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Why Twitter is airlines? default customer service tool

New research from Twitter shows users who received personal responses from airlines on the social network were more willing to recommend the company and shell out extra money for a ticket in the future, underscoring the social application?s cachet among travelers.

Twitter users send approximately 100,000 inquiries and concerns to major United States airline accounts each month, transforming the social hub into a de facto customer service vehicle. The social network?s recent study, done in conjunction with Applied Marketing Science, affirmed that customer interaction does indeed pay off, both literally and figuratively speaking.

?Given the continued growth and evolution of social media, I think any company concerned with its reputation should dedicate some portion of its customer relations expense to near-real-time customer interaction,? said Ryan Williams, vice president of travel at Millward Brown Digital. ?I suspect Twitter is not the only social media channel brands have utilized to improve consumer perception.?

Reaching new audiences
While Twitter certainly serves as a communication channel for existing airline customers to leverage, the aviation industry also has the potential to forge relationships with consumers who may not have flown with a particular company before.

Offering prompt customer service is undoubtedly a best practice for any airline, especially during peak travel times, such as the holidays, when consumers? frustrations run high and weather delays plague airports.

Individuals who received replies to questions they posted to airlines on Twitter were found to be more satisfied with their overall experience, more willing to pay extra for a ticket with that airline in the future and very likely to recommend the company to someone else.

Additionally, the extra amount consumers were willing to shell out for a ticket directly correlated with how fast the airline replied to their initial Tweet.

Receiving a personal response from an airline representative on social media resulted in consumers paying almost $9 more for a ticket. This tactic may culminate in serious revenue raising for some airlines, especially since the proliferation of online travel agents has resulted in identical fare rates across the Internet.

Therefore, airlines that are not already manning their official social media accounts with representatives may forfeit a competitive edge.

Faster replies also translate to higher revenue. Twitter?s research discovered that the median time for a response hovered at 22 minutes. However, customers were apt to pay $20 more for an airline if the company responded within six minutes.

?Respond quickly (as in minutes/hours vs. days) and be as honest and transparent as possible,? Mr. Williams said.

Higher customer satisfaction
Airlines that replied to Tweets were revealed to have higher customer satisfaction rates than those that relied on other customer service channels. The constant connectivity and ease of using social media is likely an attractive factor for travelers, especially if they want to avoid waiting on hold for phone calls.

Additionally, if a customer is in transit or in an airport, firing off a quick Tweet is much easier than attempting to draft an email or get in contact with a representative over the phone.

Satisfied users are also likely to help spread the word across social media, resulting in greater brand awareness, entirely free of charge. Consumers are 41 percent more willing to recommend an airline if it has responded to one of their Tweets.

However, companies must be cognizant of potential pitfalls that can occur when responding to concerns so publicly.

?The obvious downside to social media is the relative digital permanence of anything posted by a brand,? Mr. Williams said. ?There have been multiple examples over the past few years of disgruntled employees posting unapproved, inappropriate messages or responses on behalf of the companies they've worked for. 

?And these responses inevitably go viral before a brand is able to retract the message.?

Final Take
Alex Samuely, staff writer on Mobile Marketer, New York