Frustrated British Airways Customer Complains Via A Promoted Tweet. New Trend? Chances of Misuse and Lessons To Learn

About the frustrated British Airways customer Hasan Syed who bought a promoted tweet to express his grievances on Twitter, the repercussion of the new trend and what BA could have done to save its reputation on social media

British airway customer promtoed tweet

Customer 1.0 – Poor fellow has loads of grievances, brand sets up a customer care. The poor fellow spends an important part of his day dialing numbers and explaining to all customer support personnel who are busy improving their accent rather than solving the problem. The process starts from scratch every time the call drops or when promised to be given a call back in the next twenty four hours. If he is lucky then his problem might get resolved with endless conditions applied otherwise it is good to forget it. Change the name of brand and the story remains the same from mobile operators to banks to airlines.

Customer 2.0 – With the advent of social media channels, brands are finally treating the medium as a key channel to address customer problems, especially brands that provide service. Nowadays brands respond to tweets much quickly than picking up your phone call.

The same happened when I had a problem with Tata over my broadband connection, though this service is for the thin population that is active online. A majority of grievances go the customer 1.0 way. Besides this there is another perception that brands only respond on social media since they care about themselves and not the way it is said in social media conferences.

British airway customer promtoed tweet

Customer 2.1 – This is the informed and smart customer who is not only frustrated from being not served by the brand but knows how to make a big multinational brand listen to him. Fed up with British Airways who had lost the luggage of businessman Hasan Syed‘s father, the businessman decided to complain about it. Hasan didn’t just tweet about the incident but paid for a promoted tweet to express his disgust.

The tweet, which was promoted in New York City and UK markets, was quickly picked by Marty St. George, senior vice-president of marketing and commercial at JetBlue Airways, who had this to say of Syed’s move:

The story made headlines at Mashable. At the time of writing this article, the Mashable story has been tweeted more than 6.8K times, shared on Facebook 9.3K times, another 2.3K on LinkedIn and another 1087 Google Plus shares too. The news was obviously picked by a bunch of influential sites and you can imagine the total reach including Twitter’s which is said to be 76.8K impressions.

Is this a new trend?

This might be the first instance where a customer has gone to such an extent on social media. Losing customer baggages by British Airways is nothing new but then a promoted tweet to complain about it, is a new one. Social media has emerged into a platform that has not only empowered the customer but also made sure she is heard and addressed to.

Karthik Srinivasan in his blog post thinks that there is nothing wrong with a customer buying a paid spot to air his grievances. His post was inspired by Sanjay Mehta’s Facebook timeline discussion on the new trend. Further Karthik adds that –

“Customers are already airing their grievance on Twitter, Facebook and any other channel where they can get some visibility without paying for it. Paying for reach just adds more visibility – I don’t see anything dramatically changing here.”

Chances of misuse of such a trend?

Another discussion that has surfaced with this incident is that – Should Twitter or social media platforms allow customers to buy Promoted Tweets that encourage anti-brand or negative advertising?

The point was raised by Sanjay which he later explained in a blog post. The man who makes a living by running Social Wavelength, a reputed social media agency in the country, recognizes the need and the relevance of consumers using social media channels to put out their perspectives about brands, especially the negative ones. At the same time he is worried about the abuse of social media platforms by allowing anti-brand advertising.

But should social media platforms like Twitter have checks in place for such advertisements. Twitter could but it is not going to be easy and where does one draw a line?

Lets take the current political situation in the country where both Congress and BJP are ripping apart each other on social media platforms. Every other day both parties are trying their best to trend silly hashtags. Suppose tomorrow BJP says it wants to buy a promoted trend for #RahulGandhiCondomScam, will Twitter India refuse? Or Congress wishes to promote a tweet with a visual image that claims Narendra Modi is not secular.

This is going to be tricky and for the sanity of the medium, Twitter needs to start thinking on what can be promoted and what can’t be. But at the same time brands or others will have to be serious about their online reputation.

Lessons to be learnt for BA and rest of the brands on social

BA, in its true royal avatar, responded to the angry customer after seven hours, who by now had been tweeting like crazy. The tasteless tweet from BA is embedded below:

Today Twitter is equated to customer service for service based companies and at a time when we are talking about organizations thinking of 24*7 service via social media. Here is an amazing brand that proudly says in its bio as well as in its tweet that the customer tweet response timing is 0900-1700 GMT Monday –Friday. Talk about being social?

“This delay cost them a lot of brand damage, and they didn’t seem to have an escalation procedure in place. They only reply to tweets 9am-5pm, and this cost time greatly,” shared Shashank Nigam CEO, SimpliFlying over an email conversation with me.

Bad things spread fast on social media and BA waiting for work hours to address the query shows how serious is the brand about customer service on the medium. One can only imagine what would be the case for the customers who address their problems via other modes!

Shashank has blogged about the episode and also enlisted five things an airline company should think about doing to avoid such a situation in the future. Having a standard operating procedure (SOP) for such incidences is a must and he shares the same with me to. However, he was of the opinion that social media platforms can do less in such scenarios; it’s the brand that needs to step up.

 “As a brand, you need to have proper Standard Operating Procedures in place, dealing with such situations and escalating the matters to VP-level, to allow for a swift response. I don’t see why Twitter needs to do anything about its policy, because the ads tools are there for everyone to use, as they wish.”

Times are changing and one can’t wait for office hours to operate and tweet such responses - “please DM us with details.” Brands will have to evolve from just being responsive to being rationally responsive. And whether Twitter plans to have some restrictions on use of ads is something to look forth but I really don’t think that it would be easy and will resolve the problem.

The last conversations between the customer and BA is embedded below. It clearly shows whether BA really knows what social media is all about.

Viral marketing videos of how you are connecting relations will be of no help on social media, if you can’t listen and address your customers’ concerns.