While it’s no surprise that firms with monopoly/oligopoly power (real and/or perceived) are notoriously poor providers of customer service, I’m still mildly shocked that so many firms have their heads metaphorically stuck in the sand, Ostrich-style. Firms now have the ability to measure and react-to customer sentiment in real-time with their websites and social media operations. While some may argue that social media is still too young to judge firms on their twitter/facebook/etc acumen, there is absolutely no excuse for firms not using their websites for effective customer service. What I’m talking about here is not, contrary to what you’d think from perusing most firms’ websites, Rocket Science; real-time status updates on store closings, system outages/delays, and any other business interruptions should be clearly posted to firms’ homepages, end of story.
This is especially true now more than ever since customers immediately and impulsively take to Facebook and Twitter to complain about poor/lack-of service and other bad experiences. Several vendors offer tools to monitor and track brand sentiment in real-time, for example, Lithium, from Scout Labs (I recommend clicking on/reading that link as it further explains this point).
The reason I’m writing this post today is because of this lovely little snow-storm that has people throughout the North East running around like chickens without heads as if they’ve never seen snow before. All of the NYC-area airports were/are still shut-down, New Jersey Transit bus service is still suspended (despite major roadways being clear since this morning…), and trains are no-longer running out of New York Penn Station on NJ Transit due to signal problems (really, I’m not making this up!).
While I can’t possibly comprehend how in 2010 we don’t have affordable, robust, quality train signal technology, nor why bus service is still suspended despite every highway camera I checked showing clear roads, at least NJ Transit has got the customer communication thing down right. Frequent, clearly-marked, and informative, at least informative enough that commuters have enough information to make alternate plans (not that there’s much alternative besides sitting in terrible traffic or working from home). Unfortunately, repeatedly-bankrupt/reorganized/merged airlines still haven’t gotten the memo…
Great! We’ve got a prominent alert that we can no longer buy American Airlines tickets on Expedia or Orbitz, and a News section, yet no mention on the main website about travel advisories, delays, etc. Unacceptable. Just watching my Facebook/Twitter feed I saw several complaints of flights being delayed for days from American. Curiously, though, it looks like American Airlines has a pretty transparent and effective social media operation:
I’m actually quite shocked here, seldom do firms “get” social media while simultaneously missing the simple, more-established methods of customer relations/communications. Both a tip of the hat and a wag of the finger to American. Let’s check out Continental’s website:
Whoops! Zero sign of any delays/cancellations on the homepage. Clicking on the tiny Red “Important Notices” link next to “Latest News and Offers” takes us to a relatively confusing kind of catch-all “alerts” page that’s unnecessarily complicated and so poorly-organized I’d imagine the average internet user may very-well give up before they find the information for which they’re looking. Like American, though, Continental appears to have a decent Twitter effort (although redirecting traffic back to the aforementioned unspectacular website is a real faux pas):
Now I’m not really very surprised that the incumbent airlines have sub-par customer service, news that is not, but I did expect newer/more nimble airlines like Virgin Atlantic to be much more on-top-of things.
Not much better than the other guys, eh? A relatively small, non-distinct “latest news” link on the lower right hand side of the homepage. Again, seems VA, like its larger competitors, learned a little from Jet Blue and appear to be relatively adept with social media:
Speaking of Jet Blue, often regarded as having best-in-class customer service, this is what their website looked like earlier today:
Well look at that! Only took four airlines to find a website that prominently displayed weather/flight delay/cancellation information on the homepage, sigh…
I’m curious what these firms pay all their consultants and layers of managers for when they can’t plan/execute the basics of customer communication/business-disruption-management right. As I said above, in today’s world of instant-communication, a not-insignificant part of customer service is managing and shaping expectations and giving customers the information they need to interact with your firm. All of these airlines were tweeting madly about know about long wait-times on their customer-service phone lines were today, but if they did a better job of diseminating information on their websites (etc), I’d venture to guess alot of passengers wouldn’t have needed to call in the first place. Remember, these are the same firms that jump to outsource and minimize the cost of their customer service operations, yet continually fail to realize that customer-service isn’t just a responsive cost-center, it can and should be a driver of competitive advantage and increased brand loyalty/equity!