The other week I had a question before a flight. I was travelling with my infant and wondered what the best seat choice would be when travelling with a carseat. Naturally, a couple days before my flight I headed to Twitter direct messages to find an answer. After I sent my message to the airline I was flying with, Twitter suggested I follow several similar airlines. So I did. Then I direct messaged them the exact same question. Not only did the answers I received vary by airline, but the ways in which the airlines answered varied. Here’s some social media customer service takeaways I learned from Direct Messaging 7 North American airlines…

Answer Promptly

Don’t leave customers in the dark

Three airlines (United, Delta and Southwest) replied within 10 minutes of my message. The quickest time going to United at a 2 minute response time. One airline (which I’ll keep unnamed) didn’t respond until the next day, however they very clearly stated in their bio that they responded daily 9am to 5pm. I saw this after I had messaged them, which was outside of that time period. They responded promptly the next morning, so all in all not a bad experience.

Factors that I could not have known about (such as bad weather in destination cities, influxes in flights at that particular time, etc) could have played a part in some of the airlines taking longer to reply (anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours) despite having 24/7 monitoring of their accounts.
For many businesses, especially those with smaller resources available, it doesn’t make logistical sense to be able to answer within 10 minutes of getting a direct message. However, having something in your bio stating when the account is monitored, and then responding promptly within that time period, is an obtainable strategy for most businesses.

I phoned one airline (the one that I was flying with) and their phone line was busier than normal so they were directing people to Twitter, which is where this whole experiment started. This is another great takeaway for small businesses – funnel people to the place where you can answer their questions quickest. For instance, if you don’t use your business’ Instagram very often, make it clear what the fastest way to get in contact with you is (either in your bio or by creating a very simple direct message script).

Be An Air Traffic Controller Of Your Content

Direct people to related pages on your website, when possible

Yup, this pun is completely intentional. When they answered my question, Air Canada also sent me a link to a page on their website with related information to my query. Done right, your social media direct messages can be used as an ‘air traffic controller’ of your own content. This idea of funneling people into relevant pages on your website is prevalent in many different content marketing and social media strategies. It saves time for the social media manager answering the direct messages, keeps messaging and answers consistent, and potentially adds additional value to the customer.

By answering my question they saved me time from searching through their website/Google. Also, by sending me a link to the specific section of the website, they allowed me to learn more about the subject if I desired. This strategy obviously requires you to have all of this content on your website, but if you expect people to be asking these questions – doesn’t it make sense to have the answers on the website so that people can find this information regardless if they ask for it or search for it?

Add Additional Value

Look for opportunities to value-add

Similarly, once I thanked United for their response, they replied with an additional tip that was related to my question. This action showed a number of things including: putting the customer first, personalization in the response, attention to detail, and empathy. A simple value add goes a long way in an online customer interaction. Always look to add value to these valuable interactions.

Be Human

Don’t be a robot, add some personality

Of the 7 airlines I messaged – only one used a bot for direct messages. I won’t say which, but what I will say is that they still provided a fairly easy way to send a direct message to a human instead of using their bot. AI and direct message bots can help aid your social media management – but they shouldn’t be used completely in place of actual customer service. A good direct message bot should be intuitive, easy to use, recognizable as a bot and not masked – and above all there, should be a way to connect with an actual human. Think of it in relation to a virtual phone system. You want the technology to help guide customers to the correct department (and potentially answer their question) but you don’t want it to over-complicate things, irritate people and be a disservice.

On top of not over-using actual robots, it’s important to make sure you add a human element to your direct message responses. In their own way, all 7 airlines responded with a human voice. Bonus points go to SH from United, and Mike from Southwest on this one.

Follow Up

Get feedback from the interaction

Two of the airlines (Delta and United) had Twitter Customer Feedback Cards set up, meaning I received a notification after our conversation had ended asking me for feedback on the interaction. Both coincidentally had their Feedback Card set to send 24-hours after the last interaction, meaning I received those message within seconds of each other a day later.

While Twitter currently only offers Customer Feedback Cards to Enterprise data customers who request access through their Account Manager – the idea of asking for feedback isn’t limited to this method. You could manually send out a message with a link to survey a few hours (or a day) after your interactions with them.

For a lot of social media strategists and mangers, the above are not new ideas. However, it’s interesting to note that no airline had all of the above aspects in place. When developing a social media customer relation strategy it’s important understand all of these elements.

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Post Written By:

Edward Spethmann

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Senior Content Strategist

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