Plane OK: Airlines Providing Preferential Service on Twitter

September 8, 2015

Last month British Airways was caught up in a PR incident when a customer Tweeted that a request for a callback from their reservations department was granted to a UK celebrity, a service generally denied to customers.

The attentive customer proceeded to post a side-by-side comparison of the airline’s Twitter responses to one customer versus that of the celebrity, an effort that generated over 300 re-Tweets and forced the airline’s press office to respond to journalist’s enquiries about its approach to customer service.

However, preferential customer service is the norm in the Travel & Hospitality industry and customers shouldn’t expect different treatment on Twitter. Airlines, British Airways included, publicly acknowledge that their top-tier customers will receive preferential customer service via telephone.

UAE-based airline Etihad has better codified preferential Twitter service, launching a dedicated premium support handle (@EtihadPremium) in May of this year for mid to top tier status holders, promising five minute response times (versus an average of 11 minutes via @EtihadHelp).

However, Ethiad’s elite customers are first required to e-mail a copy of their status card so that the private account can follow them to allow future communication – so far only 800 customers have opted in.

While inelegant, Etihad’s approach should be applauded, choosing to prioritize based on what’s important to them (keeping loyal customers happy) and not succumbing to the common trap of prioritizing service issues based on arbitrary indicators such as Klout score, follower count or verified status.

What remains unclear is how British Airways chose to prioritize service to the UK celebrity. Was this customer identified as a loyal customer, or did their verified status and/or recognizable name result in them getting better service?

The best approach, especially considering the public nature of social media, is to ensure that preferential treatment is limited to private interactions.

For those in the Travel & Hospitality industry, the time to start thinking about how to upgrade the Twitter experience for top-tier customers is now, doing so will ensure a consistent experience both offline and online.

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