What Customer Service Can Learn From the British Airways Twitter Debacle

British Airways twitter debacle

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While speculation abounds about Twitter’s eagerly anticipated stock market floatation, we at WeAnswer Towers find our attention swayed by more customer service-centric matters.

Following the loss of his father’s luggage on a British Airways flight and subsequent displeasure at their handling of the situation, businessman Hasan Syed purchased a sponsored tweet asserting, “Don’t fly @BritishAirways. Their customer service is horrendous.” Just six hours after the tweet went live it had been read by thousands of Twitter users, picked up by the press, re-tweeted and commented on. BA took a further four hours to respond.

While BA apologised for the delay in responding, they justified their tardiness with the admission that their Twitter feed is only manned between 09:00-17:00 GMT. The customer service page on BA’s site states “we’ll help you resolve your issues quickly and easily” – though telephone lines for issues such as customer relations and baggage reclaim are only open until 17:15 and 20:00 respectively; the latter deadline also applies to web support and arrival/departure information. The dedicated lost baggage page states, “when something goes wrong we’ll pull out all the stops to resolve the situation as quickly and painlessly as possible.”

This is not an attack specifically on BA, a company that I have always found to provide an excellent flight service and has a strong brand identity and admirable marketing campaigns. It simply highlights the need for businesses of all sizes to ensure they have a robust social media and online response strategy and that they understand the power of social media to damage business reputation and customer confidence.

How to ensure your social media response strategy supports your customer service.

  • Continually review your customer contact data. When do most of your customers contact you and by what method? Consider your target demographics and think honestly about what more you could be doing to service and engage these people. What are your competitors/peers offering? How do you see these demographics changing in the future with increasing proliferation of mobile technologies? Your strategy must be proactive, not reactive.
  • Be 24/7, where possible. Perhaps your operations don’t allow for this to be handled in-house. Have you considered outsourcing? When you offset the cost of doing this with losing your valued customers to more available competitors, then it’s a no-brainer.
  • Let your customers know what to expect – Be absolutely clear, on all your communications, what your customers can expect from your organisation. SLAs on response times for all channels, opening hours, how queries will be addressed (and where appropriate, escalated),
  • Manage crises and escalation – in the event of a BA-style incident, what is your escalation strategy right up to the level of ‘crisis’? If you outsource, this needs to be very carefully briefed to your chosen supplier.
  • Monitor brand mentions, for free! – Ensure the tools you use to monitor social media are up for the job and that your teams are consistent with their response strategy and tone of voice (never send out homogenised responses to queries; always personalise). There are plenty of free and paid for tools such as Google Alerts and Mention that let you know when people are talking about your brand (and in the latter case, in real time), allowing you to respond in a timely fashion and steer the conversation back to a positive spin.
  • Never ignore negative comments. There are measures in place (albeit currently not the most robust of processes) to deter and block trolls if necessary, but in the majority of cases brands should address online ‘noise’ promptly, ensure the customer feels listened to and that their issue is of importance to the company – and will be addressed.
  • Enjoy the positive feedback! Plaster them all over your social media, Google Plus, website and collateral. You’re working hard for your customers – let them know.

I doubt expensive sponsored Tweets herald a sea change in how customers respond to substandard customer service, but if a behemoth like BA can fall prey to such scandal then brands who ignore the klaxon of brand disaster, do so at their peril!

All ended well for Mr Syed Snr.’s bags. Shortly after the kerfuffle, BA told the BBC; “We would like to apologise to the customer for the inconvenience caused. We have been in contact with the customer and the bag is due to be delivered today.”

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