Travel has always been an industry where customer care is paramount to the perceived quality of service. It’s also an essential factor when calculating customer attrition, where organic word-of-mouth recommendations are invaluable. But travel companies have, as a rule, been at the forefront of adopting and embracing social media as a customer service channel.
According to a recent J.D. Power study, social media is the feedback tool of choice for travelers: 17% of business travelers and 7% of leisure travelers post a comment about their airline experience on social media, with Millennials more likely to post comments than other generational groups.
The most commonly used social-media platforms are Facebook (77%) and Twitter (35%). While it may seem natural to expect the majority of social-media comments to be negative, the vast majority of the comments posted on these sites are positive. And when an airline responds to a social-media post, there is an extremely large lift in passenger satisfaction.
So it is safe to say that social customer service has now reached a level of maturity where it's almost second nature for commuters and travelers alike to publicly acclaim travel companies or to vent their frustration over social media on their mobiles, in real-time. Imagine waiting 20 minutes for a train, only to find it packed when it pulls up to the platform. Or connecting from a red-eye, only to find that the flight you were meant to be boarding has moved to a different terminal. These issues are unique, unfold in real-time and require immediate attention.
When you tweet a retailer, a bank or your insurance provider, fast resolutions are important, but there is some leeway for response and resolution time. For the travel industry, however, being there for customers by providing real-time service and issue resolution is a must. People need the security of knowing that they are able to get the help they need to reach their destination. Receiving in-the-moment support for service issues while mobile makes all the difference, for travelers particularly.
Best in Class
The ability to receive an immediate response to service issues is essential to travelers. We find that most travel companies have recognized this, and therefore fall into what we call the Contenders Quadrant, meaning businesses that actively reach out to customers and resolve issues over social media, in addition to aggressively planning future strategies revolving around social media.
Due to the high expectations mobile travelers have of effective social-media resolution, the companies who have fully embraced social media in this industry tend to shine the brightest. In fact, the company best known for its sterling social customer service, KLM, is still recognized as the industry benchmark to this day. It was the trailblazer of excellent and immediate customer engagement on social media and consistently provides full customer resolution on that medium. Air New Zealand, another company prioritizing social media as a customer engagement platform, takes great pride in continuously winning customer service awards.
Upping Your Game
For companies that are already active on social media but realize they need to step up their game, the question is how to further embrace and engage their social-media customers. Here are five quick guidelines:
1. Choose a best-in-class solution.
Use a platform that most seamlessly fits in with your other contact center channels. Essentially, companies should be seeking a purpose-built solution which best suits their particular needs, customers and company culture with social media at its forefront, to keep up with the forever changing landscape and needs of a social customer service solution.
2. Balance local and global.
Social care creates the paradox of requiring a brand to operate on both the local and global levels. It gives companies a public forum to handle customer issues in a way that must reflect the overall brand identity, but at the same time, manage highly localized, detailed and specific issues. It is essential to strike a balance between these two spheres.
3. Employ surprise and delight.
Social media is a great place to show off the best of a brand by enhancing the customer experience. Go beyond simply solving customer problems and find ways to create memorable moments for customers that they will want to share—or that your company proudly can. Examples abound of scenarios handled superbly by social-media representatives that subsequently went viral—mostly in cases where the agent used humor to assuage customers’ concerns, and ended up delighting them far beyond expectations.
4. Embrace mobile messaging.
Mobile messaging is where social customer care is heading. Explore where services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger can fit into your brand’s overall social-media portfolio. In many ways, this movement is a return to the traditional, private, one-on-one approach that defined customer service for decades—now, incorporating social media.
5. Build a social CRM.
Loyalty programs are designed to harness customers’ brand allegiance. It works, and consumers have a natural tendency for this when it comes to their airline of choice, for example. But this loyalty needs to be repaid. You have to know who your customer is, and what their preference is for service on any given channel. This means tying in your social-media data to your original data stack for a social CRM.
The travel world, characterized by mobility, rapid changes on the ground (or in the sky, as it were) and high stakes of customer elation or fury, was a natural forum for comprehensive social customer engagement to fully take root. As customers increasingly rely on instant resolution of issues on social platforms, every consumer-facing industry across the spectrum will have to follow the travel industry’s lead in providing immediate, effective solutions using the language of the medium—friendly, human and light.
Joshua March is CEO of Conversocial, which he founded in 2009 based on his vision that online communication and customer service was undergoing a fundamental shift, requiring businesses to invest in new processes and technologies to manage the rapidly shifting social landscape. A leading proponent of social media, he previously founded leading social application company iPlatform, one of the worlds first Facebook Preferred Developers, which was acquired in 2012. Contact him via @joshuamarch.