Social Media [Should] Take Flight in Customer Service

I have come to the understanding that some brands are hesitant about social media use for one of two reasons:

1. Fear. They are afraid it will somehow reflect poorly on their brand.

2. Priority. They claim they do not have the capital to contribute to a social media effort.

Today, few brands can afford to neglect this space, even if they are placing minimal effort into social media. Consumers will discuss whether a brand has occupied the social media landscape. It is important to seize this opportunity, before falling too far behind.

One industry that I think has neglected to address the social media opportunities as much they could is the airline industry. With American Airlines declaring bankruptcy, and others not far behind, social media is a key opportunity to create brand differentiation. The airline industry is a customer service industry, and as airlines stray from that business platform, they stray from the innate components that keep them afloat. This past week, I witnessed a missed-opportunity first hand.

My Flight Experience:
I recently traveled on a flight with Continental/United Airlines (recently partnered) where I was forced to de-board two separate planes because of malfunctioning equipment (thankfully, the third plane was in working order). During this twelve hour debacle, I decided to experiment with the @continental (which is no longer maintained) and @united accounts to see what type of response I would get. I had the time on my hands, so why not put social media efforts to the test? After sending numerous tweets to both accounts from my personal account (@mikeeev), I heard nothing. Not one response and still none to date.

Then, having recently listened to former Jet Blue CEO David Neeleman speak about customer service, I decided to tweet @JetBlue. I read on their account that they did not respond to any formal complaints, but I figured I would tweet at them to see if I received a response. It was a Tuesday evening and I told them I was stranded at the airport with two faulty planes and was very annoyed with my current airline.

Within minutes I received two tweets, the first asking what they could help with and the second providing me with a phone number to the company. In those tweets, a combined less than 280 characters, I was won over.

The Conclusion:
If United had responded to my tweet, I would have felt more valued as a customer. End of story. And in order to survive a cut-throat industry like the airline industry, brands cannot afford to lose customer value. Jet Blue re-affirmed that a competitor can be there for me. So all else the same, why would I choose a non-responsive brand over one that responds to me? I wouldn’t.

Social Media is now not only a bonus space for big brands, but a requirement. Consumers are beginning to expect direct outreach via social platforms, and those who fail to see this might have more than two faulty planes to deal with.

Michael Varallo is a digital marketer with expertise in social media, mobile, branding, and email marketing. He is also a research fellow at Fordham University’s Center for Positive Marketing. Reach him on twitter @mikeeev or find his contact information on MichaelVarallo.com. More can be read on positive marketing and brand influence at The Center for Positive Marketing at Fordham University.