British Airways, Syed & Promoted Tweets: So Where Do We Go From Here?

As the saying goes, the only two certainties in life are death and taxes, but there’s one other thing of which we can also be pretty certain. As long as there are businesses, there will be disgruntled customers. It’s impossible to please everyone, after all.

If it seems like there are more unhappy customers than ever before, consider the megaphone that social media gives to them. Whereas fifteen or so years ago, a customer would have had a bad experience, gone home, and written a letter or placed a phone call to the management. The process was long and drawn out. Today, customers can tweet about their bad experiences instantly. More than just your company sees these messages, and they can amplify very quickly. Particularly so if the customer pays to promote those messages.

Hasan Syed is making news this week after paying to promote a tweet that expressed his unhappiness with British Airways after the airline lost his father’s luggage. The luggage was missing for two days and Syed’s father had to completely alter his travel plans in order to wait for the airline to locate his belongings.

Taking to Twitter is currently a very common way for customers to express their unhappiness, but paying to promote that unhappiness – to share it with targeted influencers – is something new. But will it be a trend that catches on?

British Airways did eventually respond to Syed’s initial tweets. Eventually being the key word. It took 8 hours. Their response tweet is very telling. In first letting Syed (@HVSVN) know when their Twitter is “open,” they’re tacitly sending the message that, “If you have problems outside of our 9-5 hours, you’ll just have to wait.” They did offer to help him if he sent his baggage reference number via DM. But as we all know now, it took quite some time to locate that luggage.

What’s interesting here is that a major international airline that offers flights around the clock doesn’t seem to be immediately concerned with any problems that might arise at all hours. It’s rather surprising that they don’t have dedicated social media customer service around the clock – especially since airlines are notorious for being some of the most complained-about businesses online.

So what could British Airways (@British_Airways) have done differently?

First: Dedicated customer service available at all hours — and this should cover all customer interaction channels, including social. This is the way customer service is moving and social has to fit in seamlessly within the overall customer experience, and if British Airways wants to keep up, they need to enable a support team to monitor their social accounts – even outside of regular business hours. Second: Arm those social customer service reps & managers with the best social CRM solution that has the bells & whistles (read: alerts, workflows). Finally, make the social CRM solution easily accessible across all devices to the employees. Even a small team can be incredibly powerful if they are fully enabled and when they’ve got a good social media management platform integrated with CRM that allows them to quickly monitor, respond, and track social mentions, and see the complete history of the customer.

This means seeing customer complaints as they happen – not eight hours later. Social media has instilled in most of us the idea that things need to happen instantly – or very close to it. We have this internal timer that sets as soon as we make a complaint on social media. If a certain amount of time goes by (and that window isn’t long), the damage is done. It then becomes more difficult to please the customers. Even engaging with them in a timely manner goes a long way and prevents the issue from getting out of hand.

On the other hand, when you’re making the most of your social CRM’s capabilities, you can send an alert to the employees, collect all relevant details about the customer, respond to them quickly, open the lines of communication, and start working to help the customer back to happiness. This is what British Airways needed to do, but their business-hours-only policy failed them, and, unfortunately, it failed them with someone who was willing to pay to be heard.

Customers want to be heard. Especially the unhappy ones. It’s important to not underestimate the lengths to which they will go to make you hear them. The harder they have to try and the bigger their statements have to be, the greater risk you run of losing control of the situation.

So when you’re dealing with a disgruntled customer, act as swiftly as possible. Several hours doesn’t seem like a long time, but it could be too late. Understand that problems happen at all hours. Listen to the customers and be ready for that. Move quickly to assist the customer online and establish a means of contact offline – it’s amazing how much can be cleared up just from taking the conversation off of Twitter and onto the phone.

Finally, monitor the conversation after customer service has been provided. Follow up to find out how the solution worked out and if there’s anything else you could do to help. Going that extra mile lets the customer know he matters to you, and that you’ve been listening.

How do you deal with disgruntled customers? What would you have done differently in British Airways’ place? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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