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Outside of manning the Internal Revenue Service complaint line, there are doubtless few tasks as thankless as managing customer service issues on social networks for a major airline. As the public face of the airline, you’re the constant target of complaints when things go wrong or simply don’t go right enough.
American Airlines has its own extra set of issues beyond the typical challenges airlines face: It’s still in bankruptcy, it’s planes suffered from headline-grabbing maintenance issues this fall, and the rift between its executives and rank-and-file employees makes the Cold War look warm.
Yet somehow its social media team — especially the people manning the Twitter handle @AmericanAir — manages to show up every day and deal with complaints and comments without heading off the deep end. The airlines’ dedicated, in-house team of fifteen focuses on quickly dealing with customers’ problems or responding to praises and complaints when there is big news — like last week’s redesign.
Following last week’s launch of SkiftSocial, Stephanie Scott, a Social Media Specialist at the airline, agreed to share some of the team’s secrets.
>> Read more about SkiftSocial here, and what it means for social media monitoring in the travel industry.
Skift: When American Airlines decided to use Twitter to communicate with customers, were you clear about what you wanted the voice of @AmericanAir to be, or did that evolve over time?
@AmericanAir: It took us a few months to find our social voice and become comfortable with it. We knew we needed to be in-line with the American Airlines brand at the time, but we also wanted to be unique and personable in our own way. But the biggest driver of finding our voice was feedback from our customers. They were the most vocal, and we took the good and the bad as we learned how to best serve them.
As social customer service became a more robust offering at American Airlines, we sat down as a team and developed a list of key characteristics that would define the voice of our Twitter channel. Each new employee who is hired to assist customers via Twitter is trained in how to respond using this tone of voice. We continually evaluate our responses to ensure we are adhering to our preferred tone of voice.
Skift: How would you describe American’s Twitter personality if it was a real person?
@AmericanAir: We would describe him or her as genuine, authentic, clear, confident, savvy, empathetic, welcoming, warm, helpful, and knowledgeable.
Skift: How many people are actively tweeting at @AmericanAir?
@AmericanAir: American Airlines’ social media team currently consists of 15 people: nine who work in social customer service and respond to customer inquiries on Twitter and other social networks. The other six work on social engagement tactics, such as messaging and promotions.
Most recently, our social response team moved to a 24/7 schedule so we could assist customers traveling during the day and night. Our goal is to be alert and responsive for our customers across the world and whenever we have a plane in the sky.
Skift: Can you walk me through the standard procedure when a user on Twitter begins complaining about American?
@AmericanAir: Our social customer service team monitors our social communities 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for incoming mentions. When we see a complaint, our goal is to respond within 10 minutes and be empathetic in asking for details. To protect our customers from posting sensitive travel details, including AAdvantage numbers and record locators, we often ask for that information via direct message. There, we can gather information needed to assist. We continue to track the issue until it is resolved to the best of our ability.
Skift: Are there issues you simply won’t engage with via Twitter?
@AmericanAir: Our social customer service team responds to all actionable tweets received. Non-actionable tweets include company news mentions and spam. If a customer tweets about their travel experience, we will address it, no matter the issue. Some travel issues can be addressed and resolved within Twitter while other, more complex issues, require us to involve other parts of our business and may be directed to email or phone correspondence.
Skift: You also allow the @AA staff to act silly. I recall one engaging with @fakeunitedjeff about United. What leeway do you give the people behind @AmericanAir to step outside of customer service roles?
@AmericanAir: Our people are empowered to infuse their messages with personality, in keeping with our brand voice. We find that our customers appreciate it when they are able to have real, engaging conversations with our people. We always encourage our team to be personable while asking them to use their best judgment.
Skift: What’s the ratio of complaints to praises you see?
@AmericanAir: It fluctuates depending on the time of year, and other factors out of our control that impact travel, such as bad weather or ATC delays. We take bad with the good, and try to assist everyone.
Skift: Are there tweeters in other industries that you look to leadership/inspiration for how you conduct American’s account?
@AmericanAir: We constantly scan the social landscape for inspiration and ideas on how to be even better at social media, and are proud to lead the industry in social customer service. In observing other major brands’ social media marketing initiatives, we’ve taken inspiration from the likes of Red Bull, Oreo and Starbucks.
Like any consumer brand, at the end of the day we want to leave our customers with a positive impression of American Airlines, both in the real world and in social media.
Skift: What are the big lessons learned about customer service Twitter has given you that other methods haven’t?
@AmericanAir: In nearly three years, we’ve learned a lot through interacting with our customers on Twitter. First, we’ve found that questions and concerns before or during travel come to Twitter, while post-travel issues can be found mostly on Facebook.
We’ve also learned that a quick, empathetic response can go a long way in social media. We may not always have the answer at our fingertips, but customers see our commitment to finding it, and that’s very important to us. Twitter has allowed us to build many authentic relationships with customers who know they can get a timely resolution to their issue by tweeting @AmericanAir. Through Twitter, Facebook, and other social communities, we now have a network of dedicated and loyal brand advocates with whom we interact every day.