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Off Topic: Southwest Airlines Monitoring Twitter For Customer Service/Brand Protection

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

My Southwest Airlines flight from New Hampshire to Philly yesterday sucked the big one.  Flying into Philly is always a gamble but yesterday I went all in and flew SWA for the first time instead of US Scareways.

My flight was supposed to take off at 5:20 PM.  It actually took off at around 7:45 PM.  Due to "weather," once we arrived over PHL airspace, those of us in the bovine express class then endured 30 minutes of low-earth orbit in a holding pattern awaiting vector approach clearance to land once we got there.

Upon landing, we waited almost 30 minutes for our luggage only to find that they had to go back for a second load since the first wasn’t large enough of a sweep to claim them all.  The baggage came…and went.  Mine wasn’t amongst them.  It was now 10:30pm.  At this point, one of my VP’s who was also traveling to the same locale wisely left.  Cue the violins.

I filed a claim next to a woman who was going apeshit over her drenched and soiled suitcases.  The migrant baggage helper person said that another flight was due in shortly (about 45 minutes) and I could wait to see if it was on that flight.  I made some remark about pitching a pup tent in baggage claim.  I could hear crickets chirping…

This was all friendly and helpful enough.  There was no reason to get medieval as the poor souls behind the counter can’t even track bags to tell if they landed — or so they say.  Upon filing my claim, I asked that my bag just be returned to NH or delivered to my hotel given the fact that I was staying only one night before returning home.  They would try the latter as the last run to "local" hotels was around midnight.

I was prepared for the old fake-finger-teeth-brushing and washcloth-the-armpits routine to get me through my meeting if need be.  Wow.

It was now almost 11pm.  I still had to collect my rental car and drive 45 minutes to my hotel.

As I was walking out, I saw a strange man return my bag to the carousel. I reckoned that if he took it, loaded it with explosives and put it back, that hopefully I would suffer a quick death.  No such luck.

I picked it up and wrung it out.  It was soaked.

I shrugged it off, got the rental and got to my hotel in one piece.

Corporate accounts payable, Nina speaking. Just a moment…

Of course I twittered the entire experience with my normal (lack of) withholding.  I didn’t address the tweet to @southwestair or anything, but I obviously mentioned them by name.

This morning I was quite amazed to see that someone (not something) from Southwest was monitoring Twitter feeds and responded to me.  I can tell it isn’t a bot because of the responses to the rather colloquial nature of some of my tweets.  Check it out:


The plea to let them try again to earn my loyalty and prove that "Southwest=Awesomeness" came from a statement that "Southwest=Suckage."  😉

It’s pretty interesting that they have people monitoring Twitter for brand/reputation purposes — it comes across as a customer service effort, also.   I know it’s not as profound as some of the remarkable Twitter stories of late, but it was cool.

Cool and frightening at the same time.  So, thanks for the attention, SWA.  We’ll see how you do on my return flight today.

Anyone else have an experience such as this?


Update: The flight back was great.  It arrived early, to boot.  I have to say that my Southwest Twitter experience wasn’t just a single fire and forget incident as "they" twittered back again to check up on me:



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  1. April 29th, 2008 at 18:40 | #1

    Chris –
    I think this is pretty common. There are lots of reports about Comcast and others monitoring Twitter. It is possible that they do it directly, but more likely they pay someone to do the monitoring
    'Clipping services', where a company monitors newspapers world wide and e-mails you once a day with 'clips' from any article that mentions your organization (for a fee) have been around forever. That type of service has been extended to blogs as of about 2004 (BlogSquirrel, many others). So why not social networks & micro-blogs?
    What was that McNealy quote – "You have zero privacy anyway, Get over it."

  2. April 29th, 2008 at 19:15 | #2

    As usual, you clued into a subtext I was wondering if anyone would notice — the "privacy" issue. The reality is that I expect zero privacy but I'm often still amused/surprised when feeds are mined in unusual (or at least unexpected) ways that use that information.
    I get clips all the time — I use Google Alerts and so do my PR handlers. However, these are generally not interactive. The SWA folks are using Twitter to not only taste-test customer satisfaction but influence it. It think that's interesting.
    I think you're absolutely right about the premise that it's probably not even SWA doing the monitoring, but their effort paid off…I'm a lot happier than I was yesterday just given the fact that "someone" listened…

  3. April 29th, 2008 at 23:50 | #3

    What is sad is that companies are investing in strange ways of tracking bad comments and not fixing the issues in the first place.
    Case in point:
    My stupid Cell Phone provider has an online form where one can complain about poor service. I used it and heard nothing back from them for about a week. Then I complained on a public forum about the lack of service and all of a sudden they were running to get me sorted out. Finally after I was all sorted out someone responded to my posting on their online form. (Phone them up? What a joke!)
    I'm sure it would be so much easier and cheaper for them to have sorted me out on their own website than monitoring public fora and then sorting me out once I had complained publicly.
    Go figure.

  4. April 30th, 2008 at 09:14 | #4

    It would be nice if they didn’t try so hard to be OMG totally awesomely hip in their PR messages, though. The fact that they monitor and use Twitter at all should be enough street cred for them.
    BTW, Chris, you’re a busy guy with kids — how in the hell do you have time to Twitter? Do you do it from a phone during airport stops, or what? I don’t even have time to read anybody else’s tweets, much less think about posting my own.

  5. April 30th, 2008 at 09:18 | #5


  6. May 1st, 2008 at 09:01 | #6

    I had a similar kind of experience not that long ago… Trying to set up a SlideShare account to include a PPT in my blog. Turns out the Chinese were launching a DDoS attack at the time, and the site was performing horribly. I tweeted my frustration and 2 SlideShare employees got back to me in about 10 minutes with an update. They couldn't solve the problem, but gave me enough info to know how to finish the blog so I could go to bed.
    Of course, I feel quite special and loyal now, so I posted a rave blog the next day. http://snurl.com/26ntn
    Now I'm working collecting these kinds of stories, because I think the phenomenon is quite interesting.

  7. May 24th, 2008 at 04:41 | #7

    The best way to get customer service? Blog or Twit them

  1. October 10th, 2009 at 20:59 | #1
  2. October 29th, 2009 at 12:10 | #2