In August I was on the receiving end of another example of the incredible power social media customer service has to bring big returns for businesses large and small.
I was scrambling to book a flight to Belgium after my brother announced that he finally set a date for his wedding there… just a few weeks away! I fly only a couple times a year, and have never flown to Europe, so I was already unnerved as I made my way through the booking process for a flight I found on United Airlines.
Then, just a couple steps from completing my reservation, I received an error message that my reservation couldn’t be completed and I had to try again. The message didn’t give a reason, but I figured I had screwed something up, so I just did it all over again…and got the error message again.
I scoured the customer assistance page on United’s website and couldn’t find an answer, so I tried their “ask Alex” live chat widget, only to get routed in circles through their website, nowhere near my answer. Frustrated and now nearly 2 hours into what should have been a half hour process, I gave up and sent a tweet to let them know.
Now, just a few weeks later British Airways would (rightfully) get pounded in the press last month for their porous social media response to a disgruntled customer (though our own Mana Ionescu suspected other motivations for the exchange). My experience with United Airlines, however, was decidedly different. A few minutes later I got a response as I searched flights on other airlines.
To which I replied:
Then we took the conversation to Direct Message. They asked for my mileage plus number and immediately set to work on my problem. A few minutes later they determined that the problem was with my address entry, which they fixed.
And that was that. Within five minutes I completed the purchase, sending just shy of $1,000 to United (well, a good chunk of that went to taxes and fees, but you get the point).
Wow, that wasn’t so hard was it? And note that final tweet from United, “It’s Our Job.” People are going to have questions, it’s your job to answer them – at least if you want to stay in business (note to Yelp!).
There are more lessons to take from my experience with United. Here are my 5 biggest takeaways.
5 Social Media Customer Service Lessons
1. Social Media Customer Service Saves Time
Responding to my tweet and answering a couple quick questions took their customer service department all of about five minutes, including the time it took for them to solve the problem. That saves them labor, and it could save me, the customer, hours. That makes me really happy.
2. Social Media Customer Service Beats the Hell Out of Automated Phone Service
“I love weaving my way through the prompts of an automated customer service call!”
Bet you haven’t heard someone say that recently, and that’s because that combination of words HAS NEVER BEEN USED BY A HUMAN BEING IN THAT ORDER. EVER. Instead of spending time fuming on the phone, I had a Twitter exchange with someone who actually seemed like they wanted to help me. It was, almost, fun?
3. Get Social Media Customer Service Right, Get A Big Return
Not only did I book the flight and send a nice chunk of change to United, but I signed up for their miles program, which makes me very likely to fly with them again (which will add up now that I have a brother and sister in Belgium and siblings in Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Phoenix).
The flight itself was on time, the food better than expected, the service on board was great. As long as my experiences with them are close to this, I’ll fly United. That’s huge social media ROI. Speaking of which…
4. We Are Measuring Social Media Marketing Wrong
The great thing about digital marketing is that it gives you solid metrics like click-throughs, impressions, and conversions.
The terrible thing about digital marketing is that it gives you solid metrics like click-throughs, impressions, and conversions.
That’s because it makes people lose sight of the bigger, more valuable picture – the one that includes branding, long-tail conversions, customer service, relationship-building, and perception. My purchase with United won’t show up as a Twitter conversion, but could be worth several thousand, if not tens of thousands of dollars in the next decade.
5. Turn Customer Service Setbacks Into Wins
This is something I learned early on, when my brother and I owned a restaurant as a high schooler who didn’t know what the heck he was doing. We screwed up food a lot, but when we did, we were never stubborn. We over-compensated for our errors, making people even more supportive of and loyal to us. It bought us the time we needed to get things right.
The same applies to almost any mistake, perceived or real, that a business makes.
Consider this: Had United simply had an error message that told me what to fix (which they should have) I would never have tweeted at them, never had that great customer service experience, never wrote this blog post, and never tweeted about how great their social media response was. Mistakes are an opportunity to provide great customer service and exceed the customer’s expectations.
As long as you don’t make mistakes a habit, you can gain more from them than you could by getting it right in the first place.
(Oh, and as for my trip, it was amazing. I just got home, my brother is now married to an amazing woman, my girlfriend is a perfect traveler, and I can’t wait to see Brussels and France again.)