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To protect their reputations, airlines tighten social media response times

The shortest distance between an unhappy airline passenger and the airline is social media.

Think about it.

You’ve got a problem and you’re stuck on a plane or in an airport terminal. Your cell phone battery is dying and the WiFi is lousy. Instead of wasting time trying to find a customer service phone number online (forget email – that just results in an auto ‘we’ll get to you as soon as we can’ response), you open Twitter and begin to type. Within seconds, you have the airline’s Twitter handle and a few seconds after that, your complaint has been logged.

Social media is the simplest, and fastest, way to get the attention of a customer service attendant and as a bonus, it’s the easiest way to publicly shame a company into taking action.

Airlines don’t like it because it’s hard to solve a problem in short bursts with an unidentified, angry consumer, but 43% of airlines say they’re making customer service via social media a priority in 2018.

Surprisingly, Twitter says there’s an upside to public customer complaints. They say that a “resolved negative tweet leads to 3x more revenue potential than a positive tweet.” Maybe so, but it still hurts. Especially if you don’t answer right away.

According to a recent study by Conversocial, every major US airline – except one – has their Twitter response time down to under an hour. The problem child? United, who came in at an average of 1 min and 34 minutes. Makes me wonder if it’s a question of too few customer service reps or too many complaints?

The big winners are JetBlue and Virgin who both came in under the 5 minute mark.

Says Conversocial:

“As the importance of serving social passengers in a timely fashion becomes increasingly more pertinent for winning over brand advocates, being able to connect the dots and proactively engaging with your passengers will ensure a customer care team is equipped to successfully manage an issue.”

In other words, a quick response time won’t help your brand’s reputation if your people don’t have the tools and the power to actually solve problems as they arise. Simply replying, “I hear you” isn’t enough. Travel is stressful, so anything that upsets the tray-table can get magnified 100%.

Think you’ve got Twitter handled? Great, Conversocial says customers are moving on to direct messaging through Facebook and other messenger services.

Over a period of six months, Facebook Messenger contacts for Conversocial’s airline partners more than doubled. They also noted a 50% increase in Twitter Direct Messages.

The good news here is that direct messaging is private (no more public shaming) and it’s easier to keep track of a conversation on messenger than in a series of Tweets. Messenger apps also allow customer service reps to safely gather needed personal information and follow up later to make sure the customer was completely satisfied.

The downside is that this is yet another channel to monitor. Try telling a customer you missed their Facebook message because your team was over on Twitter and see how well that goes over.

Chances are, those of you reading this, aren’t running an airline. But you are running some kind of business and businesses need happy customers. If you’re small, monitoring a dozen social channels for customer service complaints is tough but there are tools that can help with that. It’s nice to think that customers hold airlines to a higher standard, but it’s simply not true. No one wants to wait more than an hour for a response to a problem. Doesn’t matter if it’s about a $1,000 airline ticket or a $3 box of crackers.

In order to protect your brand’s reputation, make a regular sweep of all your social media channels including comments and private messages. Respond to every issue as soon as you find it, even if you have to do more research to solve the problem. And when possible, please don’t respond to a complaint by asking the customer to email customer service. That’s easier for you, but it’s another roadblock for them and you don’t want to go there.

Above all, be honest about what you can and can’t do. Yes, faster is better, but if it’s going to take three days to fix the problem, say so and be sure to follow up on that third day. As long as the customer feels that you’re actively trying to make things better, they’ll hang on. The longer the process takes, the more you should consider sweetening the deal with a discount, refund or gift.

Some final words of wisdom from Conversocial:

“Armed with their smartphones, social channels ablaze, the empowered customer has a louder voice than ever before. Airlines must create meaningful and effective relationships with their customers by listening, engaging and resolving at the desired customer touch points.”

Wendy’s has a beef with McDonald’s Black Friday tweet

It’s 5 o’clock on the day before a huge holiday weekend. You have just enough time to get home and pack before catching the red-eye. Then it’s 4 long days of family, food and hopefully fun. All great, except for that one little thing chewing on the back of your brain. The feeling that you forgot to do something important before sliding into holiday vacation mode. What could it be. . . . . ?

Oh yeah. That was it.

Someone on the McDonalds social media team had a very bad Black Friday. Hopefully, they didn’t start the holiday season with a pink slip because, come on, it’s an easy mistake. And it’s not like they accidentally moved the decimal point on the big screen TV prices. And it’s not like anyone was paying attention to the McDonalds Twitter account on the biggest shopping day of the year. . . .

Oh yeah. Wendy’s was paying attention

This isn’t the first time the square burger joint used their Twitter account as a pointy stick with which to jab competitors. Earlier this year, Wendy’s piled on when McDonalds Tweeted that they were going to start using “fresh beef” in the Quarter Pounders in the “majority” of their restaurants. Wendy’s – along with the rest of us – wondered what that meant for the rest of the menu in ALL of their restaurants.

These cleverly crafted quips (with even more clever follow-ups) make it seem like Wendy’s is winning the war of words, but are they? Is pointing out the mistakes of the competition, even in a humorous way, a good idea?

