Twitter just provided yet another confirmation of the power of word of mouth, and a useful tip for you if you get into the kind of trouble that I did.
This could get you out of serious trouble someday:
The Wednesday before the Hurricane Irene was to hit NYC, all models showed that it would pass over JFK airport Sunday Morning. I had a flight due to leave at 9AM on Sunday! So, I called Delta and explained that in view of the almost certainty of the hurricane hitting, I’d like to change my flight to two days earlier, and I’d like to do that now, so that I could save myself and Delta from at least one more call before they got swamped with hurricane rebookings. Spoke to a “Doug Dole” a supervisor at their reservation center, after the request was rejected by a regular agent. He informed me that NYC was not on the list from which they could issue re-bookings. Only Charlotte was listed (at that time only about an hour away from the hurricane’s impact.) I politely pointed out that that was cutting it a bit close and that I’d appreciate his accommodating me, given the inevitable crunch. He informed me that the hurricane was due to veer off and not hit NYC. He said that a change would involve a $150 re-booking fee and a $450 fare increase, since it would be a cancellation and re-booking on short notice. I called back to another supervisor, who said that she would waive the re-booking fee, but not the fare increase.
What would you have done?
As you probably guessed from the Twitter reference above, I got to work with several posts on Twitter, openly ridiculing Delta’s weather forecasting (which I guessed was being done by Ouija Board). I pointed out that their weather update was from 6 o’clock the previous day — an eternity when a hurricane is approaching. I quoted “Doug Dole,” their Utah supervisor, as forecasting that the hurricane was not going to hit NYC.
As I was composing a satirical post, about a half hour from my first Tweet, talking about how they were getting their updates via carrier pigeon, I got a reply from Delta. Their DeltaAssist people publicly tweeted that I should Direct Message my confirmation number and the flight I’d like to transfer to.
I sent them the requested info, and they quickly re-booked me with no additional charges. They also changed the weather updates, and about an hour later put the whole East Coast, including JFK, onto the list of cities approved for hurricane re-bookings.
They sent me a public tweet saying that they were happy to be of service in rescheduling my flight. I tweeted a cordial thank you for being so responsive and a wish that their telephone people could have been the same.
- Don’t write private complaint letters. Use Twitter and the other public complaint and rating services to publicly flag companies that are not treating customers right. These will differ according to the circumstances.
- Although I can’t prove it, my experience is that humor, ridicule and particularly satire works better than angry rants. See my Word of Mouth book for examples. Come from trying to help them do better, rather than from anger.
- WOMM is not only about how you can increase it in your business. It is about how to wield the enormous power of WOM.
- It’s also about doing what Delta obviously does: it has a team that monitors the social media sites and has the power to cut off a very negative backlash before it got started. Believe me, I know how to use word of mouth. If they had let this go unresolved, I could have created a major, very damaging campaign, boycott, or other negative consequences that could have cost them millions of dollars, as I sat here instead of LA because of a cancelled flight. Treat people right. Monitor their complaints, if for no other reason than you don’t know who you are dealing with. There are better reasons to treat people right, but for people who only look at numbers, this will do.
- Why can’t companies like Delta do what it takes — like greater discretion, more aggressive forecasts, etc. — to handle situations like this? Why do we need to resort to public humiliation to get treated like valued customers? I know what they would say, and so do you, so I’ll spare you. However, the fact is that they DID treat me right, so they could have done so in my first phone call. BTW, JetBlue and Virgin were honoring re-booking requests at that time without a problem.
- So, Delta missed a chance with an influential blogger to make me feel good about them, instead of confirming all the talk about them being unresponsive. The fact that they eventually did the right thing doesn’t change my opinion, since they did it under the threat of further public humiliation. JetBlue and Virgin got kicked up another notch, even though I wasn’t even booked on them! Despite the good outcome, I will not be booking on Delta in the future if I can help it. By the way, in the current issue of its in-flight magazine, their president is calling for government subsidies for the airlines. He needs subsidies, given the way he seems to run his airline. Maybe I’m wrong, but I haven’t heard SouthWest, JetBlue and Virgin asking for government subsidies.
- And, the most important lesson of all: Treat customers like your friends because in some ways they are even better than your friends. They are the ones, not your friends, that bought your house, put your kids through college and pay your salary. There is no downside to giving supervisors discretion to break rigid rules. So, a few people might scam them out of a re-booking fee. A few skittish passengers might re-book in the face of an uncertain storm that is making them anxious. So what?
Let’s all look at how we are treating customers — even those who might be making borderline unreasonable requests. But especially those who are sitting under hurricane projection models that are clustered more tightly than ever remembered by experienced meteorologists. Delta, if you have to have an obsessive, rigid rule, why not make it OK to switch flights the moment NOAA predicts that there is a greater than 50% chance of a hurricane hitting? Is that too much to ask? In your in-flight magazine, you are actively soliciting suggestions. Let’s see how you respond to this. Awaiting their comments below.