Social networks in the airline industry: the challenges of the massification of interactions

For the last 5 years or so, airlines have been using social networks to interact with their customers. These interactions have two main purposes: marketing on the one hand, with the push of commercial offers to these connected customers, and what is now called Social Servicing, i.e. customer service through these digital channels.

Very unequal players in the face of digital interactions

Airlines have started to embrace digital tools since their inception.

  1. The pioneers were the American companies, Delta, United and American. The high-powered @DeltaAssist now handles over 50,000 interactions per day via Twitter and Facebook, a level equivalent to the number of calls handled by its call center. Who would have believed it 5 years ago?
  2. The second to react were the European airlines, led by KLM and then Air France.
  3. The biggest laggards in this respect are the traditional Asian airlines and the Gulf airlines, some of which have only recently begun to do so, such as Etihad.

The boom in the number of interactions poses new challenges for airlines.

If the start was timid, the arrival of digital natives as buyers of airline tickets has changed the game in terms of Social Servicing.
Personally, even if I am from generation Y, I have codes close to theDigital Natives: immediacy is essential, preference of text over voice, determinism of answers; but while integrating the codes of the airline industry: maximum service, integration of a preference or distinction for the loyal customers.
social-network-strategies

If all this complex contract was fulfilled in the beginning, the reasons were simple: :

  • The people who provided this digital service were very experienced company agents who had worked in different departments and knew the procedures well enough to answer the customer clearly and activate the right levers within the company to give him the greatest satisfaction.
  • The notion of one-stop-shop was also present: one interaction with the @AirFranceFR account on Twitter, and your concern with FlyingBlue was handled.

Today, things have changed. The tripling of interactions, and the transition of the pioneers of Social Servicing in airlines to other functions have required a significant transfer of skills to other types of resources. Two examples of transfers:

    • At Delta, a more junior team and a powerful CRM system (SalesForce) connected to the Deltamatic DCS allows to bring a high quality service
    • At Air France, a simple transfer of skills to a team working in the Call Centers allows to provide a service that I call correct, but that does not allow to go as far as before: no more one-stop-shop (“For this Flying Blue problem, please contact 3274” – Thank you, but if I had wanted to do it, I would have done it before contacting you), nor service that goes beyond what you can do yourself on the site (“I can’t change your seat to 14A”, when I see it available and no further explanation is given). Basically, not much that is not already possible by phone.

And therein lies the rub: when you contact someone on Twitter, you expect someone who can do something more for you. And if this is not the case, the deception is huge.

Conclusion

If the massification of exchanges on social networks is inescapable because it is generational, it must not sacrifice the attributes of the airline: attentive and differentiated service must prevail. And loyal customers must be able to benefit from a “fine-tuned” service. This is the case at Delta and many other players in the Gulf. So it must be possible for everyone, right?

Olivier Delestre-Levai
Olivier Delestre-Levai
Olivier has been into airline blogging since 2010. First a major contributor to the FlyerTalk forum, he created the FlyerPlan website in July 2012, and writes articles with a major echo among airline specialists. He now co-runs the TravelGuys blog with Bertrand, focusing on travel experience and loyalty programs.
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