Twitter Flies the Not-Always-Friendly Skies

Published January 4, 2011
Last modified January 4, 2011

The future is now. No sooner did we post various experts’ predictions on customer service trends for 2011 than a couple of these trends begin appearing in the headlines.

Exhibit A: Social media will play a bigger role.

You might recall that East Coast blizzards left thousands of hapless and frustrated would-be travelers stranded at airports for hours, if not a day or more. The New York Times reported that some social media mavens used Twitter to contact specially trained-in-Twitter Delta service representatives, who quickly booked them new flights. The twitilliterate passengers were left with little choice but to "follow” these twitterati on their mobile devices as they happily made their way to their various cross-country destinations.  Jetblue was another airline that the Times credited with using the social media technology.

Those who used Twitter (and Facebook, to some degree) were also able to track their lost luggage and generally stay informed about what was happening, while everyone else wandered around in the proverbial dark.

Apparently, airline representatives like when you can condense all your angst and complaining and booking requests into a single 140 character post.

This jibes with a (not very surprising) trend prediction by customer service expert Barry Moltz that social media applications will supplant traditional customer service routes, such as phoning call centers and emailing.  Even though the number of Delta phone reps dwarfs the number of Twitter reps (there are only nine), some of the phone reps advised callers that they might have had better luck contacting a rep via Twitter.

(Speaking of Twitter and snowstorms, Newark, New Jersey mayor Cory Booker also grabbed some headlines and great PR by tweeting with citizens during the snowstorm that he was shoveling out snowbound cars, and even delivering diapers to someone who sent him a tweet for help.)

These actions gave credence to a couple of other trends that weren’t included in our top 10 list, but could’ve been: that companies (and politicians, apparently) will increasingly look for innovative customer service solutions as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition,  and that customers using social media will gain greater influence.

Both Delta (and Mayor Booker) doubtless won new fans by both the way they dealt with the blizzard, and the resulting positive publicity from their actions.

Another “top 10” trend that was evident at the airport was “customers helping customers.”  The Times also reported that some Twitter-savvy stranded passengers passed the time updating those signed into the airlines’ Twitter accounts, what was going on.

Only about eight percent of online users currently have Twitter accounts, partly because it’s new and partly because of a perception that its primarily “useful” for following celebrity doings and finding out what your friends had for appetizers. But stories like this are sure to broaden its user base.