Last week I was one of the thousands of travelers who had to deal with flight cancellations and delays because of the winter storm. I was scheduled to fly from JFK to SFO on Wednesday morning but I received a flight alert on Tuesday morning that my flight was canceled. I tried calling the airline but was unable to get through to a person due to high call volume. I tried to change my flight online but wasn’t allowed to rebook on the web. Fearing that the folks able to reach a customer service representative were taking up the seats on the remaining flights to San Francisco, I turned to Twitter and Facebook.
I first followed the airline on Twitter and liked it on Facebook. I then tweeted for help, saying, “Trying to rebook flt from JFK to SFO but phone system keeps disconnecting me and i can’t change online… help?” I didn’t get a response within an hour although I saw many tweets from the airline asking individuals to follow the airline so they could be messaged directly. I tweeted again, this time with more edge. I said, “I am following you. Why can’t u resolve my issue? So frustrating that phone disconnects every time and u can’t rebook online.” Within a couple of hours, I received a direct message that someone would be calling me to reschedule my flight. Sure enough, a customer service agent called a little while later and got me an (upgraded) seat on a flight leaving Wednesday evening.
Although my issue was ultimately resolved, I would only give the airline a B- for performance. First, there was no way to reach a live person at the company so I was instantly frustrated. Second, it took way too long for my tweets to be acknowledged. Even a simple response letting me know that my tweet had been seen would’ve been better than the dead air I got for the first couple of hours. My expectation of Twitter, especially when dealing with a large company, is that response times are more or less immediate. While I know this expectation might be unrealistic and unfair, it’s what I expect.
Unfortunately, complaining on Twitter and on Facebook is a good way to get your issue solved, as no company wants to see clients complaining in a public forum. I’m not proud that I took to the public airwaves to gripe, but it eventually got the job done. I asked the customer service agent whether I would’ve gotten on the flight if I just followed protocol and patiently called the 800 number and she said the phones were extremely busy and flights were filling up quickly. I took that as a no. Once I was rebooked I tweeted, “Thanks for the help. Much appreciated.”
So what is the lesson here for hoteliers?
1. Expect that when people can’t reach you directly, they will turn to more public arenas to complain. I didn’t turn to Twitter and Facebook until I realized that reaching a live person was going to be impossible. Many GM’s already publish their phone numbers and emails but if they don’t, I think it’s good practice and will alleviate the frustrated ‘squeaky wheels’ from going public.
2. Monitor and respond in a timely manner. ‘Kind of’ being on Twitter isn’t an option. You’re either on Twitter, or you’re not. If you have a Twitter account you are sending the message that you are monitoring your account and responding to inquiries. Products like Revinate can help you monitor your account. Set up a computer at the front desk, which is always staffed, and train the front desk staff to watch for tweets and respond as needed, or escalate to the correct person.
3. To keep complaints from escalating, ask guests that tweet to follow you so you can DM them instead of responding publicly. It allows you to work privately with the guest to resolve issues, ideally on the phone or email.
4. Empower your social media team. The customer service representative that helped me was able to upgrade me, which was a really nice touch.
5. Plan for disasters and train your social media staff. If there is a fire in your hotel or a food poisoning outbreak, will your social media team know how to respond? Put guidelines and plans in place before you have hundreds of clients looking for answers.