Social Media Customer Service in a Crisis: Southwest Airlines Case Study
How Southwest Airlines Used Social Media to Mitigate a Crisis
How Southwest Airlines Used Social Media to Mitigate a Crisis
by

With over 52,000 employees and operating more than 3,900 departures a day during peak travel season, Southwest Airlines is regarded as one of the best domestic airlines in the United States.

Well known for its popular slogans including “Just Plane Smart” and “THE Low Fare Airline”, Southwest Airlines faced a major crisis this year — one that no business wants to see. During peak traveling time, in mid-summer, July 2016, the company was hit with a “system outage” which resulted in the cancellation of roughly 2,300 flights in the five days following the glitch.

The Importance of Emergency Social Media Customer Service

Lisa Anderson, Senior Director of Social Business Communication & Outreach of Southwest Airlines, spoke recently at the Incite Customer Service Summit in Brooklyn about the importance of social customer service during this crisis. This is a prime example of customer service stepping up when the customers’ experience fails. She revealed how “social had allowed us to know there was a bigger problem at stake.” What they initially thought was only an internal system failure, resulted in a 5-day nightmare for any social media team, let alone a popular airline.

With the website down and the incoming customer service phones going through the roof, Southwest Airlines turned to social media to interact with frustrated and confused customers. To start things off, a standard message was sent out across its social media accounts informing customers they were aware of the issue.

Stick to Your Guiding Principles

Volumes quickly became difficult to maintain and Southwest Airlines started receiving the same amount of incoming queries hourly that they would typically see in a full day. Lisa notes that the team immediately went over the company’s six communication principles before weathering the social storm that was about to hit.

• Honesty
• Transparency
• Quickness
• Genuineness
• Progressiveness
• Omni-channel ready

In a moment of crisis, the company turned to Facebook Live. Southwest Airlines quickly realized that they would be able to communicate several messages in one video as opposed to thousands of individual messages to every customer’s inquiry. By putting a face to the issue, sentiments slowly began to change. As Lisa puts it, “customers started to get behind us and not hate on us.”

Posts were a blend of paid, earned, shared and owned spaces to reach users. By boosting the Facebook Live video with paid, it managed to reach nearly 4 million users. Shortly after Southwest Airlines went live, social posts immediately started to slow down, giving them time to figure out the issue at hand.

Responses were posted natively onto the platform of choice. Customers were not redirected elsewhere. This multi-channel crisis communication worked out in their favor as they were responding to customers of all demographics through different social media channels.

Southwest took an open, multi-channel approach to handling this social media crisis. The three key takeaways from the crisis, according to Lisa Anderson herself are:

1. Every social channel is a customer service channel
2. Recovery is a delicate but necessary step
3. Create content for the masses & solve problems for the individual

Well done Southwest!

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