How AmericanAirlines® is Taking Social Customer Service to New Heights


This is a guest post by Jonathan Pierce, Director of Social Media, 
Until recently, the world of social media has been uncharted territory for many major corporations. From entry-level employees to senior executives, members of Fortune 500 companies have only begun to dip their toes into social media, focusing first on tactics intended to grow social communities and market products and services. As such, organizational structures, goals and results have yet to reflect social media’s far-reaching impact on business.

With the exception of early adopters like Dell and Best Buy, few companies have truly embraced social media as a platform for delivering superior customer service. In 2011, many companies began to navigate this space.  Among the corporations working to understand social customer service – and more broadly, social business – is American Airlines. 

American Airlines launched its social presence in 2009 with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube communities. Since then, it has garnered more than 573,000 fans and followers, and consistently reaches more than 25,000 people per day via posts to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. In December, American Airlines received more than 140,000 online mentions, including 90,000 tweets to or about the company. Many of these comments are travel-related questions and concerns that demand a thoughtful response from the company. Enter social customer service.

Given the pace and volume of customer needs voiced in social media, American Airlines has redoubled its commitment to delivering excellent customer service online. To focus its efforts, the social media team has established three key pillars for success:

Align the Team

As with other aspects of business, a social media team’s strongest asset is its people. Our team is multifaceted and growing. By bringing Customer Relations and Reservations experts into our social media team, we’ve organized to respond faster and more often to customer concerns. Together we monitor, listen and respond to as many customer conversations as possible, with the goal of reaching 100 percent of targeted comments by the end of 2012.

With Customer Relations and Reservations fully integrated into our team, we’re able to address and resolve most customer concerns in social media. However, some issues require close communication with other parts of the business, such as flight crews, airport staff, IT gurus and corporate security. Through close alignment with various segments of the business, we’re able to better serve our customers and funnel important customer feedback to decision-makers.

Leverage Social Tools

As social buzz expands, it becomes near impossible to participate in all conversations about a brand. Fortunately, increasingly sophisticated social tools like Radian6 enable us to cull essential conversations from the noise. In addition to web monitoring, these tools allow for delegation of response to different business units or roles based on keywords or human assignment. They also archive past customer conversations and can link to existing company databases, so members of a social team can see how a previous customer concern has been resolved. For instance, the social team at American Airlines can respond to a tweet and offer reward miles using the same system. In a world where every minute counts, social tools like these are indispensable.

Celebrate Success & Learn From Mistakes

As many community managers know, social media can be harrowing. Dissatisfied customers are often more vocal behind their computer screens than at the storefront. At American Airlines, we do our best to celebrate success and learn from mistakes. When a customer’s concern has been addressed to satisfaction in social media, and the customer has voiced his pleasure, we share with the team via email, and compile into an ever-growing PowerPoint of successful case studies. Quarterly, we present some of the most compelling case studies to leadership to show how social media is impacting brand reputation and driving business results. Though we hope our successes outweigh our mistakes, we do our best to learn from errors too. Each week, during team meetings, we discuss negative social buzz and how we can respond in a way that benefits the customer and company.  We also make sure to share negative commentary with appropriate departments for remedial action or process improvements.

Using the above principles to guide us, we’re developing our social media team to build a loyal, more satisfied customer base and, ultimately, a more competitive business. 

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