It’s spring break time across the country, and that means airplanes full of students anticipating relaxation at beaches or ready to get back home after enjoying their days off. It is the perfect climate for a lesson in airline social media customer service best practices. So you can imagine what Alaska Airlines customers were feeling on Saturday, March 26th, when they learned that their flights – and those of Alaska’s regional carrier Horizon Air – were cancelled or delayed because of a computer problem.
As if air travel isn’t stressful enough, situations like the one Alaska Air faced this weekend have the potential to do lasting damage to a carrier’s brand thanks to the advent of social media, which give affected travelers a megaphone to air their gripes. Yet Alaska Airlines quickly used the very same media tools in their customer service strategy to help deal with the deluge of complaints and questions.
The company immediately began posting apologetic updates on its Facebook page, and on its @AlaskaAir Twitter feed. And not just once or twice for the entire day; the first Facebook post came at 8:16 a.m. PT Saturday, and five more followed every 2-3 hours with the latest information until the final update at 6:44 p.m, which included a YouTube video with the presidents of both Alaska Air and Horizon Air explaining what happened and apologizing for any inconvenience. By that time, 140 flights on both airlines had been cancelled, affecting nearly 12,000 passengers, and many others faced 2-hour delays.
@AlaskaAir was where the real action was for the airlines’ social media team. The airlines’ Twitter account is described in the profile as “our official channel for customer concerns.” A total of 22 tweets regarding the computer outage were posted the entire day, with many directly answering individual customers’ complaints. “Deeply sorry” and “Appreciate your patience” were the buzzwords.
By the time computer service was restored Sunday, the Facebook profile had customers who continued to vent their frustrations. But others were complimentary of how Alaska Airlines handled the situation – not just via social media, but how gate agents and other company representatives dealt with customers face-to-face.
The takeaways for companies wondering where social media fits into their customer service crisis strategies?
- Act fast and get on the social media bullhorn immediately once a problem is discovered
- Serve up a regular, consistent stream of updates, even if it’s only something to the effect of “we’re continuing to work on the problem.”
- Talk to customers individually and answer their questions. If a ticked-off customer can hear directly from the company and get help quickly via Twitter, a positive outcome may be passed along to others in their network.
- Apologize, apologize, apologize. “We know you count on us to meet your flight schedule so you can make it to your commitment, whether it’s a family gathering, an important business obligation or a spring break trip,” said Alaska Airlines president Brad Tilden in the YouTube video. “That’s a responsibility we don’t take lightly and we’re very sorry.”