Does having a separate social media customer service account instead of handling all brand messaging and reservation-related inquiries on a universal account more effective for airlines?

3_years_of_skiftSkift and Socialbakers went under the hood of the world’s most active airlines on social media to find out. We tallied how many questions were asked and answered to determine Questions-to-Reply-Rate (QRR) and the nature of inquiries based on the words used in tweets that got the most replies.

We looked at three airlines — American Airlines, British Airways, and United Airlines — that use one account to communicate their brand message and handle customer inquiries. We also analyzed three other airlines — Delta, Emirates Airlines, and Etihad Airways — that have multiple Twitter accounts dedicated to answering questions to get both perspectives.

From this sample, separate customer service Twitter accounts were less effective because they left a considerable amount of questions unanswered in the main account and by-and-large these flyers were not redirected to the dedicated customer service account.

The quick takeaways:

  • Brands that have universal accounts perform 12 percent better than airlines with dedicated accounts based on QRR.
  • American Airlines is the most responsive out of the six airlines with a QRR of 57 percent and Emirates was the least with a QRR of 27 percent.

In addition to the quantity of tweets being responded to, we also took a peek at the top 100 keywords of each airline to understand the type of inquiries asked and replied to most. We found across the board, that customers tweeted about themselves using “me” and “my” and their “flight” and “flights.” They also directed their inquiries to the brand with “you” and “your” and expressed duration and urgency with “time”, “been” and “now.”

When it came down to delays and cancellations, it was surprising to see that it wasn’t a keyword that appeared in the top 100 keywords for Emirates and Etihad, considering their poor on-time performance. Of course this is all dependent on how Twitter-friendly their passengers are which may be much less that American carriers.

The flyers that were the most polite were tweeting “please” at @BritishAirways and @EmiratesSupport while all airlines were greeted with appreciation at about the same level with “thank” and “thanks.”

Airlines Question-to-Response Rate:

TwitterQuestions RespondableQuestions RespondedQuestions Response Rate (QRR) [%]
@AmericanAir47,12426,92957.14%
@British_Airways30,61415,76551.50%
@United34,44714,06140.82%
@Delta + @DeltaAssist44,17318,06540.90%
@Emirates + @EmiratesSupport6,7291,84027.34%
@Etihad + @EtihadHelp7,7753,50845.12%

Source: Skift and Socialbakers

Methodology:

All tweets with question marks were pulled as inquiries from universal and dedicated social media care accounts of @AmericanAir, @United, @British_Airways, @Delta, @DeltaAssist, @Emirates, @EmiratesSupport, @EtihadAirways and @EtihadHelp.

All replies from both universal and dedicated social media account to inquiries originating from universal and dedicated social media care accounts were totaled.

Questions-to-Reply-Rate (QRR) is calculated by taking total replies and dividing it by total questions. Questions were segmented to responded vs. unresponded. All the copy from the tweets were analyzed and prioritized by frequency to calculate QRR . In total this study account for six brands, nine Twitter accounts. Response times were not included in this analysis.

Below are nine charts that show questions responded and unresponded on a weekly basis from all Twitter handles. For brands that have multiple Twitter accounts, the percentage of total questions asked to their main account and answered by both their accounts are provided under the pair of charts.

American Airlines (@AmericanAir):

AmericanAir

American Airlines answer an average of 1,200 tweets with question marks and it is the most responsive airline out of the bunch. Its busiest and worst week didn’t take place between the holiday months between December 2014 and January 2015. There was only one week when their team under-communicated.

Annette Hernandez, manager, social customer experience at American Airlines told Skift:

“American has determined that a universal account is better suited to the way our customers use Twitter. They [customers] want one place to contact us at @AmericanAir, and it is up to us to organize behind the scenes rather than make the customer work hard to know which channel to contact for service, to compliment an employee or to learn more about the airline.

“We certainly respond to our customers on Facebook, but generally speaking, comments on Facebook tend to be more about past date issues. Most customer comments on Twitter are about real time issues which require a more timely response.”

British Airways (@British_Airways):

British_Airways

With the second highest QRR at 51 percent, British Airways has experienced three weeks of not being able to answer all the inquiries that were asked. Like American Airlines, it also took place outside the end of the year holiday season.

