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Yvette Pistorio

Social Media Crisis Management: Lessons Learned from British Airways

By: Yvette Pistorio | September 25, 2013 | 
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Social Media Crisis Management- Lessons Learned from British AirwaysBy Yvette Pistorio

As a community manager, we’re used to disgruntled customers taking to Twitter to vent their grievances about, well, pretty much anything.

But this is new!

A consumer turned one of these grievances into an ad!

If you haven’t heard of it, I’ll recap it for you quickly:

Hasan Syed’s parents flew British Airways from Chicago to Paris, and realized one of their bags hadn’t made the trip.

To help his parents – and after the airline hadn’t responded in two days – Syed bought a promoted tweet to get the airline’s attention, and highlighted their lack of customer service.

social media crisisNot only did Syed’s 400 followers see the tweet, according to Time, “50,000 other Twitter users based in New York and the United Kingdom that Syed paid to target” also saw the tweet.

Lack of Response

British Airways took around eight hours to pick up on the offending tweet. And their response?

ba tweet 2

Not only did they take a long time to respond, they also wanted the customer to do work to figure out the problem.

And it just got worse…

ba tweet 3

To be fair, it does say on the British Airways North American Twitter profile they only receive complaints from nine to five EST. However in today’s digital age, things happen – and can get out of control – REALLY fast during non-business hours.  And, if you provide a service 24/7, 365 days a year, shouldn’t you be available any time, day or night, for your customers?

Social Media Crisis Management Lessons for Brands

Twitter is a place where customers expect a quick response despite the time of day. Unfortunately, it’s no longer a nine to five, and to my point above, especially if you are a global company that operates 24/7.

All Twitter shared an infographic from Tatu Digital Media to explore how social media crises are best managed.

Always Monitor

Set up monitoring tools to help you manage your reputation. You can use free tools such as Talkwalker Alerts, or paid tools such as SalesForce. Either way, know what is being said about your brand at all times.

Create a Plan

You never know when a crisis will happen, but you can be prepared for one. Define what is a crisis and what is not. During a crisis is not the time to decide what needs to be done and who is responsible for it, so plan for worst-case scenarios.

Establish a Clear Chain of Command

Who should respond? Know exactly who will do what in the event of a crisis.

Take Action

Fix the issue in a timely manner, typically within a few hours. An eight-hour response time is unacceptable with the quick pace of social media. How you will fix the problem is dependent on what the crisis is.

Get to the Source

Go directly to the source and deal with the situation…and try to remain calm while doing so. Yes you should answer customer gripes on social media – but at some point, you need to pick up the phone and personally get in contact with your customer.

Don’t Fight Back

Remember Amy’s Baking Company? Enough said!

Go Back and Review

When it’s all over, go over what happened. How well did you handle the situation? Did it escalate to a bigger problem than it was? What could you have done differently? Was there any damage control that could be done afterwards?

As a community manager, I’m glad this didn’t happen to me! But we can all learn a lesson from the experience British Airways had.

About Yvette Pistorio


Yvette Pistorio is the shared media manager for Arment Dietrich. She is a lover of pop culture, cupcakes, and HGTV, and enjoys a good laugh. There are a gazillion ways you can find her online.

57 comments
Caroline Talkwalker
Caroline Talkwalker

Another example of how large corporations are still learning to adapt to and integrate social media into their business.

Thanks for mentioning our free product, talkwalker alerts - glad to hear you find them useful for your monitoring.

jolynndeal
jolynndeal

I am wondering if this is more frequent in such highly regulated businesses, or airlines in particular. I had a horrific experience with American Airlines, and also used the service example as a what-not-to-do in a blog (http://www.mymarketingcafe.com/how-to-lose-a-customer-learn-from-american-airlines/).  Our issue was around accessible travel and the service was inexcusable.  It is much easier to put a plan in place in advance than it is to try to undo the damage of poor service.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I think rule of thumb is if you pay customer service to answer the phone 24/7 you can monitor at least Twitter. Facebook you might need special technology. I saw what happened to my friends at Chobani (still happening). If you have a team of 9 to handle social media you can't respond to 1000 posts promptly nor efficiently.

On that note this does nothing to BA. Just ask @JaffeJuice who was screwed by Delta. An Airline he was an ELITE customer for. Though he did not have twitter ads available to complain.

I think people assume poor service and only get surprised by good service.

Latest blog post: The Three Things, Edition 47

jenzings
jenzings

My guess--and that's all it is, a guess--on the 9-5 is that while they have customer service running 24/7, they probably have not spent the money to integrate social into the customer care functionality. So, it's residing in the Comms/PR department, where 95% of the time, the 9-5 is sufficient.


It's the remaining 5% that is full of sharp, rusty nails--the dangerous stuff that can fester and cause a brand damage. Airlines are not running on the healthiest profit margins, so spending the money to buy an integrated system is likely considered a nice to have, not a must have (and frankly as a member of the traveling public, I'd say well-rested pilots and safe planes should be higher on the priority list). Given their size, they do probably want and need some controls or training on *who* they allow to respond (because we'd perhaps be seeing a different "geez, don't they know X" story here in this one's place), which does necessitate a fancy system. Having all of your customer service people on Tweetdeck won't cut it. Long story short, they've likely done a cost/benefit analysis and decided that they would chance it.


This shouldn't be construed as making excuses for them--they ABSOLUTELY should not have led with "hey, we're only open 9-5." Step 1: apologize, sincerely and profusely. Then solve the problem.

dave_link
dave_link

Either participate in social fully or don't participate at all. As BA and a number of other companies have shown through the growing pains of social business, if you're aren't willing to at least pay vague attention outside of office hours you might as well not even start the ball rolling.

