In case you didn’t hear, Ann Coulter, the conservative political pundit went on a Twitter rant this past weekend and Monday detailing her horrible customer experience on her Delta flight from New York to West Palm Beach, FL. Her rant stemmed from a flight attendant moving her seat, a seat that Coulter explained via Twitter she “PRE-BOOK a specific seat…” prior to takeoff:
Unhappy about the situation, Coulter took to social media, in this case Twitter with her 1.6 million followers to share her frustrations. Delta, in response to Coulter’s multiple tweets fired back with its own statement. “We are disappointed that the customer has chosen to publicly attack our employees and other customers by posting derogatory and slanderous comments and photos in social media,” Delta said in a statement on Sunday. They further described Coulter’s behavior as “unnecessary and unacceptable.”
So who’s right? No, not about should Delta have changed her seat or should Coulter have gone off on her rant. Rather, who handled the customer service and social media exchange correctly? Well, they’re both right and wrong. Let’s explore things from both party’s perspectives and breakdown where both went right and wrong.
Let’s first look at things from Coulter’s perspective. We’ve all been there before, an airline has moved our seat, bumped us from a flight or done something that we as the customer find inconveniencing or unacceptable and we are unhappy with the services rendered for the monies paid. This is not isolated to airlines, customer service issues like this happen every day in every industry. A company does something to upset a customer or potential customer. When this happens customers like Coulter have a few options, the first is to keep quiet and just never do business with the company again. In my opinion, this is the most damaging option as the company, in this case Delta has no idea what the issue was and cannot attempt to fix it for Coulter nor any other customer. Further, Delta loses Coulter as a customer. Not a good situation. The other option is to speak up so that someone within the organization knows you’re unhappy so they might fix the issue in some way. This is exactly what Coulter did. Rather than speak to customer service (CS) though, Coulter chose to go the route of social media (probably because she has 1.6 million followers and feels she’d have the most impact). Personally, if I wanted the situation remedied I would have spoken to CS but that’s neither here nor there. So Coulter brings it to Delta’s attention that she is unhappy, in a public forum she has informed the company that has wronged her so that all the world who cares can see. That’s good. She is winning the CS battle because she now has the upper hand. Delta has to react and react well to not only satisfy her, but also satisfy all the prying eyes that are now following. Delta replied, tried to take the conversation and remedy off social media but to no avail, Coulter was so upset that she continued to rant and this is where she goes wrong. Not only has she made it her mission to defame Delta (even in unrelated tweets she has included digs about Delta sucking)
but she also has tweeted pictures of the passenger that took her seat. This is now infringing on other people’s privacy. I’m not speaking from a legal perspective but more from a social norm and in good-taste perspective. This other person had nothing to do with what happened other than she landed in Coulter’s originally requested seat. That’s not the person’s fault, it’s Delta’s fault even if that other person did request the seat change. It is up to Delta to give the ok. But, Coulter felt the need to tweet pictures of the person and further insult her by calling her “dachshund-legged woman”
and implied she’s an immigrant when she tweeted, “Immigrants take American jobs (& seats on @Delta).”
Again, not speaking from a legal perspective but from a social norm and in good-taste one, leave the other person (insults and pictures) out of it. By doing this you lessen your argument and make onlookers start to feel you are not interested in a remedy but rather only want to cause harm to the company and others. That will not garner you any sympathy or support and it just makes you look vengeful and completely unprofessional.
Now from the Delta perspective. Delta in all likelihood created this whole CS issue themselves by moving Coulter in the first place and could have mitigated her negative reaction by being proactive. Rather than just moving Coulter they should have offered to comp her something, maybe a meal or a drink IN ADDITION to refunding the $30 premium fee she paid for her exit row seat with more legroom. They should have done that without her asking so hopefully the situation would never even become a situation. Further, by doing so and being proactive they also could have used that as a talking point when defending themselves after the fact to the now engrossed public. Delta does get a thumbs up for trying to take the Twitter engagement offline so the whole world doesn’t see. Unfortunately, for Delta it failed (likely because Coulter just wanted to rant and didn’t want a remedy). They also get credit for defending their employees and other customers by tweeting “@AnnCoulter Additionally, your insults about our other customers and employees are unacceptable and unnecessary.”
Look, customer service issues are not something any organization wants to duke out in a public forum. You can’t ignore customers that have issues, especially if they are online talking about them. Rather, you should engage them online so others can see you’re responsive but ask the customer to come offline (we will call you to discuss the situation) to find a remedy. Talking directly to a person whether by phone or even better, face to face is much more powerful. If done right, it could turn a potential CS issue into a customer testimonial about how well you took care of them. That far outweighs any advertising or marketing dollars you can spend. The quicker you can get a potential issue offline from social media the better off you’re going to be. And the better you can resolve the issue and make the customer feel as if they are important to your business (which they sure better be) the better the situation is going to be.
In future blogs I’ll go further in detail about the best way to handle CS concerns that stem from social media. For now, we’ll just have to sit back and see the Coulter vs. Delta brawl continue to unfold. Excuse me, flight attendant, can I have a set of headphones so I can enjoy the in-flight entertainment?
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I write about a vast array of topics related to marketing, public relations, business development and business management. Sometimes the topic is very focused and my blog addresses very specific challenges with specific answers. While other times my blogs take a wider view of a topic or theory and are intended to make the reader think on a macro-level as opposed to providing specific answers. It’s like the proverb says: “Feed a fish to a hungry person you’ve fed them for a day. Teach them to fish you feed them for life.” The goal is not to give you the answers but to help you solve the challenges of your business through critical thinking. Either way, I hope my blogs elicit a reaction, good or bad. If good, we can compare notes and share stories of success. If bad, we can have a good old fashion debate. May the best debater win.