It wasn’t long ago when film director, Kevin Smith, had a notable exchange with Southwest Airlines where we was ejected allegedly due to his size from his seat. Without going into all the details, Kevin declared he was slender enough to fit comfortably in the middle seat and had a play-by-play account of the incident. Southwest Airlines had a few communication issues with their staff and possibly jumped the gun to get a quick response out to ease tensions between the Twittersphere. While facts might have clouded judgment in this situation, I did want to share my thoughts from a social media perspective.
I was about halfway through this blog post two days from the incident between Kevin Smtih and Southwest Airlines. I decided to finish it and share my thoughts with you. Enjoy!
Before we get on Kevin Smith and SWA, allow me to clarify my perspective. I run the social media presence for an emerging small business email marketing company. I know the tendency for people to share their slightest negative experience about companies online. It’s what the Internet is for — sharing your hatred and intolerance for each other online, pseudo anonymously.
A customer, no matter how big or small their ego can all talk with the front-end of a company’s marketing or PR team with social media.
I don’t fault SWA for responding quickly. In fact, it was a good thing they have dedicated staff managing their brand on Twitter.
I don’t fault Kevin Smith for holding the airline accountable to their customer service promises — even if he inflated the circumstances a little.
However, what I do fault is the strong claims from both parties denying any responsibility for the mixup. (Read it; the spin is “it’s not our fault.”)
Here are a few lessons we have learned from this and apply it to the world of social customer service and marketing:
- Everyone has a voice. Whether you like it or not, everyone has a voice, a perspective, an agenda and their views. You might not have everyone agree with you even if you’re an award-winning film director. Likewise, not all companies will acquiesce to the outcries of their customers. They have polices and processes for a reason and because of this, the voices turn to noise and confusion for the others who are listening.
- Speed is nice, but not mission-critical. In the world of crisis management, the speed of response does matter, but not nearly as much as the outcome of the whole deal. Taking the right amount of time to sync with all the parties the customer has interacted with and getting honest accounts of what has happened is better than getting it wrong, first. Because SWA did jump the shark a bit with getting a response together, it wasn’t as polished or necessarily what Smith was okay with. He called them out on it when he read it and there plausible deniability takes place and more of a PR mess for SWA to cleanup.
- As long as you take a rational approach to addressing the issue, you will get through it. As much of a bad PR this generated for Southwest Airlines, I don’t hear of people’s perceptions changing about them. People understand some airline policies are draconian and respect the fact Southwest has been in contact with the complainant. When Southwest talked through the matter and held their ground with what happened, the company made it through it. Likewise, you have to also consider, Kevin Smith’s agenda is that he has a new movie Cop Out that he love feeding the media his uncanny, witty perspective.
- People will bitch no matter what. You can’t win everyone, but you can do your best to. People will bemoan and belittle the processes a company has when they don’t understand or feel disgraced by them. The role a brand must do is to instill confidence and loyalty in their service. Sometimes, you’re wrong and that’s okay. No company is perfect.
- Win friends; they’re in this arms race. This takes PR crisis up a notch with how companies resolve them. I noticed on the Southwest Airlines blog, they have an open comment policy and it was evident, hundreds of people supported and … defended … Southwest Air for no apparent reason except for loyalty to their brand. With their track record of strong service, they have won friends and those friends (customers) will help out the brand when they need it.
With these lessons, it’s important to consider the size and the experience your brand provides. Southwest is in a highly competitive industry and their rates for airfare are one of the lowest I’ve seen. Each customer will probably have a different reason why they fly Southwest, but I can tell you, it’s not because of the leg room or comfort of the seats.
What do you think of the ordeal with Kevin and Southwest Airlines?