Delta Monitors Twitter to Remedy Customer Complaints

Aug 16th, 2010 | By businessnews | Category: Business

The Atlanta-based airline sets itself apart from competitors by resolving customer-service issues that passengers post on Twitter

Mary Jane Credeur

Mike Brice skipped the queue at the Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) ticket counter and dashed off a post on Twitter Inc. when he missed his Atlanta connection en route home to Utah from South Carolina.

Within minutes, the 40-year-old communications consultant had been rebooked for the following morning by an agent on the Delta team that uses Twitter to remedy passengers’ real-time complaints—changing flights, finding lost luggage, or sharing details on weather delays.

Bucking the typical corporate practice of monitoring Twitter just to listen to consumers, Delta sets itself apart by resolving gripes on the No. 3 social-networking site in the U.S., said Shel Holtz of consultant Holtz Communication & Technology in San Francisco.

“Delta is out in front, especially for the airline industry,” Holtz said. “What people are looking for in a lot of these situations is just acknowledgment, and to have someone try to resolve their problem. It shouldn’t matter which way they reach out, whether it’s by phone or e-mail or on Twitter.”

Delta’s Twitter account is run by customer-service employees who use the direct-message function to privately swap information and view passengers’ itineraries. The account is watched from 8 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. New York time on business days. Brice fired off his posting to the world’s largest airline and headed to a hotel to sleep when he was stranded.

No Waiting

“Instead of waiting in a long line with everyone else, I knew on Twitter they would get to me right away,” said Brice, of Ogden, Utah, who has flown 30 times this year.

Delta maintains a main company account as well as one dedicated to service issues, @DeltaAssist. Remedying complaints via Twitter also scrubs the carrier’s image, because passengers camped out in airports after late or canceled flights have time on their hands to grumble online.

“The whole idea is to work to address issues so they don’t escalate,” said Susan Elliott, a spokeswoman for Atlanta-based Delta. “It is ideal for us to have these agents at customers’ disposal to offer guidance in resolving issues even during their travel experience.”

Most companies tend Twitter with public-relations or marketing employees, said consultant Holtz. Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) was among the pioneers in responding to customers through Twitter, in 2008, he said. Hotels, phone companies, and large retailers are also using it as a consumer-service venue, he said.

Bumping, Guitars

Delta competitors have felt the sting of criticism in online social media.

On Feb. 13, movie director Kevin Smith tweeted after being bumped from a Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV) flight because he was too large to fit in a single seat on a full plane, triggering “hundreds and hundreds” of tweets from friends and fans, said Christi Day, who runs the carrier’s Twitter account.

In July 2009, musician Dave Carroll of the band Sons of Maxwell posted a video on Google Inc.’s (GOOG) YouTube called “United Breaks Guitars” chronicling his efforts to get United Airlines to pay for repairs to a guitar he says was broken by baggage handlers in Chicago. The video has been viewed 9 million times.

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