Customer relationship management in the age of social

Social media has upped the game of customer relationship management. Gone are the days when you would write a complaint letter and wait for a reply, or leave a frustrated message on an answering service, often to be forgotten or ignored.

Those complaints were one to one. Today’s complaints are quite apt to reach one to millions.

Social media and smart phones have put recording equipment and the ability to broadcast globally in the hip pocket or purse of customers 24/7. Add a dash of selfie induced celebrity and the desire for an audience by many, plus media trolling the internet for interesting stories, and you get a wicked mix destined to put those in customer relationship management on high alert. Monitoring social media channels now must be a 24-hour endeavor, at least for companies who have customers in different time zones. At minimum, late night monitoring is a necessity, since complaints are often registered in a consumer free time after thought and discussion with others.

Those in the service sector, and airlines in particular, are vulnerable to negative social media comments, given the volume of customers they serve daily and the round the clock business model they function on.

So it should come as no surprise that a little customer service competitiveness between Air Canada and Westjet recently erupted online. Westjet appears the hero in this story, but Air Canada deserves a nod for their public response as the whole thing played out online to millions.

In February, an Air Canada flight from Toronto to St. John’s NL was rerouted to New Brunswick in bad weather. Being late at night, with an unexpected flight arrival, the New Brunswick airport food services had already closed. The airline had not provisioned for a meal on the flight, so passengers found themselves stuck until the morning without food. But it was shortly after the Air Canada flight attendant announced there was nothing they could do, that a Westjet pilot showed up saying, “Hey guys, I’m from Westjet and we do things differently, want some pizza?” As Air Canada sheepishly then offered $10 food vouchers for a concession area that was closed, five pizzas arrived shortly after courtesy of the Westjet employee. Customers were of course appreciative and immediately took to social media. Many then interacted with other Westjet employees while munching on that pizza. Talk about a golden social media moment.

While the lasting impression for many was how Westjet employees really buy in and have a stake in the company’s reputation for creating a positive customer experience, both airlines handled the subsequent social media very well. Westjet declined to speak to media, and the mystery pilot remains unidentified. Air Canada apologized to customers saying, “Clearly we should have done better” and publicly thanked the thoughtful airline employee who was empathetic to the circumstances.

But here’s the customer service and marketing lesson in all this. It wasn’t just the broadcast reach that evening on social media where the damage occurred for Air Canada. The story took off across traditional media channels such as CTV, CBC TV and radio, Global news, Huffington post, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, the Ottawa Citizen, as well as local New Brunswick and Newfoundland papers and broadcasters the next day. And that coverage lives on in perpetuity online with each of those earned media platforms. My conservative estimate, having viewed and read the coverage is an equivalent of in excess of $750,000 with a reach of over 15 million people. That was all positive and free earned publicity for Westjet.

Perhaps the biggest lesson here is the need to not only monitor social media actively and respond in a timely manner, but for companies to also trust and empower their employees to do what they think is right and necessary, and then stand behind them. The action taken by the Westjet employee was seen as authentic by those watching. And those customers were ready, willing and able to broadcast on the company’s behalf.

Welcome to the new world of customer relationship management, where ensuring “customer delight” is the best marketing you can do.

Mary Charleson


  1. When I was an In-Flight Service Manager from Wardair / Canadian Airlines…..we had an emergency stop at a small airport in the middle of the night. No catering left onboard, nothing open but a donut shop. I ordered 425, donuts, plus 17 more for the crew (and 10 containers of creamer…. (for a 747) and put on pots of coffee. That was in the 90’s. I gave my credit card receipt (of just under $400 to the company and was reimbursed without question). 425 people raving about a donut. Believe it or not, we even had some goodies onboard for Gluten Free and Diabetics that the crew pulled together as well. They get a little “cranky” when they are hungry. We cleaned out the donut shop (but if we’d had social media – we could have made them the hero too).
    This and many other stories made me want to help so many other organizations develop a culture of care. Thanks for writing about this!!!

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Elaine. I love your story and example. It’s that kind of take charge, do what is needed in the moment, that companies need to empower their employees to take. In the age of social media, you can’t afford to do any less. But what I love about your example is there was no internet to keep you accountable. You simply did it because it was the right thing to do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Featured on


Subscribe to Mary’s Weekly
Five-Minute Marketing Tips.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.