Southwest Airlines Goes Social | KERA News

Southwest Airlines Goes Social

Sep 8, 2014

Flight running late? Searching for baggage? Forget standing in line. Send a tweet or Facebook message. A growing number of airlines are hiring social media first responders to help with customer relations, and Southwest Airlines has just joined the club. They now have nine “social care” representatives working seven days a week, eighteen hours a day.

In a glass-enclosed command center, nine Southwest employees are sitting in front of double monitors, furiously typing responses on social media.

“On average we’re receiving about 3100 mentions of our company every single day across the social web,” says Ashley Pettit, social business adviser for Southwest.

She points up to eight large, flat screens displaying the news, trending topics in the airline industry, photos that people have tagged with Southwest, and detailed flight data.

That last thing – flight information – is what makes this social media command center stand out. It’s directly connected to Southwest Airlines real flight command center.

“So any cities or locations that have severe weather or diversions or aircraft swaps,” Pettit says, “We’re able to see those situations come up.”

And before customers turn to Twitter or Facebook to ask what’s going on, the social media team has the information and can explain.

“Social Care” representatives – yes, that’s what they’re called – say this technology makes it possible to solve problems without having to wait in line or on hold.

Read a few Southwest Twitter interactions:

Command Centers Take Flight

Ragy Thomas, founder of the social media management provider Sprinklr, says command centers are popping up everywhere.

“Most airlines are finding social media to be a very cost-effective way to deal with customer service issues as well as marketing opportunities,” Thomas says.

Major international airlines like KLM have more than 130 people on their social media team. Shashank Nigam, CEO of strategy firm SimpliFlying, says there are ways to keep listening centers small. With technology that prioritizes comments.

Instant Upgrades And Immediate Apologies

“You know if someone asks Southwest airlines ‘hey, when are you starting a flight to Bali?’ That’s not as relevant a question to be replied in real time as someone who says, ‘I’m at a gate and about to miss my flight can you please help me out,” says Nigam.

Filtering through all the social media noise could require GPS tracking. Right now, someone tweeting while inside a Southwest plane might get a response after a kid in Canada who just wants to know if the peanuts are gluten-free.

And get this, social media can also help airlines identify who’s an important customer.

“And that’s where the real magic happens,” Thomas says, “Because you can quickly find out this is a high network customer and now maybe I should using the built in collaboration tools give her an upgrade on the fly so that when she checks in she’s told she’s been upgraded.”

Right now, airlines are mostly using social media to issue faster apologies. And while getting a quick “sorry y’all” on Twitter is nice, soon, flight attendants might know how salty you like your bloody Mary, and if you complained on Facebook about dirty seat pockets.

All thanks to a little listening.