Published in Aviation

Airline Twitter Responsiveness: Who Earned the Eldorado and the Steak Knives

“We’ll take the steak knives” tweeted JetBlue airlines in response to my inquiry. On Friday, July 25th at precisely 8:44am I invited all the major U.S. airlines into animpromptu Twitter response time contest. It went like this…

We live in a world of the instantaneous. We have instantaneous access to movies, music, and pictures. We have access to real-time-anywhere audio and video contact with friends and family. From groceries to fast food, there is shorter latency between clicking “buy” and having it delivered to your door. We have also come to expect instant responses to our concerns and inquiries. World-class customer-first organizations across the globe are spooling up their capability to meet this expectation. Some organizations go above and beyond, starting to anticipate rather than react to customers’ needs and wants. If your organization is not getting back to your customers quickly (or not at all), you are creating a wake of dissatisfied customers who are likely propagating their disdain through social networks. Twitter is now the channel de jure to communicate with customers in real time. Back in 2011, we found that only 29% of companies responded to a customer complaint via Twitter. Things have changed. Now, not only do 70% of customers expect a response from companies, we found in our recent study that 44%of Americans expect a response from companies within minutes. I fly often. As I result I have a rather intimate love-hate relationship with the industry. To be fair, the airline industry is pretty much in operation 24/7/365. They have a demanding job shuttling people around the globe, both for routine travel and for important, once-in-a-lifetime events such as births, marriages, and funerals. People often do not have the option to walk or drive, so their options are limited, and emotions can run high if problems arise. All these factors make the task of reassuring and talking with customers extremely important. Therefore, I thought this was an ideal test industry to see who would respond the quickest to a tweet from a customer. In the classic movie Glengarry Glen Ross, actor Alec Baldwin announces a new sales contest to some veteran salesmen in which the first place winner would win a Cadillac Eldorado. The second place winner would win a set of steak knives. The reward for third place was a Trumpian “you’re fired.” I decided I would find who in the airline industry would respond the quickest and win the Eldo, steak knives…and well…you know. So after I tweeted my challenge, who responded first? About one minute later after mytweet I got this reply.

I can’t say I was terribly surprised. Alaska Airlines has long been known for its customer handling and responsiveness. The fact that they won bragging rights doesn’t surprise me. One minute is pretty impressive though.

What came next, however, was a pleasant surprise.

Not only did JetBlue come in 2nd, they also did so with style and humor. As I have mentioned in the past, the injection of humor and “humanness” goes a long way in customer handling. JetBlue delivers, and also validated their commitment to and high marks in customer service. Placing 3rd nearly 45 minutes later, American Airlines replied, but did so with dignity.

That’s more than I can say for United Airlines, Delta Airlines, and Southwest Airlines. How hard is it to say ‘hey’? In fairness to Delta I should have used @Deltassist insteadof @Delta, but if I messed that up, I’m sure millions of their customers have too. Something to think about @Deltaahem…I mean @Deltassist.

Not sure what happen with United Airlines, guess they didn’t deem my contest worthy enough to respond. The real weird one is Southwest. Here’s a company the prides itself on its quirky sense of humor and focus on the customer. I don’t understand why Southwest was a no show. Anyone out there want to tell me? #disappointedsouthwest.

If your company is not monitoring Twitter for customer concerns, you could pay the price dearly. This is now a customer expectation and there are many firms and free tools out there that can help you with it if you are just getting started. I guess United hasn’t learned its lesson yet from its experience with the spurned United guitar-owning passenger, so the music continues to play on 15 million hits and counting.

So, hats off to Alaskan Airlines, I wish you had some direct flights out of Northwest Arkansas (XNA) so I could fly you. JetBlue, well done. Ms. Geraghty (EVP of Customer Experience), I will send you a set of steak knives pronto. Congratulate your team. American, thanks for ringing in. For the rest, there is still time to improve. I am but one simple customer among your millions. Thanks for playing.

And if you are not a multi-national billion dollar corporation, no worries. It’s not hard to be authentic and interact with your customers via Twitter and other channels in a timely manner. It just takes some time, interest, and commitment to do so. I wonder who will win next time, any bets?



Update: as of 7/30/15,