If you were one of the lucky ones - you would have read about the problems Qantas were having online or in your weekend papers. The unlucky ones lived through it on airport floors around the world. Friday saw the entire fleet grounded globally due to 'labour disputes' - an action that resulted in 10,000's of travellers being stranded - and thoroughly pissed off with the airline. With wait times on the Qantas customer service telephone lines reportedly running to 4 hours, a large proportion of those affected took to social media to voice their 'displeasure'.
The complaints led to Qantas becoming a worldwide trending topic on Twitter and a flood of complaints to their Facebook page. From a business point of view - this is bad - for community managers it means you're officially into Crisis Management mode.
The Australian media have taken a hardline with the airline regarding their response on social media. Complaining that their customer service through the channels became mechanical and robotic - lacking personalisation. And stating that in the moment of crisis the airline had reverted to using Twitter and Facebook as broadcast channel again. This opinion doesn't really take all factors into consideration but is an understandable reading of the situation. It seems the airline had taken an approach that meant that anyone arriving at their Twitter or Facebook page would easily be able to find the latest information from Qantas, rather than having to search the large number of customer complaints - understandable.
Search Google and you'll find a raft of documents offering tips on how to deal with crises on social media - the truth is that no one crisis looks exactly like another and likewise how you respond will need to change based on a number of factors. However broadly speaking there are some do's and don'ts for managing social accounts during times of 'business strife'
- Have a crisis management team in place to deal with emergencies. Usually this will be a mixture of community managers, customer service staff, brand team execs, PR, and a team leader to organise the troops.
- Be quick to mobilize them when a problem arises. Don't ignore the problem and hope it goes away - this generally just makes things worse when you do eventually jump in.
- Make sure there is an escalation process in place for the team, so they are empowered to fix customers issues as they arise.
- Make sure they have a constant flow of up to date information about what you're doing to deal with the problem - they need to be able to pass this onto your customers.
- Run a social media monitor for keywords associated with your brand & the issues you're experiencing. The hope is that people will contact you directly on your social accounts, but the likelihood is that there'll be conversations taking place all over the web that you should be joining or at least following.
- What you say is important - but how you say it is vital. Don't lose your rag, keep it personalised where possible.
- Don't lie! Transparency is so important. If you don't have the answer - find it out before responding - and let the person know thats what you're doing.
- Go easy on the delete button. As tempting as it is to delete the worst of the comments that you're getting - don't. Stick to your community guidelines (no swearing, no bullying etc) but deleting negative comments can backfire drastically.
- Don't panic and shut down. As in the Qantas example its important to make relevant information easy for customers to find, however this should still function as a two-way dialogue.
- What did you learn? After the event look for learnings, these could be related to a product, your community, your customer service, internal processes. Make changes if you need to and communicate these to your customers where appropriate.
These incidences can tend to give brands the chills when taking their first steps into social media- I've heard many people use such examples as a reason not to venture into social media. The important thing to remember is that these conversations, tweets and comments would be happening regardless of whether you have a brand presence in social or not. At least if you're present you are able to join and influence some of the conversations and complaints, and hopefully reach and help more of your customers.
Social media is merely another channel in which to converse with consumers, and while the public nature of it can make this feel intimidating in times of crises and high negative sentiment towards a brand - the opportunities is provides to display solid customer service and help people in real-time make it too valuable to ignore.