It’s happened all too often, your worst travel nightmare, so to complain about your experience you have called up the airline/agency/hotel, only to be put on hold for twenty minutes before being connected to someone, only to be put on hold again. Even attempts to write in your complaint have resulted in a standard letter brush off – if you are lucky. Sound familiar? Well, no more, thanks to the growing power of social networking outlets like Twitter and Facebook, through which frustrated travellers are finding more effective ways of getting companies’ attention and in most cases – a much sought after response.
According to a story in USAToday, misinformation about visa requirements resulted in a honeymooning couple, Bethany Thomas and Dmitri Zagidulin, being stranded in Frankfurt en route to St Petersburg with their luggage going on ahead to Russia without them. The American consulate was closed and their travel agency, Expedia was proving to be most unhelpful when contacted. However, as it was, Ms Thomas is a writer and keener blogger and one blog post from her launched a volley of calls and online missives to Expedia from her readers, on the couple’s behalf. And in less than 24 hours, the couple were on their way to St Petersburg with a promised refund of their $2,000 trip, reimbursement for last-minute visas and other expenses in Frankfurt, plus a $3,000 credit for future travel. Not bad for one blog post!
Rather grudgingly, a customer service director at Expedia admitted that in this case at least “social media played an important role in alerting us to our error”.
Expedia are certainly not alone in coming under fire from disgruntled social networking customers. Readers of this blog may remember that we posted a video from Canadian singer Dave Carroll who was not happy to discover after a flight on United Airlines that, not only had the baggage handlers broken his guitar but, United were refusing to pay for the repair costs. Result? A YouTube music video titled United Breaks Guitars which has been so far viewed about 6 million times on YouTube alone, never mind the amount of times it has been re-posted and viewed elsewhere. United apparently now use the incident in training baggage handlers and customer service representatives, though embarrassingly the airline managed to lose Carroll’s luggage soon after.
Savvy airlines, like JetBlue are using Twitter to monitor customer missives about its service and respond accordingly. One unhappy JetBlue passenger tweeted about not being able to get a seat next to his child on their flight; JetBlue responded immediately and managed to resolve the situation whilst the passenger was still in the boarding area.
But before you get revved up and create a blog, Twitter, Facebook or YouTube account for your travel-related complaints and woes, it’s important to remember that size does matter - in social networking terms at least. The magic of the above anecdotes as examples of the power of social networks is that (in the Expedia/United cases at least), the travellers already had a large online following. Someone with only a few followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook might not get the same results, if any at all. Saying that there is no real harm in trying as search engines such as Google and Bing now index tweets and status updates, so the likelihood of a viral complaint reaching the target company’s ears increases, especially if the complainant is tenacious enough to keep posting their frustrations online. When that happens, it’s bad news for the company and time to take action and appease their customer – and everyone else .