Commentary

The Times When Airlines Need To Be Extra Careful On Social Media

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, March 7, 2016

Airlines face increasing competition to respond well and respond quickly to customers’ questions on social media. As customers turn away from the telephone and toward the keyboard to solve concerns about their trips, airline companies have to meet that demand and react accordingly.

The onslaught of questions is endless; people are constantly traveling and therefore constantly asking questions. In response, airlines’ social teams have to always be on. 

But in certain situations, airlines have to be hyper-vigilant. To determine when these situations are and how much airlines need to adjust their resources, we took a look at the state of social customer care for American Airlines and United on Facebook and Twitter.

Our data considers the volume of questions asked, volume of questions responded to, and response time for Nov. 1, 2015, through Jan. 31, 2016. During these three months, the biggest spikes in demand for social customer care (determined by highest volume of questions) occurred, unsurprisingly, during Winter Storm Jonas and the holiday period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

But how many more questions were the airlines getting during these moments, and how did they deal with them?

On Facebook, the average number of questions received via users’ posts on the airline’s wall was 16 per day for American Airlines and 25 per day for United. During the period in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the average number of questions received per day more than doubled — 33 for American Airlines and 67 for United. During Winter Storm Jonas, American Airlines received an average of 18 questions per day and United received an average of 42.

If we take a look at how the airlines responded to the increased volume, we see that these periods found the airlines responding to a smaller share of questions. Comparing the entire three-month period versus the period of Winter Storm Jonas, American Airlines’ response rate dropped 8% and United’s dropped 23% during the storm.

The plot thickens on Twitter, where the airlines received many more questions (and where most of social customer care questions are happening). Over the three-month period, the average number of questions received via tweets was 388 per day for American Airlines and 234 per day for United. During Winter Storm Jonas, American Airlines received 544 per day while United received 512 per day. During the period between Christmas, American Airlines and United received 897 and 654 questions per day, respectively.

How did they fare in terms of responding to this increased demand? American Airlines excelled — increasing their response rate from 58% over the whole period to 63% during Winter Storm Jonas. United, meanwhile, had difficulty; the response rate dropped from 24% on average to 15% during the storm.

These findings tell us a couple things. First, airlines need to prepare for the increased customer care demand during periods like holidays and weather changes, and they must allocate their resources accordingly. Second, the chance of a customer getting a prompt response is going to really depend on the airline they’re flying. 

We’re living in a world where customer care centers can’t afford to take time off, but for airlines, this presents a huge opportunity to win over flyers. Make sure to be extra sensitive to your customers during certain times of the year, and you might just make some of them regulars.

2 comments about "The Times When Airlines Need To Be Extra Careful On Social Media".
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  1. Ronald Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, March 7, 2016 at 1:31 p.m.

    Is the author serious? In the absence of real competition in most major markets, the airlines have shown they have little need or interest in being customer friendly or sensitive. 

  2. Tom Smith from Insights From Analytics, March 7, 2016 at 2:47 p.m.

    These findings tell me one more thing - airlines have a great opportunity to use IoT and big data to solve travelers' problems and make their lives easier. I have an app for every airline I travel on my phone. The airline knows I'm on the plane, they know where I'm going. When a flight is going to be late and I'm going to miss a connection, be proactive and send me a couple of options for alternate flights so I don't have to scramble to reschedule the flights myself. The more the airlines can proactively solve my problem, the less I'll bother their CSRs.

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