This saga begins with an all-too-common experience: Trying to get a relative home for Christmas. But for me, this became a cautionary tale on how companies can fail using social media, particularly Twitter, to help out stranded customers – or how they can succeed.
My sister Amanda was supposed to be coming home to Madison from San Diego on Thursday, December 20th: the day that winter storm Draco decided to slam into the Midwest. We had been nervous for days as weather reporters told us of the impending storm; a storm that ended up dumping a foot of snow on my parents’ home in Madison (and 18 inches on our friends 20 minutes away!).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when Amanda landed in Denver, she was told her connection to Milwaukee was cancelled. As Amanda waited in an endless line at the airport, her support team – namely, my whole family – sprang into action to help. My husband was looking up bus routes, my sister Becky was charged with car rentals, and Dad was calling other airlines. As the “social media expert,” I was tasked with taking to Twitter to seek help.
I tweeted a similar message to three airlines to start: @FrontierCare, @SouthwestAir, and @Delta. @FrontierCare was immediate in their response, following me and inviting me to DM them her name and flight information while they looked up options from Denver to Chicago, Milwaukee, or Madison. While their search proved relatively fruitless – they were unable to find her a flight before the 24th – they were prompt, polite, and professional in their interactions. Talking to them proved much quicker than standing in the airport lines or trying to reach them via phone. All in all, it was a good experience and I was happy with their customer service.
Meanwhile, @SouthwestAir and @Delta ignored my tweet. I never heard back from them about flight availability. Now, it might be that Amanda was currently on Frontier and they felt little compunction to help, but Frontier had offered a refund so we were willing to go anywhere. And even an acknowledgment that they could do little to help would have gone a long way to a family frustratingly searching for options.
Given the lack of success in the air, my husband, Hans, was able to book Amanda a seat on a Greyhound bus leaving Denver for Chicago that night. But when Amanda got to the station, she was told by a security guard that the bus route was cancelled – a fact she couldn’t get confirmed by an agent due to the lines. While Becky tried their dead customer service line, I again went to Twitter, tweeting at @GreyhoundBus and @GreyhoundBusHelp asking for an update on cancellations. It took them almost an hour and two tweets to respond: that they had “no information” about cancelled routes. By then, we had confirmed the bus was cancelled – but if it hadn’t been, the bus would have left the station without my sister before I got the information. So a social media fail: delayed response to a paying customer with the wrong information.
When all seemed lost, we were able to book her a flight on United Airlines for the following day, connecting through Rapid City, SD. We went to bed frustrated but hopeful Amanda would make it home before Christmas.
Yet our travel woes were not yet finished. Amanda’s flight to South Dakota was delayed out of Denver, meaning she would miss her connection and be stuck in Rapid City for the holidays. This time, Becky was able to get United on the phone pretty quickly, while I again tried the Twitter route. @United also did a nice job of getting back to me quickly and finding options – and ultimately confirming that Dad was able to switch flights and get a direct flight from Denver to Chicago later that evening.
P.S. Happy holidays everyone!