Monday, October 21, 2013

United Airlines On Twitter: My First Sighting of Actual Next Gen Customer Service

For several years now, we've heard the tales of companies monitoring social media so that they could respond quickly to customer issues as the blossomed on Twitter and Facebook. I remember reading stories about Comcast investing huge amounts on their social media customer service infrastructure. So it's always struck me as kind of funny when you're facing an issue or a complaint, then you post something on Twitter only to hear the sound of crickets. Nothing. Silence.

In some ways, I think of this more as the legend of social media customer service. Like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, you hear stories, but you never see any actual evidence of their existence.

I remember one time experiencing a very frustrating issue with Comcast, then attempting to use every outlet possible to contact their customer service. It turned out that the long wait on the phone was the fastest -- I never saw any response on Twitter.

So imagine my surprise the other night when I was sitting at SFO, wrestling with a flight delay for a red eye back east on my way to a technical conference the next day. Normally, I try to avoid red eye flights, but it was the best option for balancing my schedule requirements with the exhibitor set-up schedule. But, since the conference was in one of those not-an-airline-hub locations, my red eye was supposed to connect with a regional jet later that next morning. The flight delay was looking, increasingly, like that connection was not going to happen.

It's times like this that I miss the old days with my Red Carpet Club membership. The customer service people in the Red Carpet Club would always give you straight answers and they'd do everything that they could to help you out. So when I went to the customer service station inside the terminal to discuss what things looked like, I got some vague, disappointing news.

The best that she could tell me was that, not only was I likely to miss my connecting flight, but all of the flights leaving Newark that next day were full. They couldn't get me on another connecting flight until after 10pm the next night. Besides not really being thrilled about the idea of spending 24 hours with United just to make a west-to-east cross country flight, arriving at midnight would mean that my show set-up day would be lost.

Not satisfied with the answers that I was getting there, I decided to let the problem simmer for a bit and headed over to gate to chat with the workers at the gate desk. They took a look at my flight schedule and determined that I was indeed looking at problems. But, rather than settling for that, they dove in and found that they could put me on standby for a 12pm flight that was booked full but probably wouldn't wind up being full. While it wasn't a perfect answer, it struck me positively enough that I took to Twitter to comment, particularly since this wasn't the first time that the UA people at the gate were quite helpful to me. Twice this year flying out of New Orleans, the two guys at the gate have jumped through hoops to arrange or rearrange my schedule and and save me from a potential nightmare of flight delays and being stranded at various airports. Those guys were awesome and the two women at the counter this time also receive a ton of thanks.

Anyway, to wrap up this long story, I was surprised to receive a reply to my Twitter posts from @united. I happened to catch it just as we were finally boarding the delayed flight. I was so surprised, that my first thought was -- is this from a real person or an automated chat bot. When I arrived in Newark the next morning, they had replied again to tell me that they were real. And, @united, I would have replied with a DM if I get some time to sort through the stupid Twitter interface to figure out how that once easy-to-navigate function works in the current version of the app.

So, my take-aways from that trip:
  1. The weekend red eye may be a problematic flight. End of the day on a weekend seems like a good recipe for delayed flights. Yet another reason to avoid the evil red eye.
  2. Don't give up on customer service. Have patience and a positive attitude -- there are some of them out there who really will jump through hoops to help you if you give them your support.
  3. There may not be a Bigfoot or a Loch Ness Monster, but there is a social media customer service team at United Airlines and they do listen to Twitter.
By the way United, don't think that this makes us all squared up on everything that we've been through together -- we still have some pain points. But that being said, more than the customer service support, your little note made my day. Chappeau!


ComcastCares1 said...

Hi there!

I work for Comcast. I just want to leave a note of apology if we missed your tweet. We'd like to look into this incident. If it is not so much of a trouble, will you please provide more information? If you could please send me the Twitter handle, date and time you sent it and where you sent it to, I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank in advance,

Comcast Corp.
National Customer Operations

yaMarketingGoomer said...

Hi ComcastMark. Thanks for following up on the post. I apologize for the delayed response - things have been a bit busy with travel and other projects. FYI, my Twitter handle is listed here on the blog - @MarketingToMe. I went back through the archives of my posts and I see that the Comcast incident that I mention took place back in October, 2010. In that case, I didn't send a direct message, but I did tag the posts #comcast (something I didn't do with the United posts referenced above). Admittedly, 2010 seems like ancient history in Internet time, but the UA post does mark the first time that I've seen some response from the referenced business.