Twitter: The Airline Industry’s Band-Aid

Many recent stories have showcased the wonderful benefits of the trend of the airline industry to integrate more fully with the consumer through social media.  Twitter has become a massive influencer of airline customer service policies, with representatives addressing concerns from ticket prices to airport facilities through 140 characters at a time.  While these efforts are certainly worth noting, they truly are not doing anything to help the airline customer’s experience.  This trend is only helping to cover up the negativity of the industry’s customer service standard.

Similarly to the implementation of Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory in employee-side business considerations, it is critical to separate those factors in the travel experience that lead to satisfaction and those that create a sense of dissatisfaction.  One key aspect of Herzberg’s theory is that the concepts should be completely separated — certain parts of the travel experience, similarly, lead only to creating a satisfying experience or contributing to an overall negative and dissatisfying experience.  An example of this break-down, catered to airline customer perceptions (in parentheses), is as follows:

Factors for Dissatisfaction Factors for Satisfaction
Company policies (Service recovery through issue resolution) Achievement (Completion of journey)
Salary (Ticket cost) Advancement (Promotions for future flights)
Status (First Class?  Economy plus?) Growth (Mileage programs and upgrades)
Supervision (“Herding” of travelers) Recognition (Customer individualization)
Relationship with supervisor and peers (Personable staff) The work itself (Flight factors)
Work conditions (Airport facilities)
Security (Safety)

Much of this two-factor sectorization of the industry makes a lot of logical sense; it is impossible to be completely satisfied while spending one’s hard-earned money, it is definitely difficult to consider a way to become ill-satisfied from not having an individualized experience, and safety and security (TSA woes aside) would go unnoticed until there is a dissatisfier at play creating an unsafe experience.  Herzberg did not intend to apply this scale in this manner, but, as we can see quite clearly, it fits the mold perfectly for defining what aspects of the customer service equation fit on each side the industry.

Thus enters the social media environment that has been frequently touted as a major improvement to the customer experience in recent months.  The satisfaction claimed by industry analysts is not achieved through communication of frustrations, though.  Creating an atmosphere of discussing company policies (a dissatisfier), employee politeness (also a dissatisfier), and airport amenities (again, a dissatisfier) is doing nothing to actually increase satisfaction — we are simply covering up the dissatisfiers in an effort to push the “average” factors towards the satisfying qualities.  Social interaction with airline teams is little more than hanging a sheet to block the view of a hurricane.

 Social interaction with airline teams is little more than hanging a sheet to block the view of a hurricane.

This criticism considered, it is also fairly accurate that the customer service teams are aloof to many of the most common concerns of passengers.  Filling out responses in a specified format often times creates a customer who simply ends communication due to the true issue not being resolved.  A concern of a rude flight attendant is often met with “we will pass this information along,” rather than trying to gather more useful information.  Does the consumer honestly believe the issue will be handled with no further information gathering?  Doubtful.

Besides the above-listed concerns, it is certainly worth pondering the rosy fact that even the wrong words used at the right time can make one feel welcomed.  Having the ability to voice concerns directly to the airline of concern already can lessen the eventual effect of wanting to file a complaint.  For example, many of us have had the experience before of speaking with a store manager about a concern.  While they may have been earnestly interested in your feedback, it is more likely that the manager simply did not want you to file a formal complaint through the website to their corporate headquarters.  Similarly, airlines would love for the voices of its consumers to no longer reach the ears of the Department of Transportation and then become publicly available.

Until our major headaches of the travel world can completely understand what fuels positive and negative experiences during our flights, we may continue to see social media serving as a thousand-mile-wide band-aid.  Surely, it is only a matter of time until the sheet finally breaks loose and floats away into the hurricane of the industry.  We can only hope that rather than cover up the bad parts of a flight with social interactions, air carriers in the United States can finally start fixing their internal struggles.  Struggles, you know, such as remembering to put a pilot on the next flight.

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