Very rarely does a US-based airline provide a case study on the best way to handle a customer service situation, but US Airways just surprised me. One of the most difficult situations that your social media team or customer service agents have to deal with is a planned change that your users will not like. It could be a price increase, it could be a cutback on available colors or sizes, for a game company it could be fewer free options in a free-to-play game. In all these situations, most companies normally brace for the backlash and hope to weather the storm with minimal damage.
Be proactive and anticipate unhappy customers
Rather than being reactive, however, US Airways showed how you could be proactive in a potentially damaging situation. US Airways recently completed its acquisition of American Airlines, and as part of the integration they will be switching from their previous network of airline partners to American’s network. For fliers who travel frequently on US Airways’ previous partners, the merger was bad news and they were going to be upset that they could no longer earn miles on their favorite carriers. What most companies would do would be to “man up,” prepare for a wave of complaints from customers who were unhappy they were no longer earning miles on US Airways’ old partners and probably book an anticipated loss of revenue from loyal customers who wanted to continue earning miles on one of US Airways’ old partners. I am in that latter group; although a “Gold” member of US Airways frequent flier program, I flew more frequently on United, an airline I would no longer be able to earn US Airways miles flying. Although I am a frequent traveler, I barely earned gold status in December of 2013, so I was not a “whale.”US Airways surprised me last week by sending an email that they were elevating me to Platinum status. With this move, US Airways increased my satisfaction with them and pre-empted complaints (or Tweets) I might have about the merger. More importantly, it increased switching costs, as I would lose more (platinum status rather than gold status) by moving to United’s frequent flier program. Thus, they avoided an unhappy customer and possibly creating an ex-customer.
Customer service and machine learning
Last week, I wrote about machine learning and this customer delight experience may have been a machine learning success, although I may be giving the US Airways’ analytics team too much credit. US Airways could haveused machine learning to analyze flight patterns of all of its frequent fliers, including which partner airlines they flew, and used this data to anticipate which fliers were most likely to switch to another airline. Its system may have flagged me since I did fly United so much and automatically upgraded my status to increase their retention metrics. Although US Airways may also have improved everyone’s status as part of its merger plan, it shows that social media and customer service are areas that machine learning can help optimize.