As social media have evolved, so have Virgin America’s methods of communicating with passengers, Amrich says. Today, the airline is “transitioning” from talking by phone and e-mail to communicating via Twitter and Facebook. That allows the company to resolve a problem faster and often better. “Instead of potentially apologizing for a missed opportunity, I’m right there with the guest, working on solutions — or just saying, ‘Love you back,’ ” he says.
Sites like Twitter are evolving, too. Its latest user experience places a heavier emphasis on images, so now instead of just telling a company about a service problem, you can also show it to them (and to all your friends who happen to be watching).
Social media could change customer service, not just in the travel industry but for any business. I’ve used Twitter to help advise consumers with problems in real time, and I never use it more than during the holidays, when infrequent travelers need quick help.
By the way, you can find me at @elliottdotorg
on Twitter, and I’m happy to answer any questions.
But I can also see this going sideways, with social media turning into nothing more than a branding opportunity with exceptions made for super-users with high Klout scores. That would be as much of a travesty as the current airline loyalty programs, which similarly segment passengers, rewarding the best customers with plush seats and gourmet food but leaving most others fighting for scraps in the main cabin.
Having a shortcut to better customer service is a powerful incentive to join one of the social media sites before your next trip. They’re all free to use, but a word of warning: They can be addictive.
But that’s another story.
Elliott is National Geographic Traveler magazine’s reader advocate. E-mail him at email@example.com.