Making fun of the enemy when he’s down could backfire. It could make the responding company look like a bully, especially when it’s such a strong response to a harmless, and understandable mistake. Forgetting to fill in the holiday Tweet was embarrassing, and the person responsible likely took some heat. But it’s harder for the management to forgive and forget when the competitor turns that simple mistake into a viral news story.

So what effect did this exchange have on the two fast food chains?

As of today, the McDonalds Tweet has been shared 23,000 times and has 72K likes. That’s no where near the 283,000 retweets and 754,000 likes that the Wendy’s reply Tweet received. On views alone, Wendy’s is the winner.

Still, both companies got quite a bit of press which included links to both Twitter accounts. Sure, McDonalds comes off looking like a clown, but how many people were saying their name and viewing their feed that wouldn’t have done so otherwise? How many people ate lunch at McDonalds last weekend because they had the brand on the brain?

As for the bully factor, Wendy’s is making it through relatively unscathed. A handful of Tweeters used the snarky thread to fire back with allegations of food poisoning, slow service, and hair in the beef. To the one Twitterer who dared to say, “I’m getting McDonald’s today”, Wendy’s replied “Sorry about the bad day. Better luck tomorrow.”

Wendy’s is lucky that reply slid in under the grill. It’s one thing to poke fun at the competition but insulting individuals (even trolls) is never a good idea.

In the end, McDonalds took the high road and blamed the mistake on a lack of coffee – or more accurately – a McCafe.

Time for the big question: is it okay to Tweet sarcastic jokes when your competitor makes a mistake? That depends largely on your audience and the severity of the situation. If your company has a young, trend-loving audience (Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Old Spice, DiGiorno Pizza) you can get away as long as the infraction isn’t serious.  A badly written Tweet is fine, but if the mistakes involves people getting hurt, leave it alone.

If your audience is more traditional or you’re in a more serious industry, don’t even think about emulating Wendy’s. Jabs from one fast food slinger to another is funny but no one wants to see bankers, doctors or lawyers making jokes out of a competitor’s mistake.

90%+ of your customers are influenced by the cleanliness of your business

“As a customer, is the cleanliness of a business an important factor for you when deciding whether you will be a repeat customer or not?”

Ipsos asked over 1,000 people this question and almost all of them said “yes”. That’s 92% of your potential customers who said the cleanliness of your business will affect their decision to return. And it doesn’t have to be first-hand knowledge. 90% said that simply reading a review that mentioned poor housekeeping would be enough to keep them from trying out a new place.

Before we go any further, maybe you should take a look around; run a wet cloth over that table, pick up that candy wrapper that missed the trash can. . . and do we even need to talk about the state of your restroom?

42% of those surveyed said a filthy restroom was the most off-putting issue, second only to foul smells.

If the foul smell is coming from the restroom, 75% said they’d leave the establishment immediately. Then, 73% would go online and leave a bad review.

If your place is just a little dirty, you might get away with it, as long as you’re not a doctor, restaurant or hotel. 90% of those surveyed said they’d actually consider changing doctors if the waiting room was always filthy. Almost everyone said they’d ask to be moved to a different room if the bedding was dirty (and probably choose a different hotel next time) and 93% would request a different table if the busboy did a bad job cleaning up after the previous diners.

Most of the concerns stem from horror stories consumers have heard about food borne illnesses and people getting sick after staying at a hotel but this isn’t all about germs. The survey respondents put “fingerprints on windows or mirrors” as the 3rd most disturbing issue, even worse (just slightly) than encountering dirty or unkempt workers.

The point of all of this is that customers notice; they notice the dust, the ketchup splash, the empty toilet paper roll and the litter in the parking lot. It all goes into their decision to stay and do business, return with more business and what kind of review they’ll leave your business for all the world to see. Because cleanliness isn’t just about health and safety, though those are primary concerns. It’s about respect for your customers and your ability to serve them properly. What does it say about you if you’re scribbling estimates on the back of an old envelope or handing over reports with grease stains from lunch?

We’re all short on time and money – two things you need to keep a business truly clean. But letting it go and hoping to get by on your talent and /or charm is going to cost you more in lost business than the nightly wage of a good janitorial crew.

No more dirty, little secrets, clearly your company’s reputation is riding on you coming clean.

Photo by Tim Wright on Unsplash

New app means never having to Tweet you’re sorry

Between CEO’s confessing to corporate misdoings, and celebrities regretting their latest offensive tweet, the public apology has become as commonplace as the crazy cat video. But how does an apologizer know if they’ve been forgiven for their transgressions? By checking the “Sorry” app, of course!

Former news anchor, Greta Van Susteren cryptically teased the release of her new app on Facebook. Was she serious? Is this a real thing? Do we actually need an app for public apologies? I can’t answer the first two questions, but I can answer the third. Sorry sounds like exactly what we need to kick off the new year.

The app (allegedly) comes with two apology levels: public and private.

If you’ve wronged your spouse, you can us the app to privately say you’re so, so very sorry. If and when the offended party accepts, via the “accept” button on the app, then you’ll know it’s safe to come home. Apology rejected? Better make other plans. Maybe the app can have an upgrade option that gives you good long-term rates at a local hotel.

