(Read Time: 5 Minutes)

How Delta Airlines and Twitter saved my trip

Delta Airlines and Twitter just saved my trip -- yeah, I'm as shocked as you are!

I had read about how large Fortune 500 companies were using Twitter for customer service, outreach and for more than just to "engage" -- which I previously wrote was a bad idea in and of itself.

But what I hadn't yet experienced is the power of social media -- specifically Twitter -- when I needed it the most.

Here's a lesson in customer service, social media, and how your company can use this powerful medium to actually get real work done and increase profits, not just waste time.

First the bad news:

  • My flight had been canceled with no notice from the airline -- I was lucky to check-in online the day before and see a nice red CANCELLED next to the flight information.
  • As a result of Hurricane Irene, the wait time for Delta's 800 number was 1 - 1.5 hours
  • I tried changing the itinerary online, but was incurring change fees of up to $1,000 for a flight THEY cancelled -- just on principle alone I was not going to accept that.
  • I was in a foreign country (OK, Canada, but still...) where my mobile phone was only good for Wi-Fi at Starbucks...dicey at best.

So, with no recourse, I called the toll free number and waited on hold with the phone on speaker and bided my time...

But then I tried something else: The hold message said to try Twitter, specifically their @DeltaAssist account.

I'd often heard about folks that were stranded in airports or faced with long hold times getting their reservations changed easily on Twitter, so I decided to give it a shot.

19 "Tweets" and 15 minutes later, I saw the power of this medium of only 140 characters to change the world as we know it -- or at least offer frustrated travelers another form of reaching their destination.

Here's the exact conversation:
Biquitous Twitter Avatarconfirmation # GPVKT7 -- need help, flight was cancelled for no reason, just found out as I got lucky to log in. Tried changing times online
Biquitous Twitter Avatarbut, it wants to charge me huge change fees for a flight that I did not cancel. Please help.
Delta Assist AvatarSo you'd like to change to a 2:52p flight on the 29th now? ^WG
 Biquitous Twitter Avatarno, ideally I would like to still depart tomorrow around the same time, even if rerouted through a different city.
 Biquitous Twitter Avatarwould like to depart Toronto, arrive in SJC around the same time
 Biquitous Twitter Avatarif you need me to fly from Toronto to another city and connect on to SJC that's fine. It does not have to go through Minn.
 Biquitous Twitter Avatar^WG: wanted to make sure you got my last messages re: confirmation # GPVKT7
 Delta Assist AvatarFor the 28th, I only have morning flights that make two stops. Ex: leave @ 9:45a, change in DTW & SLC, get into SJC @ 4:10p.^WG
Biquitous Twitter AvatarIf I chose those will there be any change fees?
 Delta Assist AvatarNo, there wouldn't be any change fees. ^WG
 Biquitous Twitter AvatarI might be ok with something leaving in the morning and changing over a couple of times. I want to leave Tor as late as possible.
Biquitous Twitter Avatarwith as few stops/changeovers as possible.
 Biquitous Twitter Avatar^ WG: any options for later times? re: conf. # GPVKT7
Delta Assist AvatarThe 9:45a on the 28th is the latest I have. ^WG
 Biquitous Twitter Avatar^ WG: Ok, It departs Toronto @9:45 AM, 2 changeovers: DTS and then SLC? Arrive SJC from SLC @ 4:10?
Delta Assist AvatarThat's correct. ^WG
 Biquitous Twitter Avatar^WG: OK, please proceed with the change. What do you need from me? Please confirm via email.
Delta Assist AvatarI got all I need, thanks. The ticket's reissued & the email's sent. ^WG
 Biquitous Twitter Avatar^WG: Thank you for your help, It was really appreciated

Now the good news:

  • This was all done while I was still on hold
  • The process was pretty smooth, aside from some lag time while the representative was "talking" with other people
  • I flew home without a hitch - and had mostly forgiven the previous cancellation and attempt to charge me exorbitant change fees

The Ultimate Power of Social Media

This got me seriously thinking about the power of the Internet, and social media in particular.

As if I didn't already realize how important it was not only to my own company, but for our clients as well.

But it was almost like a second awakening.

Have we been vastly underutilizing this medium as a means to offer customers a higher level of support, service and peace of mind?

While devoting a full time staff to a Twitter account might not be right for your company, having some form of social media IS an absolute must!

If you offer real-time services or services that change nebulously, or often require some form of customer service, then giving customers a way to contact you through social media rather than clogging up your phone lines or waiting a full day for an email reply can be a powerful and effective way to cut costs while at the same time serving customers at a much higher level.

The Bottom Line:

In today's world, we might not always "get" Twitter, Facebook and all that "social media stuff", but as time passes, and as a leader of your organization responsible for Internet marketing and customer retention and outreach, you simply cannot ignore it any longer.

This was just one very personal example of social media being used by one of the largest airlines in the world to better serve their customers.

There are countless other companies out there doing the same thing -- such as Dell blowing out obsolete inventory through Twitter -- that are closing the gap and probably surpassing your organization with this additional mode of customer service within your industry.

If you haven't already, it's time to look at the powerful ways social media can become a REAL business tool for your company and not something a teenager does just for kicks.