Last week the topic of discussion was how advertisers might use Twitter and basically how Twitter might save live-TV (NBC & CBS are excited!). This week we will look at another avenue on which Twitter can be used for businesses.
Value of Using Twitter for Customer Service
Anamitra Banerji, manager of commercial products at Twitter, says that Twitter can be used to “talk directly to customers in a way [companies] were only able to do in person before” and that this has caused “the emotional distance between businesses and their customers [to shorten] quite a bit.” Talking directly to its customers is exactly what Delta Airlines is doing with their dedicated customer service Twitter handle: @DeltaAssist.
@DeltaAssist is an account that Delta Airlines set up to listen to their customers 24/7 and answer their customers’ questions (whereas @Delta is used to inspire travel). Delta was the first airline to use Twitter for customer support and “it’s this kind of customer service that earned Delta Airlines top honors in the Best Use of Twitter category in PR Daily’s Digital PR & Social Media Awards.”
@DeltaAssist is staffed with 14 team members that are former call center agents. This team helps customers with flight statuses, gate numbers, and basically “anything a call center employee can do, except book a new ticket.” Even outside of coordinating missed flights, the team “noticed that customers used Twitter for complaints about airport facilities or service…in response, the airline developed its “Twitter Watch” program, working with station managers and airport personnel to deal with real-time customer experience issues.” They also “add a personal touch” by signing “their tweets with their initial and their first names are listed on the airline’s Twitter profile.”
Social Media Challenges for Airlines
The challenges for any airline is combating negative customer experiences. Customers today are going to Twitter to complain about anything and everything. In September of this year Hasad Syed, a business man from Chicago tweeted “Don’t fly with @British_Airways. They can’t keep track of your luggage.” In the sea of 140-character complaints this is not abnormal, but he not only tweeted this but then spent a $1,000 to promote the tweet (being the first ‘regular’ person versus business to do this). This tweet was seen by tens of thousands on Twitter and even more as the story was told on mainstream media. This was a major PR disaster for British Airways. This is an example that Ryan Holmes, CEO at Hootsuite, pointed out and said that with the increase usage of social media to ‘file complaints’ companies “must have ample social media resources to ensure that they’re able to respond to unhappy customers quickly and effectively.”
A few year’s ago United Airlines has also felt major heat from social media when baggage handlers on a United flight destroyed Dave Carroll’s Taylor guitar. United refused to reimburse Carroll for the damages and that led to Carroll writing a ‘United Breaks Guitar’ song which has had 13 million views on YouTube. Chris Ayres, a writer for The Times Online in the United Kingdom, estimated that the bad PR cost United $180 million.
What are Competitors Doing on Twitter?
Outside of @DeltaAssist, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (@KLM) is the leader in the customer service/airline arena. @KLM offers 24/7 support to their customers on social media and is well known for their customer service and extremely swift responses. On their Twitter page they even update their response time every 5 minutes!
On @USAirways’ Twitter page they notify customers that they are “not able to provide a proper response on Twitter” and direct them to go to their feedback website.
@SouthwestAir also notes on their Twitter page that they “will not address specific Customer Service issues” on Twitter.
@AmericanAir points Twitter page visitors to a link for a direct reply, as does @VirginAmerica.
This attentive strategy is paying off for Delta Airlines. The team behind @DeltaAssist helps create brand evangelist. According to PR Daily, in 2011 @DeltaAssist had “158,000 mentions on Twitter, 115,000 outbound tweets and direct messages, [and] 28,000 additional customers.” According to Delta’s submission to the Stevie Awards, year over year @DeltaAssist’s “Twitter followers have increased 75% and volume has grown 41%.”
@DeltaAssist has also made an impact internally as they are able to identify customer-facing issues and report “large scale events in real-time to policy decision maker, on several occasions, this team has affected change to policy to better serve all customers.”
Takeaways & Learned Best Practices
Other companies with a customer service component can learn from Delta’s Twitter model by:
- Designating one Twitter handle for customer service.
- Realizing that the response rate matters.
- Having enough staff to meet demand.
- Enabling the customer service team to meet the customer’s needs.
- Being understanding of consumers’ situations.