The public side of the app is where its at. Every day, the app users can skim through a list of current public apologies accepting and rejecting along the way.

Movie star apologies for his insensitive remarks on the red carpet: apology rejected!
With great celebrity comes great responsibility, so you’re not getting off that easily.

CEO says he’s sorry your date is now in the hands of a hacker: apology accepted
Data breaches are so common these days, there’s really no profit in holding a grudge.

And speaking of data, Van Susteren could make a mint selling off the app data if this thing blows up.

What would a PR firm pay to the demographics on who accepted their client’s apology and who didn’t? It would be much easier to draft a follow-up statement if you new it was 80% young, educated women who gave the thumbs down, wouldn’t it?

If we were talking about this 5 years ago, it would sound like a silly, flash-in-the-pan idea, but the world has changed in so many ways. Take the recent round of accusations in Hollywood. In the past, a studio would have rallied behind their stars. A donation to charity, a few pictures with a group of needy kids and you’re back in the public’s good graces.

We’re not falling for that anymore. Now, instead of rallying, companies are doing all they can to distance themselves from the offenders and it’s costing billions. Reparations, shutdowns,  canceled contracts, finding last minute replacements, wiping all evidence of a connection off of advertising, even past projects. I’m not minimizing the social and emotional impact of this year’s biggest offenders, but the financial impact is putting good companies and good people out of business.

Greta Van Susteren’s ‘Sorry’ app is a sign of the times. Sure, plenty of people will see it as a fun, little game for the celebrity obsessed. Others will view it as a way to make their voice heard. But for you, the business owner, CEO or celebrity, having the app on your phone will be a daily reminder to live your life in a way that leave you never having to say you’re sorry.

Andy’s take: If you make a mistake, consider this app as just one more new channel to share your regret and apology. Don’t make the mistake in thinking this app can replace the need for you to make a heartfelt, personal apology to those you’ve offended.

How a President can recover his reputation after calling the American people “suckers” on TV

On the TV series Designated Survivor, President Tom Kirkman is known as a man of the people. His entire reputation is based on the fact that he truly understands the working man and his issues. So it really hurt when a close friend of the President’s went on national television to say that, in a private conversation, Kirkman called the American people ‘suckers’.

Suckers? Certainly not the worst word a person could utter, but when your reputation is based on honesty and transparency, it’s a very low blow.

The fictional President’s fictional advisors advised him to immediately issue a statement saying that the Senator’s account was completely untrue. One problem; it was true. Kirkman did call the American people suckers but it was a sarcastic retort uttered out of frustration when his old friend the Senator refused to sign off on a pension bailout bill.

Rather than compound the situation with a lie, Kirkman decided to ignore the jab. Surely the news had better stories to cover. But no; by morning “Suckergate” was trending on social media as every news outlet added their two cents to the story.

Kirkman was annoyed but not worried; it’s just words on paper, people will get over it. But no – again. Soon, everyone associated with Kirkman’s administration began stepping back, rather than risk getting pulled down by the rising tide. One Senator even used the bad press as an excuse to strike all of Kirkman’s Supreme Court nominees because those people were “toxic”, too.

Desperate for a solution to the growing reputation nightmare; Kirkman’s team digs up dirt on the Senator who started the fracas. The President can use this information to retaliate, giving the press an even bigger (and juicier) story to chase. Again, Kirkman refuses to compromise his morals even at the risk of losing everything he’s worked for since taking office.

His team thinks he’s crazy, but we here at Reputation Refinery applaud his actions. Yes, it’s just a TV show but how often have we seen similar stories played out in real life? And how often have we seen the offending party try to lie his way out of the mess?

So how did Kirkman save his reputation? He went on TV and admitted that it was all true. He did call the American people suckers for believing that the American dream was still a possibility in 2017. And then he added his own name to the suckers list – because he believes in a better tomorrow, too.

Cliché and a bit cutesy, but there’s a lesson to be learned from the story.

Kirkman did the two things all leaders should do when a slip of the tongue turns into a Twitter hashtag;

  1. Don’t deny the truth.

It’s tempting to try and correct an error by saying it never happened – or in Kirkman’s case – that your remarks were taken out of context. But the more you try to wiggle out from under, the more people will turn against you. It’s painful, but admitting you have a problem is the first step in the recovery process.

  1. Don’t deflect.

Even if others were involved in the problem, it never helps to publicly blame another person. And if you think writing a large check to charity will get you out of hot water, think again. The American people aren’t suckers when it comes to obvious acts of gratuitous giving. By all means, give to charity, but do it after you’ve made amends and you’re back in the public’s good graces.

You know what’s even better than facing the truth and making amends? Not crossing the line in the first place. We all need to choose our words more carefully.  “It was a personal conversation” or “it was just a joke” doesn’t cut it, anymore. People need to know that you’re as honest and respectful in private as you are in public.

One word really can change everything. Don’t let a slip of the tongue destroy the reputation you’ve worked so hard to build.

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