Not ready to use Twitter for Customer Service? Then why set up an account?

Imagine you’re booked on a flight across the country to visit your sick mother. Your cranky 5-year old daughter just threw up in your lap while your plane, sitting on the tarmac, was delayed over an hour and a half for takeoff, because Catering had misplaced the flight’s sandwiches. You’ve shared a play-by-play with the Social Media world and your followers on Twitter, not because you’re a rabble-rouser, but because this is what you do as a writer and successful “mom blogger“. It’s just who you authentically are.

So imagine tweeting out this stream shown here on the right [please read from bottom to top]. One might expect a response from Air Canada? I mean, you mentioned their name before you took off and while you were waiting for your connecting flight. The least they could have done was responded to you. It’s not like they had to have a steak waiting for you when you arrived in Vancouver airport. Although that might have been a great PR coup for Canada’s national air carrier.

So what might one expect Air Canada’s response to be? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not during the tweeting, after Catherine Connors (the passenger I’m writing about) had landed, or while she was facing the further potential dilemma of missing her connecting flight. In fact the last tweet by Air Canada had been 20 hours earlier. It appeared that whoever was managing Air Canada’s Twitter account, was not manning his or her post. Now that’s just my perception. It could be that Air Canada’s Twitter account was set up, according to corporate policy, to only send outbound tweets.

But get this…Westjet (Air Canada’s number one Canadian competitor) picked up on Catherine’s situation within minutes. Both the official @westjet account and @flygirlws, a Westjet employee who just wanted to help.

And it gets even better. Westjet doesn’t even offer a connecting flight from Vancouver to Kamploops, BC. But here they were, trying to find solutions for a distressed passenger. If nothing else, they were listening, engaging with her, and trying as best they could to help.

…if only I could get better help than shrugs and ’email customer relations’. @WestJet *called* me.” 1:08 PM Aug 26th via Twitter for iPhone in reply to @sharmstro ~herbadmother Catherine Connors

So what do we make of this? First off, no doubt Catherine Connors, whose Her Bad Mother blog has been mentioned in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the American Prospect, the London Times, as well as on CNN, ABC, CBC and the BBC online, who has over 13,000 Twitter followers and a Klout score of 70 (at the time of this writing), will probably not speak or write very positively about the Air Canada experience to her friends or followers (talk about helping to drive down their NPS, if that’s what Air Canada uses to measure loyalty).

Secondly, if you follow Catherine’s Twitter stream, a number of her followers actually tweeted with her through her ordeal (me being one of them). Notice @rachelofcourse’s Tweet to the right. She even mentions @dooce …hmmm, I wonder who @dooce is and if she has many followers? Get the picture?

Thirdly, let’s think from a customer’s perspective for a moment. Let’s say you like to communicate with your friends through Twitter and other Social tools. It might be instinctual for you to send out a tweet to a Brand expecting some type of reply…I mean most big consumer brands are on Twitter now, aren’t they? And if they are, by this time in the evolution of Twitter, do they not know that Twitter is about authentic two-way dialogue; not a one-way push of marketing content? Surely, there’s someone or a group of people back in the recesses of Air Canada that manage the brand’s Twitter account and can engage in a two-way dialogue?

So what does this say of the Air Canada culture vs the WestJet culture, and how employees are empowered to act on their company’s behalf? Remember, people power a Twitter account. There’s an actual human being behind both @aircanada and @westjet. When Twitter accounts are set up to represent organizations, especially large brands, we often forget that humans are monitoring them. What does this say about each organization’s committment to the Passenger Experience? One company is actively listening (and actively engaging with the customer); the other is deaf. To make matters worse for Air Canada, they actually opened the door wide open for their number one Canadian competitor to walk in and impress their customer simply by listening and offering “moral support”, as Catherine put it.

One company is actively listening (and actively engaging with the customer); the other is deaf.

What do you think? Am I being unfair in my assessment of how these two airlines compare in terms of their committment to the Customer Experience? Maybe Air Canada has a strategy in place but is not quite there yet. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Oh, by the way, according to Catherine, she did finally make a connecting flight with Air Canada (not the one she had originally been booked on), squeaking in on stand-by, but it was despite her communication efforts with them. WestJest was prepared to get her and her daughter to Kamloops via Calgary, and one of her Twitter followers even offered to drive her…and her mother also seems to be feeling better now :)


  1. Air Canada is allowed to run their social media any way they see fit, and for them that seems to be an OUT only hole. Are they putting themselves at a disadvantage to their competitors who clearly seem to have adopted social media services more effectively? YES. As it stands now Catherine and everyone who has heard her story has warm & fuzzies about West Jet and when presented with the choice between the two companies in the future this event will impact their choices. Well played by West Jet, brand loyalty can be as valuable as traditional advertising.