Is it reasonable to expect companies to respond to EVERY tweet during off hours? No, but it is reasonable to expect companies to pay attention to URGENT tweets and posts regardless of the time of day. I'm with many of the other commenters who are amazed that we still even have to have these types of conversations, but the airline industry in particular doesn't seem to get how social customer service works.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

What's shocking is the response that they're only available from 9-5. I understand wanting to keep business hours, but that's not the right response. Nothing other than "I am so sorry we weren't here when you tweeted us. How can we help?" is the right response. THAT is what I don't get...when will organizations understand "I'm sorry" is the only response?

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg

Sigh, when will some companies finally get on board?  I agree that if you are a 24/7 international company you need round the clock, daily customer service for your clients. I think this is especially true in the travel industry. If you are out of the country and have a crisis you should be able to reach someone to help you.

KristenDaukas
KristenDaukas

Can someone PLEASE explain to me why we're still having these conversations? How can these multibillion dollar companies still not get it? Is it a case of "we're too big/good/special for that"? Thinking that customer service is going back to the "pick up the phone and call" mode is about as realistic as thinking that websites and email are a fad. Fantastic recap, Yvette!

LSSocialEngage
LSSocialEngage

Great points Yvette, I just did a post about listening with humility. People are talking and it is so important to know what is being said about your brand (as per your always monitor) and to handle the customers' complaints with humility, fix the problem and as per your great last point review - how can you do it better next time around. Thanks for this post.

RobBiesenbach
RobBiesenbach

Wow, I followed this at the time but didn't recall BA's answer that their social media shop was only open 9 to 5. That does seem bizarre, both for a business that runs 24/7 AND in time zones around the world. Maybe that's more typical than I think?

And you know what? If you're in the customer service business and can only be open for a portion of the day, pick any other combination of times other than "9 to 5," which is shorthand for merely clocking in and clocking out and doing nothing more. Like the old school "bankers' hours."

talkwalker
talkwalker

@ginidietrich You are our biggest fan ;) Would love to talk to you about our full solution though. Btw have you checked our new website??

yvettepistorio
yvettepistorio

@jolynndeal Wow, what a nightmare! They couldn't answer some questions that they should honestly know or be able to look up quickly so you can make a purchase.?! I don't blame you for not choosing them. 

It's definitely a good idea to have a plan in place. Things happen, we're human, and we make mistakes, but we should have a plan of action to respond so an issue doesn't BECOME a crisis.

jenzings
jenzings

@jolynndeal I think airlines are by nature more reactionary than proactive when it comes to planning. My husband and I were scheduled to fly to England around the time that the alphabet-soup volcano decided to erupt. It seemed as though not one airline, nor the industry in general, had any idea on how to proceed with...anything. They had no idea what to do with stranded passengers. No idea what to do with people who were scheduled to fly out. And so on.


Now, I will acknowledge that a volcano erupting is not a normal course of business thing to plan around, but that's *exactly* what crisis planning is supposed to prepare them for. I just don't think they plan well at all (at least on customer-facing issues, like yours). The only thing that makes sense to me is that they don't want to spend the money.

yvettepistorio
yvettepistorio

@jenzings We can make all the guesses we want, but regardless if their social is in customer service or PR/comm, someone should be monitoring it at all times given the size of the company. Especially if it's in PR/Comm! It's their reputation at stake! Not that one angry customer will ruin their reputation, but this could have been handled better and didn't have to turn into a crisis.

My two cents: If a company wants to use social as a customer service tool, then they should monitor it for customer complaints and integrate social into their customer service functionality. No exceptions, no excuses.

Hopefully they learn from their mistakes. One can only hope...

yvettepistorio
yvettepistorio

@ginidietrich Agreed - simple, to the point, shows they are in the wrong, and offers help. And not only a "I'm sorry" but how about NOT asking the customer to do more work! They should've been looking up his information etc. to resolve the problem so it didn't escalate any further. 

yvettepistorio
yvettepistorio

@KristenDaukas Thanks Kristen! I know - it's frustrating to still have these conversations. But for some, social is still new, even though we use it every day...and have for a while now, but I'll cut some businesses some slack. However, you'd think a company as large as British Airways would not only "get" social media, but have someone constantly monitoring their social networks 24/7! Hopefully they've learned a hard lesson and change their ways. Only time will tell.

yvettepistorio
yvettepistorio

@LSSocialEngage Thanks Lubna! 

Agreed! Whether its positive or negative, you should know what is being said about your brand. I always put myself in the customers shoes - if I was angry, how would I want the customer service rep to respond to me? Humility is key in customer service roles and yes, review! There is always room for improvement.

yvettepistorio
yvettepistorio

@RobBiesenbach Right?! I couldn't believe it was 9 to 5 either! I had to double check that when I was writing this post. They do have a separate global account on GMT, but that doesn't really cover all of the time zones of customers using BA. I love the idea of having a combination of times that way you do hit all time zones...really love it. 

It may be typical now, but there are so many variables. I also think it's changing as we discover different ways consumers use social, when they're online, etc.

jolynndeal
jolynndeal

@jenzings Now that is something! The airline certainly would have had to adjust their plan to fit this unique situation, but how different the outcome could have been.  I think you are right about it being financially motivated. That, and working in reactive mode.

LSSocialEngage
LSSocialEngage

So true! I do get surprised by good service. Sad indeed.

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