Airline Social Strategy – Marketing to the Irate Traveler

- posted on Tuesday, July 13th, 2010 at 5:43 am.

Missd Connectionon, Missed Opportunity to Positively Socially Connect with Airline Brand

Socially Catering Airline Passengers and Brand Loyalty in the World of Social and Mobile Media

Can this really be happening to you?! After you waited 45 minutes on the tarmac, just to be moved to another plane that did not have enough flight crew, which caused a you to have an overnight stay in a in a connecting city that you had no desire to stay in, without luggage, and no cell phone charger. To make matters worse, you now have to wait in line behind the other 80 people that missed their connection, with only two customer service agents that have no authority to do anything other than give you a card to call customer service (that happened to have closed 15 minutes prior to you calling). This makes you have to rearrange your other flight plans for the week, because you now have to re-schedule tomorrow’s $500,000+ client presentation (with one power bar left on my phone) which you will now have to fly to them as opposed to them meeting them at your office.  This has probably put you in a very bad place… at least in mind and temperament. Ok, I could be projecting my most recent airline encounter.

Yet, I know I am not alone. With over 2 billion airline flights worldwide each year, it is estimated that 15-25% of flights are delayed, with 2.5% of airline flights canceled (Source AirlineComplaints.org & NY Daily Journal). In travel requiring multiple connections, an additional 2-6% of airline passenger flights are missed do to carrier connection delays in which the first carrier was late on arrival causing the air traveler to miss their connecting flight (U.S. Department of Transportation).  Additionally, flights missed outside of the airports ability to control, 7% of consumer missed flights is self inflicted by the consumer not giving themselves enough time to arrive to the airport to handle all the eccentricities’ of travelling in a post 911 world.

For the airlines marketing brand, ironically, and to the airlines dismay, fault, in today’s socially interconnected world of Facebook, YouTube, UStream and the 250+ other social networking communities, is 90% of the time blamed on the airline (Adreka Social Analysis – Airline Industry). In 2010, within the social sphere, over 2.8 million blog entries depicting a strong dislike or bad airline experience has been reported since January of 2009 (Adreka Social Analytics). Given that the average social account averages 130 friends / syndicated connections, the net influence of an airlines brand name is potentially muddied in the eyes of 364 million future customers.

So what can the airlines do in the way of brand strategy to take the sting out of the consumer’s temperament and still maintain the bottom line?

The Reactive Airline Marketing Response

  1. The frontline of an airlines brand defense is to know your customer!  Give real time support, anywhere! Most customers just want access to quick information, to questions like where’s my gate, and is my flight on time. If a problem arises, over 90%+ of customers want to vent yell at someone. We want to feel that we are heard and understood. Given empathy and understanding is a majority of the battle. Peer to Peer (P2P) communication via teleconference is the easiest way to deploy massive, centralized, and real-time customer support over the footprint of X major airlines, servicing on average X hubs domestically, Y worldwide.
  2. Create a positive outcome, syndicated brand strategy -  Problems will always arise, you’re your organization handles crisis as it occurs will define your brand socially. Whether it be voice, video, or an online chat, record and socialized the consumers end result – they are already going to talk about it on their facebook page, beat them to the punch and turn a consumer question, or resolved issue into a marketing opportunity.

The Proactive Airline Marketing Response

  1. Monitor and engage all social media. There are over 500K new blogs posts daily, with approximately 5% being travel related, allows ample opportunity for an airline to measure, monitor, engage and positively re-enforce brand daily.
  2. Create Tools and Mediums to better foster proactive communication. P2P in customer service kiosks, Iphone / Ipad apps, 24/7 customer service lines, allow the customer to be engaged early, prior to their issue being turned into a negative experience and shared with prospective future customers through socialization.
  3. Provide automated or real person follow up dependent upon the severity of the situation. Reaching out to your customers, post a rectified bad customer experience, adds an additional layer of we care.

Airlines that implement a portion of the strategy points above will have in essence an unfair competitive advantage over those that ignore the socialization of their consumers negative travel experiences. Not to mention, it any of the above airline brand strategy steps would have turned my negative experience into a positive story about an airline that had a unified brand and loyalty program. Because of my negative airline experience, I was able to create a real world case study with a simple solution that I will potentially save the airlines tens of millions of dollars in brand loyalty loss, and provide consumers everywhere with a better travel experience. I believe I just proved capitalism and karma can co-exist!

Happy travels to where ever your final destination may take you – John Cataldi – The Real Mad Man