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Air France Goes All-in With Social Customer Service

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Wondering what I thought about it, a friend just sent me Air France’s press release announcing its Social Customer Service:

Air France At Your Service 24/7 On Social Media

My knee-jerk reaction? It’s standard PR horn-tooting to help get fans and validate that they made the right decision going all-in with social.

After taking a day to think about it, I don’t feel much different.

Listen, I don’t want to be mean about it. Running a social service operation is a total pain in the ass. Air France was probably already a 24/7 operation, but I really feel for other companies forced to extend to non-business hours, weekends, and holidays in order to meet the rising expectations of their customers. And dealing with multiple languages? That’s even harder – unless you can find multi-linguals, team size increases dramatically with each new language you service. Then there’s the fact that most companies perceive service departments as cost centers and constantly put the squeeze on budgets. So, before I go on, I’ll tip my hat to the Air France folks for doing what they’ve got to do to engage their customers. Looking at their feed, it’s obvious that they pay attention to their customers.

 

As for the press release, I can’t help but think they’re making a big stink while being at least three years late to the game. Furthermore, the stated objective to “acknowledge [customer] requests in less than an hour, and provide a solution in less than 24 hours” isn’t that impressive. To be clear, it’s not bad, but it’s also not great, especially for an airline. Not because I think an airline should have an easy time of helping people more quickly but because the needs of the customers can be very time-sensitive. If I tweet about a weird smell, a broken seat, or an unwelcome seat change on my flight from London to Paris (a 90 minute flight), I wouldn’t even get an initial acknowledgement until the tray tables are stowed for landing.

Of course, Air France, and most other enterprise organizations, can use social media very effectively for answering the easy stuff, like “is flight AF123 on time?” or “what liquids can I get through security?”, but these questions are already answered in other places so the tweets basically write themselves. Don’t get me wrong, adding the human touch and responding to customers in their chosen venue is super valuable, but what’s missing from today’s social service is a solution for dealing with the complaints and the special situations. That’s where a customer service agent stands to truly impact the customer experience, but it’s also where social service struggles the most.

In time-sensitive, emotionally-charged, or account-specific situations, how do you give someone the attention they deserve in social?

The telephone is really the perfect solution, but customers are increasingly moving to asynchronous social channels with these issues. The hidden truth, though, is that they only want the convenience of asynchronization, but they want the speed and security of a phone call. Basically, they want text messaging, and you can’t be the annoying boyfriend who takes too long to respond.

When someone has a real solution for that, and I’m pretty sure some are in the works, I’ll be excited.

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