On February 15 I had an encounter with US Airways and the new American Airlines. There are important lessons from my experience about the use of social media for service recovery. These apply to healthcare social media teams as well as airline teams. The interaction was an opportunity for the airlines to provide a positive brand experience and to interceded on my behalf. They failed.
In short, it is not enough to use social media to respond to customers. Your social media team has to be empowered to activate people “on the ground” or in the specific department where the complaint originated. There’s value in saying “We hear you” and “we’re sorry that you had a bad experience.” But that only goes so far. Your social media team needs to be able to help resolve negative situations by contacting people in your organization who will spring into action. If that element is missing, your social media team is limited to placating unhappy customers and perhaps further frustrating them by not having the power to resolve the situation or put a resolution into motion.
As I share this story, it is worth noting that I have been an American Advantage Member since Saturday, February 8, 1992. I have also been a US Airways Dividend Miles Member for more than two decades. I typically fly somewhere in the United States on a business trip at least three times each month.
At its foundation, this is a very simple story. I was flying US Airways from Pensacola, Florida (7:45am) through Charlotte, NC (10:18am arrival) and then on to Raleigh-Durham, NC via an 11:20am flight. I would be home by 12:30pm to spend a belated Valentine’s holiday with my family. It all went wrong when the originating flight in Pensacola was delayed due to a “mechanical issue.” That mechanical issue, the pilot would later explain, was cord showing on one of the plane’s tires. After an hour delay it was determined that it would be okay to do at least one more landing on the worn tire. Meanwhile, this little hiccup would mean that I wouldn’t get back to Raleigh until 7:05pm.
Throughout my several hours of interaction with the social media teams from US Airways and American, I gave then opportunities to turn me into a satisfied customer. It became clear that they simply did not have the ability/authority to make that happen. They were like “Siri” on my iPhone. They could dish out some information and apologize repeatedly, but they couldn’t initiate any remediation on my behalf.
Below are the Tweets, along with a few Facebook posts, that tell the story and show the exchange. I’ve pulled these from my Storify account of the events.
It would then take American Airlines more than an hour to respond to my q