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Airlines and Twitter: The Good, The Bad and The Future

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It’s hardly a secret among travelers that if you want to get a speedy response from an airline, you can often do so by taking to Twitter.

For years now, as has been well documented, travelers have been using the social media platform to express their compliments, concerns and downright outrage over everything from delayed flights and lost baggage to far more serious issues, including racially motivated incidents, mistreatment of passengers by airline staff and more.

Twitter as a medium is becoming customer service central and its use for that purpose continues to evolve and expand with each passing day.

According to data from MyTweetAlerts, about 40 percent of passengers have tried contacting airline companies by Twitter.

Another report, the annually issued Airline Social Media Outlook, a study that gathers responses from airline industry executives around the world, revealed that by 2018 providing customer service was the top priority for airlines’ social media platforms.

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The second most important priority on social media, by comparison, was airline branding, at a distant 26 percent and in third place, at a mere 11 percent, was developing ancillary revenues for the air carrier on social media.

The 2019 Airline Social Media Outlook report shows the trend increasing with social customer service becoming even more important. The report reveals that customer service teams are now involved in the social media efforts of 44 percent of airlines, up from 26 percent in 2018.

At the same time, the number of people employed by airlines to specifically focus on social media is growing year over year.

“In 2019, most airlines will have between five to ten staff in their social media teams. Three years ago, social media teams with less than five people were found in over 60 percent of the airlines. In 2019, this number will stand at just over 30 percent,” states the report, adding: “We found a marked increase in teams of more than 25 people. Almost a fifth of the airlines will have teams with more than 25 people in 2019. These teams – rare a few years ago – are a consequence of the increased importance of social customer service.”

While neither the 2018 nor the 2019 report specify which social media platforms are being used most by airlines and their customers, Twitter certainly has emerged as the place for passengers to post complaints, compliments and (at least sometimes) resolve their customer service disputes.

“Voices are being heard in new ways in aggregate and calling to light the need to keep customers happy,” Yanni Poulakos, travel expert for the travel app Lola, told TravelPulse, who also noted that Twitter has become a great tool for airlines to meet customers where they are.

However, the rise of the medium and its impact on the communication dynamic between airlines and their customers is far more complex and nuanced and is something both airlines and customers are still navigating.

Twitter clearly has both benefits and drawbacks for the airlines and sometimes even the passengers involved. To begin with, it’s a medium the airlines cannot control. In fact, many airlines did not even want to offer comment for this article. American Airlines, United, Frontier, and Spirit all declined to participate in this story entirely.

That silence from the airlines is not altogether surprising given a recent report card issued by InsureMyTrip, which ranked US airlines based on Twitter sentiment and the results were not all that flattering for some of the carriers involved.

The report, compiled in 2019, used artificial intelligence to detect the emotional tone of tweets and involved monitoring more than 96,000 tweets that mentioned the nine largest US airlines over a two-week period

The clear loser in the ranking was Spirit Airlines, with 69 percent negative mentions by Twitter users over the two-week period. Frontier came in second with 63.7 percent negative mentions during the study period and rounding out the three worst-ranked airlines in the Twittersphere was American Airlines with 55.8 percent negative mentions.

The winners, according to the same report card were Southwest Airlines followed by Allegiant Airline. Over the two-week period, Southwest had a positive mention rate of 69.9 percent on the platform, while Allegiant’s was 64.4 percent positive.

The report went on to note that United Airlines had the highest proportion of negative tweets (23.58 percent) related to delays, while 11.15 percent were about cancellations, for a combined total of 34.73 percent.

“While every airline experiences delays and cancellations due to factors out of their control, it seems United Airlines and Spirit Airlines are particularly substandard in the way they handle customers in these situations,” stated the report card.

Screenshot of a Twitter direct message with Spirit Airlines

As Poulakos points out, passengers posting on Twitter, even for those issues beyond the airlines’ control, such as weather-related delays and cancellations, can ultimately end up giving the carrier in question a bad rap.

“Airlines are still feeling their way around Twitter and many are recoiling from the abundance of people interjecting their voice into the conversation,” continued Poulakos. “This is because much of the trend on Twitter is to focus on the negatives of the traveler experience, so to be a part of that dialogue is to be affiliated with an erosion of brand.”

“The frustrated traveler, unable to tweet at Tropical Storm Xena or at a snowmaggedon will often take to their phones and vent at the airlines,” added Poulakos. “This can be bad for airlines as there is the halo effect of this negative experience of travel.”

One need only look at United Airlines’ many public relations nightmares over the past few years, which began or played out largely over Twitter, to see evidence of the erosion Poulakos is referencing.

Remember the passenger who was dragged off of a United plane by flight crew after the individual refused to give up his seat, which was captured on Twitter and ultimately went viral? Or more recently the passenger who was allowed to board a United plane wearing a shirt encouraging the lynching of journalists? This too was captured for posterity on Twitter and immediately spread around the Twittersphere, leaving a lasting impression with passengers about United Airlines as a brand.

The smartest of airlines said Poulakos, have found ways to take the bull by the horns and use Twitter to their advantage.

In the case of Southwest, social media platforms, including Twitter have created the space to have a different kind of dialogue with customers, one the airline has not shied away from.

