Editor’s Note: This article was featured in Airline Business (September Issue), contributed by CEO of SimpliFlying, Shashank Nigam. For a soft copy of the original article, please see here.
Airlines that have innovated customer service though online media have elevated passenger expectations to a level that sets a high standard for others to follow, according to Shashank Nigram of SimpliFlying
Late last year a friend had a bad experience with Delta Air Lines during his honeymoon.
A number of things went wrong – from being assigned a seat away from his new bride, to the couple being ignored by flight attendants. When he called the customer service hotline he was put on hold for a long time and transferred from one department to another. In the end, his concerns were hardly addressed by Delta staff.
Frustrated, he blogged about his encounter with Delta and dropped me a note asking for help. I suggested he tweet to @Deltaassist. Much to his surprise, he received a reply on Twitter within 10min, saying Delta was looking into his case. Within 24 hours, he was given a $100 voucher for the inconvenience he suffered during his flight.
Some might claim this to be a one- off case but thanks to social media real- time customer service is coming of age in the airline industry.
Social media benchmarking company Unimetric.com says that if you send a tweet to Delta Air Lines, you are likely to get a reply within 11min, while if you tweet JetBlue with a problem, it will address it within 17min. Also, KLM will reply within an hour and Virgin America is known to solve passengers’ problems in-flight while they are connected to the internet at 35,000ft.
Through social media, airline customer service has become real-time and customers expect answers around the clock. In fact, travel social media company Eezeer says 71.4% of con- sumer tweets to airlines are customer- service-related. The growth of calls to customer service centres is projected to decline this year, with social conversation numbers occasionally equalling phone calls.
First and foremost, this is because customers no longer have to go through the hassle of holding on the phone to customer services and expect to get answers more easily, especially for queries that are not time sensitive.
The responsive, interactive and open nature of social media helps customers feel comfortable to ask more questions and get all doubts cleared – not always possible on the phone. The airline can understand better what the most worrying issues for customers are and how its service can be improved.
Apart from the undeniable benefits social media provides, customers now expect most brands to respond to them on social media, an almost equally compelling reason for airlines to have social media customer service initiatives. As seen in the case of the Royal Brunei Airlines emergency landing of flight BI098 in April this year, the internet and social media are unmatched in providing speedy information, especially in times of crisis.
Consumers are often pleased to receive acknowledgement, even if the resolution is not immediate. Hence, the key to success in customer service via social media lies in a quick response before reaching resolution. Several airlines are now innovating in this space.
What can you learn from the airlines that provide the best customer service on social media?
Share local knowledge and provide personal attention
One of the most innovative tools being used by Ireland’s CityJet is its Twitter concierge. The programme aims to provide personalised recommendations to travellers who request them. This helps drive their goals in engagement, customer service and revenue. Goals of social customer service programmes need to translate back to the core metrics of the brand and marketing.
Prepare to scale
KLM and Delta Air Lines have more than 30 people dedicated to providing customer service through social media. That sort of commitment is often needed because once you set the customers’ expectations that they can reach you online, that is the medium they prefer – especially when something goes wrong. That is when all these resources come in handy. Of course, if you are unable to dedicate such resources, you might want to work with a social media call-centre provider such as InterGlobe Technologies.
Be where you are needed
Delta was one of the first airlines to dedicate resources to social media, recognising the importance of acknowledgement and resolution. The need to give its customers what they want led to a guaranteed reply within 10min on Twitter, plus a dedicated social media customer service and support in Spanish and Portuguese.