Twitter + American Airlines = Lessons in Customer Service

Ok, so here’s the thing.  I work in marketing.  I oversee a Box Office, and I dream about the “quirks” of our website at night.  Customer service…sheesh…my staff and I talk about it all the time.

We try to look at social media complaints on twitter and facebook as opportunities to engage with our patrons and turn a bad experience into a good one. Yet I have, on more than one occasion, expressed my disgruntlement when someone takes us to task on one of these platforms.

But as it turns out, I’m one to talk.

Last night, I realized that on my upcoming trip to Paris, my itinerary included an 8 hour layover in Dallas.  It wasn’t a mistake.  At the time I booked it, all I cared about was not having to rob a bank to buy my airfare; I wasn’t really looking at flight times.  Totally my bad.

Still, I decided to give American Airlines a call to see if there was any way I could get a later flight, but I confess I didn’t have much hope.  I try to support American because they are sponsors of the arts, including my Arts Center, but their high fares make it hard sometimes.  Still, it was worth a try.

After I sat on hold for a bit, the service rep was pleasant and professional while telling me that he could change my flight, but it would require a $275 (yes you read that right) change fee PLUS the difference in the fare.  I said no thanks, and hung up.

And then, I did something I’m not proud of.  I posted a snippy complaint on twitter and included the @AmericanAir handle.

I don’t like this side of myself: the snarky, sarcastic side that just wants to score a quick verbal point.  It comes out sometimes despite my best efforts, which sucks.  There’s enough negative in the world without me contributing to it in such a cheap way.

But here’s where it gets interesting.

Within moments of that tweet, I had a tweet reply from AA.  They asked me to follow them and send them my record locator and they would “check on my reservation.”  Huh?

So I did.

And within an hour, they had changed my flight and sent me a new itinerary.  No charge.  All done via twitter. Whoa.

Of course I had to post a thank you tweet.  Then I went to check out the American twitter feed.  From a customer service perspective, whoever is monitoring that feed is doing a hell of job. It seems like every time someone references the @AmericanAir account, they respond right away. It was evident from the conversations that I wasn’t the only one who got a “gesture of goodwill” today.

So what did I learn from this?

First, American has some work to do in aligning their customer service among all divisions; why did I get help from the twitter account but not on the phone?  Or could this be an actual strategy; say no on the phone and then wait for chances to have twitter be the hero?

Second, the squeaky wheel does get the grease…sometimes.

Third, it makes me feel crappy to be the squeaky wheel.  I got something from this whole episode, sure, but here’s the thing.  My tweet wasn’t anything but whiny.  I might go so far as to say bitchy.  And while I’m grateful for the outcome, I’m not sure such bitching should be rewarded. I have no real right to expect a company to break their policies for me.  I’d like them to have more friendly policies, but there’s nothing anywhere that says American has to help me deal with my own booking error.

And what do I do next time something goes wrong?  Abuse the system by skipping the phone and going right to twitter?

Clearly, I’m overthinking this, and should just be grateful that they managed to reduce my layover by a couple of hours.  I am, and of course American got me to thank them for their help on twitter, which is a great thing for their brand.

But I can’t help but feel that we should all start from a better place.  American should help me reduce my layover without having to resort to twitter, and I should keep my snark to myself. Simple, right?

Ah, idealism.  Ain’t it grand?

3 thoughts on “Twitter + American Airlines = Lessons in Customer Service

  1. I don’t think you’re overthinking it at all! You’re a marketing leader – you can’t help it. I guess I look at it as a question of influence: once you moved from the one-to-one phone call to the one-to-many of Twitter, all of a sudden AA can see you influencing other people, and they swoop in to change the direction. I’m happy they gave you what you wanted, but $275 is a pretty big give in my book. The consumer behaviorist part of my brain wonders if there’s something else they could have done that would have made you happy, short of a total one-eighty on their policy. Maybe an upgrade on your first flight, or free passes to the swanky lounge to make your layover less awful. (I know that in this case you already have the lounge thing covered … but it seems like a more fitting give.) Just my ramblings … can’t wait to see you guys very soon!

    1. Yes, I think you are exactly right, Jen – twitter is a public forum, and the phone is not. But in today’s world, what happens on the phone can immediately become public. And you’re right about the 2nd thing, too…if the phone dude had given me a lounge pass or something, I would probably have gone to twitter and THANKED him for going above and beyond. So that leads me to believe that they expect no one to ever pay 275 to change the flight – start with an outrageous policy and then be the hero when you “make an exception.”

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