“Engaging with customers on our social media channels has given us the opportunity to have more of a conversation with our customers—it is less, ‘I have a question’ ‘Here is your answer”—we talk with our customers over social just as if we are having a face to face conversation,” explained Rob Hahn, business consultant for Social Customer Care at Southwest.

The airline, added Hahn, views social media as something of an early alert system that informs Southwest of any potential problems from a customer perspective.

“We are able to both inform our customers and stay informed on the pulse of our customers, and from what we learn from our customers, we are able to take action,” said Hahn.

“Twitter has evolved into a channel where travel-related inquiries and issues can easily be resolved,” Hahn added. “We have found that customers navigate to this channel to get quick answers to their travel-related questions, and social media has opened the door for us to have these conversations with our customers before, during, and after their travel.”

Delta appears to have found social media’s rise similarly useful.

Delta Twitter Direct Message
Screenshot of Twitter direct message between a customer and Delta Airlines. The quick response time is what travelers look for when contacting airlines via social media.

The airline, which provided comments via email for this story, said it has begun using text analytics to “read” the customer’s request, identify the agent skill that the customer needs, and then automatically routes the request to the appropriate team in seconds. “Customers love getting immediate help from the right person,” said the airline.

Yes, Delta appears to be stating the obvious with that last comment. But that is indeed what customers have long been yearning for, more responsive and immediate service in a moment of crisis or when a service issue arises.

And Twitter, time and time again, in ways few other mediums have accomplished, has made that happen, forcing airlines to deal with customers on their terms, in many ways. It’s the very reason why travelers have taken to Twitter droves. And continue to do so each day.

It’s far easier to communicate quickly with a monolithic airline and get prompt service or action when your comment is made public for the world to see, in a way that will never be possible when communicating with airlines via email, telephone or on a website.

Dale Johnson, creator of the site Nomad Paradise, provides a recent example.

Johnson tried communicating with EasyJet after a flight cancellation that forced him to book a two-night stay in a destination, which was not part of his plans. The cancellation also meant Johnson had to rebook an entirely new route home.

Miffed by the expenditures (and understandably so), Johnson tried communicating with EasyJet via an online form and email to request financial compensation for this inconvenience. The response? Crickets.

It was only when he took to Twitter that he got assistance, and that help was delivered expediently, within a matter of hours in fact. Johnson’s story is hardly unique, countless other travelers have had similar experiences.

“The critical reason for Twitter being an excellent way to contact airlines is due to the fact it’s in the public domain,” opined Johnson. “Twitter representatives are far more likely to act quicker to diffuse a complaint on Twitter, in public, than via email, which is private. Once contacted, I was told to message the airline through their Twitter direct message. There, I explained my situation, and the wheels were set in motion to get me a refund on both my canceled flight and rebooked flight.”

It is interesting to note, however, that there are recent studies showing that the public newsfeed use of Twitter by airline passengers, (the element that has made it so very effective) may soon be eclipsed. At least one report predicts direct messaging between an airline and its passengers will become the more dominant mode of communication in the future.

The move to private social messaging channels like Twitter’s direct message, Facebook messenger and text messages has been growing, according to a report titled The Social Messaging Advantage, issued by social customer service provider Conversocial.

“Many social customers now prefer private conversations,” states the report. “The format has changed from mass venting sessions on social to meaningful one-to-one engagements that drive customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.”

The sentiments expressed by globetrotter Jen Ruiz, creator of Jen on a Jet Plane, bears this out somewhat. Ruiz has used nearly every medium to communicate with airlines, Facebook, email, Instagram and more. But ultimately, she finds Twitter the most expedient and effective. When she has a problem with an airline, she begins by posting her issue on the public Twitter feed and then enjoys the private, direct message responses.

“Twitter is where I go when I’m most frustrated and I want to feel like a human being is listening,” 32-year-old Ruiz, a former attorney, told TravelPulse. “I think it’s so valuable to have that one on one, where you’re not being directed through a robot or a series of phone messages.”

Have we seen the last of the very public Twitter tirades lambasting airlines? Not likely. Ruiz’s story illustrates as much. If past practice is any indicator, there will continue to be some form of public venting on Twitter for years to come.

But the Conversocial report predicts that by the end of this year, requests for customer support through consumer messaging apps may exceed requests for customer support through public social media feeds.

Whether that indeed comes to pass remains to be seen, there has yet to be any follow-up data released. But the takeaway nevertheless may be that customers simply want immediate and meaningful human communication, whether it is public or private.

Poulakos, of the travel app Lola, offers a similar theory regarding the future of Twitter as a communication medium. He too suggests it may ultimately be eclipsed by other avenues of dialogue.

“Airlines want folks to take the devices in their hands and use their proprietary passenger tools– their apps. Twitter has functioned as a stop-gap measure while airlines have caught up to meeting users where they are with live chat and other mobile support,” said Poulakos. “Keeping folks on an airlines’ platform means controlling brand identity and experience, and controlling for the noise.”

Because in the ideal world, the airlines would like to be communicating via a medium where they can more effectively manage the message.

“By answering fewer and fewer customer concerns over the veritable loudspeaker that is Twitter, customers will become more likely to download an app, chat with an agent and privately voice concerns,” said Poulakos.

This post was published by our news partner: TravelPulse.com | Article Source |

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