Social Media: How Delta Airlines Loses Business One Customer at a Time

I just had an absurdly Kafka-esque experience with Delta Airlines in Atlanta that involved missed connections, a seeming tour of the bowels of the airport, and some of the worst customer service I've ever experienced in my life.

The irony is that the client I was on my way to meet in Little Rock happens to be a company in the telecommunications business, a sector that by it's nature draws a great deal of customer service inquiries and complaints. One of the main things we helped them do is to set up a dedicated customer service outreach channel on Twitter, something they have taken to eagerly and been using with a great deal of success.

So after hours of runaround in which my colleague and I were directed to multiple sections of the airport because no single Delta employee was empowered to rebook, supply a hotel room (we were lucky to get 20% vouchers and that was after a great deal of argument) or even tell us what our options were (at one point we were directed to speak to someone on a phone bank they had set up) we had missed every single flight we might have been rebooked on either going to Little Rock or simply returning home and now had to stay over in Atlanta.

As someone who works in social media I naturally turned to Twitter - many companies monitor the service for complaints. Several tweets plus some angry Facebook updates (I figured what the hell, why not?) elicited zero response. Nada. Zip. I'm not the only one, check out #deltafail for others.

The real tragedy here is that Delta made a halfhearted attempt to have a Twitter presence at some point here. Note that the most recent entries are a few from June. Before that they are from May. May 2007. To be fair Delta has a more recently updated Twitter stream linked to their blog but it seems to do very little from a customer service perspective.

So, why does this matter beyond the rant of an unhappy customer?

In the new world of social media, Google and other search engines are bringing up Twitter in results more prominently with each revision of their algorithms. A negative blog post like this one, on a site with a powerful presence like the Huffington Post can also rank well and lead to other blogs and posts linking in and out, spreading the story virally. Customer ratings sites are also increasing in prominence and in visitors, which in turn leads to search engines according them more weight on the results page.

Eventually as bad service experiences mount and are recounted online, a brand like Delta begins to have a very hard time shaking their reputation for lousy customer experience. I'll grant that some airlines might view what they do as a commodity - consumers look for the lowest prices above all.

Yet, they use Google and others to do so. For business travelers who are counting pennies does it make sense to go with Delta at the lowest cost ticket knowing that the service could potentially cause you to miss your meeting, or to simply use WebEx or another teleconference service knowing that you'll be on time at little or no cost, even if it's not in person? Customer service counts.

As for Delta, I'm still waiting for a reply to my tweets.