How Virgin America Used Social to Keep Me as a Loyal Customer

Credit: in August 2011, I had plans to make it out to Dreamforce ’11.  But I lived in NYC at the time and Hurricane Irene was targeted to hit a day before my flight out to the Bay Area was schedule to take off.  So needless to say she had different plans for me that Monday morning – NYC had shut down the subways and closed down the airports, and getting out of the city right after the storm hit was destined to be a logistical nightmare.

On the Saturday that Irene was scheduled to strike, the airline I was booked on to fly out to SFO, Virgin America, cancelled my Monday morning flight in anticipation of the storm. Like several thousands of other passengers, I jumped to get in contact with the airline to schedule the next flight out.  Since I booked through Expedia, I jumped on the phone with them to arrange my travel plans.  I dialed up and was put in a queue to wait for my turn to re-book a flight.  After about an hour and a half, the phone disconnected – that was a major bummer.  I knew I’d be waiting for a while, what with probably literally millions of people trying to get through (the  whole Eastern seaboard was in the same situation), but by using the telephone as my service point there was no recourse for me to get back in queue at the same spot as when I got disconnect.

I dialed up again, and put myself back in the queue. But, rather than just waiting for an answer by phone, I decided to try a new channel to contact Expedia, Twitter. I also figured it wouldn’t hurt to try and get a response from the airline itself – so I also @ mentioned Virgin.  Within 10-20 minutes I had response in Twitter form from a Virgin America customer representative – not Expedia.  Unfortunately, the content of the response wasn’t the greatest news, but the point is I got an answer, got it significantly quicker than I could on the phone, and I was able to hold a dialogue with the rep which was adequate enough to get my questions answered and to help me manage my travel plans.

Having such great response time with Virgin America, I tried my luck with several other organizations I was trying to get in touch with to coordinate my plans: JFK airport, Amtrak, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Expedia, JetBlue and Delta. Some fared much better than others – I got an answer from JetBlue and Enterprise, but the others were radio silent.

With this new way to get personalized and accurate information, quicker than “traditional” ways (website, phone) I was able to pass along news to my colleagues also travelling for the conference and make informed decisions quickly. For me, this was the first time that I personally experienced customer service via Twitter and it emphasized real benefits of this relatively new way to communicate with companies. Also, I’ll be sure to book my flights through JetBlue and Virgin America and rent my cars through Enterprise simply because of this experience – I trust that I’ll get a quick, meaningful response from them when I need it most.

This is a great example of the power – and potential to capture market share – of a Social enabled enterprise – a few years ago, this may have been impossible.  Monitoring millions of conversations from customers that need help in a crisis situation or a small window of time would have required a staff of hundreds, if not thousands.  And then operationalizing the response (coordinating the people monitoring the conversations, communicating back to customer service to collect the right info and response, and then communicating that back to the person on the front lines to give the response), would have been quite manual and prone to errors and delays.  But with platforms like this sort of customer experience can be a reality for many organizations in an actionable, scalable, and seamless way.  Virgin is a customer, so perhaps they’re already savvy to this and taking full advantage – will others follow?


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