Nuria Garrido, social innovation lead at British Airways says:

“Our intention is to have a clear line of communication with our customers, we deliberately created the @British_Airways global handle to service customer queries as well as promote brand messages. We want to be transparent about what we do and it allows us to be able to respond to customer queries easily without having to monitor two accounts with duplicate tweets.

“We have some experience of using multiple accounts, one based in North America and one based in the UK, however we found that our customers would tweet both accounts with the same query.

“We decided to close our North America account in July 2014 and now have one global account monitored 24/7.”

United Airlines (@United):

United

Although United Airlines’ customers asks the least amount of questions in comparison to American and British Airways, United has not been successful in being present for their customers when they have questions despite their streamlined approach. Even though it is now expected that flyers will take to Twitter during times of frustration during the holidays, United was not able to address the high volume of questions during the last week of December and first week of January.

Jennifer Dohm as a spokeswoman for United Airlines:

“We strive to provide the most straightforward and user-friendly experience on Twitter. Our Twitter audience and customers alike can rely on @united to participate in conversations on a variety of topics.

“We think this is the most transparent and efficient way to communicate with our customers on Twitter and it eliminates the need for them to search for alternate handles or make sure they’re using the right one depending on the issue or comment they have. This is a unified approach to all communications and keeps conversations in context.”

Delta Airlines (@Delta@DeltaAssist):

Delta

Delta_Assist

Delta’s customer care account is on par with American Airlines’ universal account with only one tough week.Their flyers were most active during the month of February and March. What hurt its QRR is the @Delta account. We found that there were more questions asked on @Delta than @DeltaAssist and only four percent were responded to by @Delta and @DeltaAssist. The customers are not taking Delta’s queue to ask @DeltaAssist separately.

Brian Kruse, spokesperson for Delta Airlines:

“Separate Twitter accounts allow to us to differentiate our services. The people behind Delta Assist all have reservations background. They can assist quickly, whether it’s rebooking or updates on flight status. We strive to answer all inquiries from all of our accounts on Twitter and Facebook.”

Emirates (@Emirates + @EmiratesSupport):

Emirates

EmiratesSupport

Similar to Delta’s performance, Emirates’ passengers are asking a significant amount questions on its brand account @Emirates more than @EmiratesSupport, roughly six time more. This ratio dragged its QRR to the lowest of all six airlines to 27 percent making Emirates the second least successful in convincing its passengers to use its dedicated customer care account.

Boutros Boutros, divisional senior vice president corporate communications, marketing and brand:

“Our objective with Twitter (@emiratesairlines and @emiratessupport) is to become a more engaging social brand, help protect our reputation and offer support to our customers. When looking at how we could best achieve this, we decided to have two channels: one for brand engagement & reputation management and another one for customer service. This allows us better response times as our dedicated customer service team can direct everything through one channel. It also means our brand channel will only show relevant content to our followers without customers’ queries appearing on the same page.”

Etihad Airways (@EtihadAirways + @EtihadHelp):

EtihadAirways

EtihadHelp

Although Etihad is the least successful in having passengers reach out via its dedicated customer care account @EtihadHelp — we left its invite-only account @EtihadPremium off this analysis for obvious reasons — their team is responsive on both accounts, unlike Delta and Emirates. Although they left more questions unanswered on the main account, it is clear they made an effort, which supports their position on answering questions on all existing Twitter accounts.

Liz Selby, head of social media at Etihad Airways:

“Our goal is to provide the highest level of customer service to our guests across all of our social media channels. With that goal in mind, we created an Etihad Help channel on Twitter because we believe a separate Twitter account provides us with an opportunity to more efficiently and effectively interact with our guests to ensure they receive the very best in service support.

“There are a number of advantages to having a dedicated customer service Twitter handle. A key one being that we can use the handle to transmit calls to action that provide a direct link for our guests to secure the customer service assistance they need from our dedicated team. It also allows us to provide information about our dedicated Etihad Twitter handle on all customer service collateral. In addition, we are able to promptly identify key issues that arise separate of other conversations that occur on our corporate Twitter feed regarding Etihad’s network, product and service offerings, inspirational travel content – and more.”

Socialbakers’ mission is to become the industry standard for the way social marketing is measured and optimized. They’re a member of the Facebook Marketing Partners program, and serve over 2,500 clients across 100 countries. They track, analyze, and benchmark over 8 million social profiles across all the major social platforms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, and VK.

Photo Credit: Passengers line up to get boarding passes in Terminal C at DFW Airport. Max Faulkner