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Airlines are coming for your social media

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Consumers are spending more time online than ever before, and much of that increase in usage is attributable to the growth in mobile apps.

Armed with smartphones, travelers are empowered; Their voices can be heard loud and clear.

Keeping this in mind, airlines need to make sure they are engaging customers in the most effective means possible, notes the Conversocial Airline Benchmark Report. Its research found that 84 percent of airlines are increasing their investments in customer experience technologies.

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Social media is becoming a more popular way to engage when a customer has a question. The report says that 31 percent of customers currently turn to social media to make pre-sales inquiries.

Forty-three percent of airlines cite delivering customer service via social media as their top priority for 2018, and Twitter is one of the fastest-growing platforms for customer relations, consumer problem resolution and inquiries.

According to Conversocial’s research, a resolved negative tweet results in three times more revenue than a positive tweet.

The report highlights airlines “leaders and laggers” when it comes to social responses: Airlines in North America performed better than counterparts in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) in terms of responding to inquiries via social media.

American Airlines was the most responsive North American carrier while JetBlue had the “best mean response time” at just under five minutes.

When it comes to EMEA carriers, the most responsive was Etihad. The airline with the best mean response time was Lufthansa, which responded within about nine minutes.

The least-responsive airlines were Air Canada and Lufthansa, while the worst mean response times were from Finnair and United. Finnair, on average, took more than five hours to reply, and United responded over one hour after an inquiry.

The mean industry response time was approximately 20 minutes for North American airlines and about one hour and 41 minutes for EMEA air carriers.

Messaging may be where the industry is headed for airlines looking to take the next step in social engagement.

Twitter might still be the go-to social media platform for passenger flight inquiries, but Facebook Messenger looks to be catching up: Between March and August of last year, Facebook Messenger volume more than doubled for three of Conversocial’s airline partners.

The report cited a number of new ways that airlines can engage customers through private messaging. Capabilities have improved on major social networks, such as Twitter direct messenger and Facebook Messenger, as well as standalone messaging platforms such as WhatsApp.

Public comments on Twitter and Facebook may have been standard practice a year ago but the landscape has changed.

“While social media customer care started in response to public complaints on Twitter and Facebook, for many brands the majority of questions and complaints have now shifted almost completely to private messaging channels,” the report found.

READ MORE: How Social Media Impacts Travel Decisions

Complaints, however, are only the beginning.

Research also shows that customers like the real-time capability of messaging. The process enables them to engage with a person who they can see typing and responding directly to them. Consumers also appreciate the ease with which they can link to records and the direct connection to smartphone notifications.

While it may be tempting to operate these systems with bots rather than actual humans on the other end, that has not caught on with airlines, where rebooking processes are far more complicated. Some automation, such as customer data gathering, is easily achieved through automation but sticking to personal service in the resolution of a problem is ultimately still the way to go.

“Passengers may have evolved to prefer a more mature interaction with their airline of choice,” the report found, “but they are still reaching out to resolve an issue.”

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