    • Mark Orlan says:

      The sad part is that Air Canada continues to dominate the Canadian airline marketplace despite their lack of customer service focus. Westjet and Porter have obviously eroded some of that dominance because they sincerely focus on the customer. Air Canada touts all kinds of awards about being top in this or that. You can make the numbers look any way you want. They clearly talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. The reality is that they still make their money with the frequent Business traveller who’s hooked in with Aeroplan points. Air Canada’s sweet spot is not the Economy Class traveller and any foray into Social Media is simply to jump on the bandwagon and say they’re on board. All aboard?

  2. While you probably hit the nail on the head with AirCanada’s lack of twitter customer service, I daresay Ms. Connors has managed to alienate and complain about AirCanada innumerable times in the past, possibly ensuring they’re never actually going to try to solve her customer service complaints in the future. Yes, Ms. Connors does tweet to be a rabble-rouser. She seems to have an inflated sense of self, and has convinced herself she has a twitter following comparable to Heather Armstrong. On numerous occasions, AirCanada has gone out of its way to try to appease Ms. Connors, but she never really seems satisfied. If I was with AirCanada customer service, I would’ve ignored this self-srrving blowhard’s tweets too.

    • Mark Orlan says:

      Jessie, while I can’t speak from personal experience about Ms. Connors’ complaint history with Air Canada (nor would most people on Twitter, I dare say), a key point is that on Social Media, perception is reality. And in this case, @aircanada was silent. And this silence can be taken as “I’m not listening”, “I don’t care”, “I’m simply here to tell you all about me”, “I’m away from my desk”… you get the picture. Most of the time, people just want to feel heard; that someone is empathizing with them; they want their issue to be acknowledged. You don’t even have to solve their problem. But don’t give a boiler plate response like: “Sorry for the inconvenience”, or worse, don’t say anything at all. All that @aircanada had to do was tweet something like “Catherine, we hear your frustration. Please DM us and we’ll try to help”. Instead, their major competitor picked up on it, and whether or not they could really help, Westjet now looks like a hero….for the entire Twitter world (if the world happened to view the tweet stream).

  3. WestJet wins this round, hands down.

    Think about it: customer experience management. WestJet gets it, while Catherine was not even a customer of WestJet, they identified a problem and tried to offer a solution.

    AirCanada did not even manage this customer experience. In politics, if a party decides not to take action on a policy issue, that in and of itself is a policy decision.

    AirCanada actively chose to do nothing – regardless of what this customer has been like in the past.

    Think of it this way: if you called a company hotline (1-800-help-me-out) and got no answer you’d probably be miffed.

    Twitter, and other social channels are simply extensions of antiquated service delivery models. You don’t have to call a 1-800 number anymore or go to a service kiosk. And if companies want to be present in the social realm they better be active. If not they’ll come off as disinterested spammers.

    Every customer touch point is an opportunity to manage an experience and make it awesome. If not, you’ll find screenshots like this circulating around the net and people booking with your competitor(s).

    One final point, @Jessie: while some customers may have a reputation you still have to serve this person. She’s spending hard earned money on her flights with AirCanada. So your personal feelings re: her comparison to other twitter users is really unimportant. You’re missing the larger point: treat her right, consistently and you can turn this person into a brand advocate rather than a menace online who can tarnish your brand.

    Think about it.

    • Mark Orlan says:

      Great points, Liam. Thanks for sharing. Just by virtue of putting up a shingle on Twitter, companies (especially big brands) are saying to their customers: “feel free to send me a Tweet”. It’s just another channel of communication. Problem is, most of the companies that are simply jumping on the Social Media bandwagon without a strategy, aren’t thinking about it from a customer’s view, but rather from their own old-school view of how to sell more widgets. “Let’s push the marketing content out, and surely we’ll get some bites.” As a brand, if you’re on Twitter, you’d better be prepared to show the world that you’re listening; otherwise, take the account offline.