Seeing complaints as gifts on social media

A couple weeks ago I wrote a blog post that documented the negative social media and earned media fall out for Air Canada when a Westjet pilot came to the rescue with pizza to some very hungry Air Canada passengers. The AC flight had been re-routed due to poor weather, to and airport where food services had already closed, and since Air Canada had not provisioned for a meal on the original short haul flight, they told passengers there was nothing they could do until morning. That’s of course until a pilot from a competing airline stepped in!

That story clearly demonstrated how social media interaction between a company and customers, played out live online and in the media can have an impact.

So this past week I decided to do a little testing of the response time and follow up that Air Canada does when addressed on social media, and Twitter in particular. During a client presentation, I pulled up an APP I have on my phone that gives me the live departures and arrivals information for YVR (Vancouver). With it I was able to search for a delayed flight, and then tweet to Air Canada a cheeky, “ @AirCanada will you be serving pizza on that delayed AC1720 flight YVR to Puerto Vallarta? I hear the passengers are hungry.”

To Air Canada’s credit, they responded within 5 minutes. But it was the humorous response from Westjet, no doubt also monitoring the thread, that was picked up about 20 minutes later asking “are you sure you really want pizza for breakfast?” that made me laugh. The comment was of course very in keeping with their personable fun loving approach, but it also clearly demonstrated that as a competitor, they were monitoring AC tagged tweets.

What’s the learning in all this?

To me the Air Canada response was quick, efficient, thoughtful, but also corporate and impersonal. The Westjet response was not required, but was timely and thoughtful, in that it wasn’t even their problem, and oozed brand personality. It clearly demonstrated a culture of empowerment, allowing whoever was in charge of Twitter that day to have some fun.

Let’s face it, delayed flights happen, and airlines move thousands of customers daily without issue. The service sector can be a tough place to keep all customers happy, all the time. But learning to deal with unhappy customers on social media can be a source of marketing strength.

We all love to be loved, appreciated and praised, but it’s when we embrace failure that we learn the most. When you listen to those with complaints, you have to get better. Complainer’s tell you what you’re doing wrong. In that sense it’s a gift to be told. Because when there are disappointed customers out there that only vocalize to others their issues, you loose the opportunity to fix the problem and perhaps win them back.

Jay Braer, an NSA speaking colleague, and thought leader on social media and customer service has a new book out called “Hug your haters.”  In it he outlines 3 tips to dealing with negative comments online. What I love about Jay’s book is he digs into the science of complaints, and bases much of his advice on his own primary research into the topic. It’s essentially customer service tips, framed from a modern perspective, anchored in a social media world. He summarizes a recommended approach in these areas:

1. Respond to ALL negative comments online.

2. Embrace criticism

3. Care about your customers

If you want to delve into those points further, obviously buying the book might be a good idea, but I also found an interesting “Read to Lead” podcast by Jeff Brown, where he interviews Jay Braer about this topic. It’s a worthwhile 30 minutes where he delves into many of the insights from the book.

Embracing complaints and keeping customers is a huge part of business online these days. But as the Air Canada and Westjet example demonstrated, it is also a major part of your online marketing strategy too. Welcome to the new world of customer relationship management, where ensuring “customer delight” is the best marketing you can do.

Mary Charleson

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