British Airways’ Sachin Tendulkar Twitter gaffe surfaces larger social customer service issues

When Sachin Tendulkar tweets to you, the one thing you do not do is ask for his full name. Or at least, not publicly. British Airways did just that and is suffering the wrath of a billion Indian cricket fans. To recover from this, British Airways needs to re-think the way it delivers social customer service in 2016 and beyond. There certainly needs to be more situational awareness and empathy.

The British Airways Sachin Tendulkar Twitter gaffe

Not too long ago, British Airways lost the bags of Hasan Syed’s parents – and suffered from the first ever promoted tweet bought by an angry passenger. Their stellar marketing efforts were diluted due to that one incident. Since then, they’ve started providing 24/7 customer service on social media. But now, the airline’s lack of situation awareness has come back to bite them.

Indian cricket legend, Sachin Tendulkar, had a bad experience with the airline, and tweeted about his relatives being denied seats and their bags sent to a wrong destination. The airline replied in a standard fashion, asking for his full name and details to investigate further (despite the tweet being about Sachin’s relatives). This irked billions of Indian cricket fans, who started trolling the airline online.


That reply by the airline opened the floodgates and trolls quickly took over as the tweet went viral across India and soon became a trending topic on Twitter.

Trolls take over

Some people gave training tips for the BA social media team.  

While others went all out to boycott the airline.

Parallels were drawn to Maria Sharapova, who last year suffered the same fate when she mentioned that she didn’t know who Tendulkar was.

The social media team was compared to a “bot”, due to a standard reply being posted.

Larger social customer service issues at British Airways

When we dug further, we realized that this was not a one-off. Most of the airline’s replies are standard apology messages and don’t  resolve the issue at hand. The airline often gets into public arguments with disgruntled passengers. Even people complimenting the airline for good service are not getting helpful replies. There is too much re-direction going on to various website links, which sometimes may not even work!

In Sachin Tendulkar’s case, they were right to ask for the details of his complaint. But they pasted a standard template, asking for his name, rather than his relatives’ – who seem to have been impacted. That was a small oversight that snowballed into a PR nightmare in India for the airline.

It seems the Customer Relations team handling social channels doesn’t have the right levels of training, authority to resolve issues without reaching out to other teams, or even the right tools. British Airways has some catching up to do in the quality of social customer care being delivered.

Five Steps British Airways needs to take to improve customer service

British Airways needs to understand that the travellers today don’t want to reach the airline on multiple channels. If they contact the airline on Twitter, the airline should be able to acknowledge and resolve the issue on the same channel. Customers want to deal with a unified airline channel, and internally, the Customer Relations team needs to build a single, holistic view of the customer.

Here are five ways British Airways can look to catch up with competition when it comes to providing decent social customer service.

  1. Invest in a good tool that can prioritize incoming messages automatically, regardless of platform. In 2012, I visited KLM’s social media command center. They were already highlighting the tweets from top level frequent fliers and key influencers. That was almost four years ago. That’s how far behind BA seems to be. Tools like Salesforce and Conversocial are good for this purpose. By the way, if IT says “come back six months later”, tell them to let you just install a small tool without integration with their systems to begin with. They can integrate it later.
  2. Invest in people: American Airlines hires the most senior people with multiple years of experience on the social media team, to answer questions well. Air New Zealand hires fresh talent, and then trains them rigorously on the airline processes. British Airways’ staff on the social team need to get regular training at least once a quarter, so that they are aware of the best practices — e.g. not getting into public arguments on Twitter.
  3. Escalate immediately: Ensure that escalation takes place immediately before responding to a high-priority message  so that it get resolved as a “special case”, and with urgency. More importantly,  do not use template replies.
  4. Respond with empathy: Copy-and-paste replies with “We’re sorry” or “We’re disappointed” make the airline seem like a faceless entity with no empathy for the suffering of the passengers. British Airways needs to be more human in their replies.
  5. Work closely with Corp. Comms: Often, social media channels are handled within airlines by the Marketing or Customer Relations teams. But when things blow up on social media, like in this case, Corporate Communications needs to be involved since they have expertise in dealing with incidents that may impact the brand overall. The social media team did not seem to have worked closely with Corp. Comms in the past, and doesn’t seem to do it today too.

Hopefully, the next time Sachin Tendulkar, Lionel Messi or Kobe Bryant sends a tweet to British Airways, they will not be asked for their full name publicly just because that’s how it is in the guidelines.

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Showing 3 comments
  • rupert

    what the f is cricket? i heard its called baseball of the disabled. no wonder nobody ever heard of this game except indians

  • Jon Allen

    Mmm I love Sachin Tendulkar, especially with naan bread and rice.

  • Usman

    You must be ignorant of your history, lost somewhere drunk. Cricket is national game of England and Sachin….you would have read the blog.

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