes, Southwest Airlines offered 50% off of round-trip flights for seven dates; but instead of receiving a discount, a computer error meant many customers were charged multiple times for the one booking - putting them out thousands of dollars.

Southwest’s Facebook fans naturally used the Facebook page to voice their frustrations. But while Southwest posted general information about the glitch and assured customers that refunds would be given, they aren’t responding to the individual complaints. While some customers are satisfied with the mass communication, many are still being vocal and publicly upset about the level of service they’ve received. This contrasts with the best practice for dealing with crisis situations; a personal response to every upset customer can defuse the situation, like we saw with O2 in the UK a couple of weeks ago.

If Southwest continues to ignore the public customer complaints, is it only a matter of time before the issue snowballs out of control? There are several things to consider about the way that Southwest is handling their current social media crisis:
  • On their Facebook profile page, the company states “We will not address specific Customer Service issues here.” But customers are still writing in. It might be time for Southwest to reconsider their approach - in social, the customers control the conversation; not you.
  • While the Facebook messages seem to be an even mix of both positive and negative sentiment, Southwest should still be reaching out to those customers issuing complaints. The company has somewhat abandoned their “no customer service issues on Facebook” rule by responding to a handful of messages, but they are definitely not answering every complaint that rolls in. Leaving the negative messages sitting there with no response can harm the brand reputation – and responding inconsistently can leave customers confused about whether they will get help or not.
  • Southwest have been using their Twitter handle @SouthwestAir to communicate with customers, and have been responsive to a handful of complaints on that social platform. While this is helpful, the issues began on Facebook, not Twitter, and should remain on Facebook for resolution.
  • Customer loyalty has been a huge benefit to Southwest, with many customers forgiving the computer glitch out of allegiance to the brand. Many passengers have posted on Facebook saying that they are pleased with the customer service they’ve received, and will continue to use Southwest. The situation could have been even worse if they didn’t already have a number of brand advocates.

Southwest is often praised for its social media use, but in this situation they haven’t lived up to the high expectations that customers now have. They have definitely tried to satisfy their customers and make up for the error – but they’ve still ignored many messages left on social media; responding individually would make customers happier and defuse the risk of a crisis spiralling out of control.  Having a social customer service team able to respond directly to every customer on Facebook would have definitely helped Southwest calm their angry customers and preserve their brand reputation.

Do you think Southwest handled their social media crisis effectively? How would you have handled the situation?  We’re interested to hear your opinions in the comments below.

Got any suggestions for what you’d like to hear from us? Send your thoughts to marie@conversocial.com or @Conversocial. We’re always looking for new ideas.

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