Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Red Carpet Customer Service and PR

Yes, it is Carnival Tuesday and yes, I am at home, in my jammies, blogging. I did not anticipate I would be on the blog, but minus that I would not have had this day any other way.

So though I have been offline from the world of news and important stuff, I had some time off from vegging last night to catch up on news and came upon the Southwest Airlines/Kevin Smith situation. Talk about drama. I was not on the plane and cannot say whether the situation was handled badly or not, nor determine whether the airline was really in the wrong. But someone asked me whether the LUV airline  would have responded so quickly to Kevin Jones, from Nowhere, USA or Nowhere, Trinidad.

I think the fact that they are even using social media should signal that they are actively trying to monitor customer experiences, for better or worse, and proactively address them. The fact that Kevin Smith is a celebrity, with over a million followers on Twitter and the fact that his rants were relentless (he tweeted from beginning to end, and after, and also did an entire podcast on the event...I mean really!)  just made the situation a PR nightmare for Southwest. One look at their Twitter page and these guys are busy keeping on top of the tweets in which they are mentioned.

Customers also need to remember that often there is only so much a PR person can do in the blink of an eye. When an incident unfolds, in an area far removed physically from the team, or out of their sphere of expertise, ultimately any good PR person would need to first get the facts, find out exactly what has transpired from the relevant sources within the company and otherwise, all before giving the disgruntled, often impatient customer some feedback. In my own role as professional tweeter, I often do not have all the answers and have to either forward a request to the relevant persons or do some research in order to ensure accuracy of information being given to a customer. Depending on the nature of the request, I cannot always guarantee an answer within 30 mins, or an hour, but I let the customer know that I am working on it and he/she usually gets a response.

BUT the key is to always let the customer know that you're listening and that each and every piece of feedback, for better or worse, is important to you. Communications is not just about talking and getting defensive, but allowing the channel to be interactive and giving the customer not only a voice but more importantly the opportunity to be heard. I have called customers, or dropped them an email, while I wait for an answer to their issue to let them know their feedback is truly important and is being actioned so they do not think it's pointless sending a DM, a tweet, or leaving a comment. It does not matter whether the customer is a housewife watching soaps or a CEO. It has to be equal opportunity day, everyday, with customer service, customer feedback and followup.

The fact that Kevin Smith's tirade would surely have been a catalyst for swift(er) action from the Luv folks. I don't look at it as responding to him any faster because he is a celebrity, but responding to him to manage a very volatile situation - one that quickly had the attention of millions and millions of people, many of them Luv customers. You want to minimise the damage done to your brand as much as possible and the truth is noone knows about Kevin Jones. Does it mean he is not being attended to? No. It means you're probably just not hearing about it. Maybe his 103 followers know about it, including the spammers, but that may be as far as it goes. His audience and his sphere of influence may just not be wide enough to make the news or "make the web" in this case. It's natural for the louder voice to get a bit more attention, and ultimately because he is louder, he would also be more visible and inevitably a greater risk to your brand.

Just wanted to say though, Luv's "Not so Silent Bob" post - the title alone makes me cringe cause it immediately, in my mind, makes the "victim", the bad guy. I did not feel the title, Luv, and this was before I even read the post. It really does not suggest any empathy with the passenger and almost mocks him. I would have taken it the wrong way if I were Mr Smith. The other entry is much more conciliatory and even-keeled and clearly underlines the point that though we are humans and get snarky, we should really take a moment, count to 10, have a cookie or a glass of Pinot, and not act in the heat of the moment. The Not So Silent Bob reference was snarky, to say the least. Bad idea.


I am not a Luv customer but I have used social media to raise concerns about the airlines I do use and always have gotten a response. Same goes for the other companies I follow using social media. They are out there trying to keep the communications channels open and if they're not, you better believe they find out the hard way. Would Kevin Jones have gotten a phone call from a Southwest VP? I am not sure. I do not know enough about the company's culture to say yay or nay, but I have no doubt Kevin Jones, in an age where negative comments can circulate with a single (re)tweet, blog post, or status update, would have gotten some type of response. If not, then that company would need to immediately review its social media "strategy", if you dare call it that.

Back to vegging.


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