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Why American Airlines wins at social media CRM

When it comes to customer service, no one likes to wait, and with the growth of mobile adoption, many airline carriers such as American Airlines and Southwest are embracing the potential of social media to deliver almost instant responses to customer queries and concerns.

As social media have evolved, so have carrier methods of communicating with passengers, as they transition from talking by phone and e-mail to communicating via Twitter and Facebook, which allow for companies to resolve a problem faster and oftentimes better as associates can work on a solution with guests in real-time. Social engagement platform Engagor, recently tracked airline conversation on Twitter and Facebook this summer to uncover who is winning and losing on social.

?We were surprised to see that some airlines still aren?t effectively engaging with their audience on social. They are present and active, but only having a one-way conversation,? said Folke Lemaitre, CEO of Engagor.

?Now that consumers are turning to social to express opinions, it requires brands to approach customer service in a new way and through new channels.?

?The 9-5 customer service model will have to be reviewed since airlines operate 24/7 and travelers can require assistance anytime through social media,? he said.

Sky high expectations
Airlines have to engage with their consumers to provide value. Customers not only expect them to respond to their questions, they also want to engage in real conversations.

From May 1 to July 21, Engagor investigated how airlines performed in terms of receiving mentions on Twitter, how often they were mentioned, and the number of customer posts and how many times the airlines responded.

American Airlines stood out from the others, not because of the sheer volume of social mentions, 572,901, but because it was the most engaged and active with customers, responding more than 68,400 times, totaling 36 percent of overall mentions.

Coming in last, Delta responded only 307 times, .3 percent, and AirTran did not respond at all.

Southwest had the highest percentage of positive mentions, 36.5 percent, and U.S. Airways had the highest percentage of negative mentions, 27 percent.

American Airlines was also mentioned every 18 seconds on social, while AirTran was mentioned every 20 minutes.

Twitter is not just a promotional tool anymore and has evolved into the 21st-century version of a comment box. Its latest user experience places a heavier emphasis on images, so now instead of just telling a company about a service problem, consumers can also show it to them.

A matter of opinion
During this year?s SITA IT conference in Brussels which ran from June 17-19, American Airlines and Jet Blue presented variegated approaches to how traditional customer service platforms are being disrupted by social.

Considering the shifting habits of flyers to share their dissatisfaction with airlines on social, American Airlines cited that the trends towards the always-on conversation from the flying public has caused them to build and support sophisticated and extremely responsive social media teams. By equipping staff with hand-held and tablet mobile devices, AA puts its employees on equal footing with guests and allows for a competitive advantage in identifying concerns raised on social platforms around them to mediate issues quickly via online connection.

American Airlines is well aware of just how connected the public has become and at such an ease many consumers are inclined to communicate via social media in place of face-to-face.

JetBlue conversely stated that since it believes in putting people first, a greater importance is places on a strong tradition customer service platform which coincides with its main flyer demographic: Snowbirds ? individuals, typically retirees, who wish to avoid the snow and cold temperatures of northern winter.

However assuming older generations are not active on social media a faux pas. This does not negate the value that a strong customer service model is needed, as customers will always want to pick up the phone, but it is in disagreement with recent trends and demonstrates a misunderstanding of the lifestyle habits of core customers.

The Silver Surfer demographic is a group that are mobile, active and suffer from wanderlust, which is okay because they have the financial resources to travel often. They are quickly becoming the darlings of aviation and their special needs for mobility must be addressed.

The Engagor report shows JetBlue is a far second to AA with 126,406 mentions on Twitter versus 572,901, and 60,643 customer posts follow up with only 17,919 responses compared to AA?s 186,221 posts, 66,186 responses.

Engagor suggests airlines respond to comments on social channels in a timely manner, whether they are questions or complaints, and to share content that is valuable and relevant to their audiences.

Finding a brand voice on social and sticking to it is also essential as carries need not come across too promotional and should keep messages real and conversational.

?Social media has become the primary communication channel for consumers to voice concerns publicly,? Mr. Lemaitre said. ? Many social media users say they prefer to use these channels rather than the phone for customer service issues.?

?This requires brands to approach customer service in a new way and through new channels. It also requires very immediate action: for example, if people have complaints on a certain flight, it?s best to immediately look up the flight and staff and pass on the information to the responsible department.?

Final Take
Michelle is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York