Forget being put on hold on the phone – customers today make a beeline for the airlines’ social media handles and work their way from there.
From updates on crises, to feedback about inflight service, social media has now become the most important and fastest way for airlines to connect with their customers, as well as for customers to get real-time information regarding their flights. Social media has also served as an excellent live, go-to platform for airlines to not only connect, but also engage with their stakeholders. Here are three ways on how social media impacts the airline industry.
As a choice platform for customer engagement
Many conversations between airlines and passengers take place on social media platforms, rather than on the phone or through e-mails. It often starts with public exchanges on public channels, before shifting to direct or private messages during the latter stages of customer service; for example, when such discussion requires sharing of personal data in order to resolve the issue. Major airlines have dedicated teams to monitor conversations on their social media platforms, and typically respond within the day. Interestingly, in India, the airline IndiGo took to social media to showcase their punctuality; the airline’s social media team would proudly share updates with their followers with the hashtag #ontime whenever a flight reached its destination early.
However, airlines need to recognise that on social, more so than on other platforms, customer engagement is a two-way street. This two-way street also needs to be enabled by a well-connected back-end, and translated into an empowered customer-facing front-end.
In the case of Dutch airline KLM, a passenger who had her luggage stolen Tweeted that she was stuck with wearing the same shirt for six days. While it was their social media team who spotted this, their quick alignment with the customer service team meant that distressed passenger, @LouGirlie, call for help got answered almost immediately.
Automated responses will not do for customers who demand empathy in their interactions with brands. Airlines’ social media and customer services teams, need to be empowered to resolve customer issues with empathy, as customers themselves can be a strong community of brand advocates. According to Nielsen, advocates are one of the most important assets to a brand, because 92% of consumers trust brand advocates for their opinions on a select brand.
As a critical crisis response platform
Beyond solving immediate customer service issues, both live and real-time platforms have much to offer during times of crisis, as the spate of tragic airline disasters in the past few year have demonstrated. When it comes to emergencies, it is critical to keep all stakeholders informed on a minute-by-minute basis, and that the right information gets to the right audience at the right time. As Hurricane Matthew unfolded in the United States, airlines took early initiative and turned to their social media platforms, especially Twitter, to make sure that everyone was kept updated on flight cancellations, as well as to trade safety tips.Ensuring stakeholders are informed of the measures and responses that the airlines are making goes a long way in managing uncertainty of both passengers and the general public. AirAsia’s CEO Tony Fernandez is a stellar example of how top leadership can convey authentic and personal commitment through the power of social media to instil confidence in his stakeholders. During the Flight QZ8501 crisis, his Tweets were clear, personable and direct. This was in stark comparison from the way Malaysian Airlines handled the tragedy that struck Malaysian Airlines MH370 earlier that year. Fernandez’s strong, personable leadership during a time of crisis, coupled with AirAsia’s great customer service on social media were, perhaps, one of the reasons why AirAsia is the largest airline in Malaysia right now in terms of fleet size and destinations.
Judicious use of customer data
Traditionally, being able to have a good feel on what customers think or feel about your airline was only possible through time-consuming on-ground surveys and research. Today, through the use of social media, airlines find it easier to get real-time customers’ opinions towards their brands and the overall passenger experience, whether positive or otherwise.
By having a strong system that relays customer feedback accurately and on time, airlines would be able to identify gaps in the passenger journey which they can address and get a better gauge of passengers’ needs and wants during a flight. This insight into passenger preferences can not only helps the airline engage better with their customers online, it also allows customers to see how their feedback impact decisions the airline makes. This goes a long way in helping the airlines improve their product offerings, thus elevating the brand love.
Competition between airlines in the region is fierce, more so in a challenging economic climate. While social media is often seen as an extension of corporate communications, the relevance of social media now cuts across human resources, customer service and marketing as well.
Imagine having a live pulse into the conversations with respect to your brand, your competition and the overall flying experience as a whole. Supplementing your in-house data with live, real-time public customer data gives your airline an edge versus the competition in making judicious marketing, segmentation, product and overall business decisions. In this fast moving and evolving and hyper-competitive industry, as the flow of information gets more real-time, the sustainability of the airline’s competitive advantage increase as well.