rainy window at the airportLast week I traveled to Boston for a wedding. And, as fate would have it, was scheduled to fly back right as Hurricane Irene hit.

As happened to many people on many airlines, my flight was cancelled. I sort of expected it, and I dutifully followed the email notification to the JetBlue website to try to get rebooked.

I called their phone line, got put on hold, and then finally got dropped from the line with the suggestion that I “call back later”.

I dug around for a contact form on their website and finally found one, after significant searching. I sent a message, but an autoresponse informed me that I missed this gem in tiny font in their sidebar:

jetblue response time by email is 7 to 10 days

7-10 days?! Alright, let’s get creative. A Google search uncovered people on some discussion boards were suggesting that you contact JetBlue via Twitter. I followed the JetBlue Twitter account and sent them a Direct Message with my flight confirmation code. 45 minutes later they DM’d me back to say that they’d rescheduled my flight to Wednesday afternoon. Wow, that was easy.

People are raving about how JetBlue provided fantastic social media support during this crisis. Here’s the thing:

Great customer support in one channel means jack squat if you provide terrible service in another official channel. You have to treat your customers well everywhere that you interact with them.

flier asks are you a loser? call 1-877-heyloserIn talking to the JetBlue folks on Twitter they told me that they had 14 people full-time responding to tweets/DMs on Friday night and Saturday morning. Why didn’t they have this level of support on their phone lines? It’s not just an official channel, but the official channel they list on their website.

Some will argue that Twitter is a more visible, more viral medium and thus more important to do good support on. I call shenanigans. Just because I phone in doesn’t mean I don’t have a Twitter account. And just because someone doesn’t have a Twitter account doesn’t mean they can’t raise hell (it didn’t take a Twitter account or a big video blogger for this video to damage Comcast’s rep…just an angry customer leading many other angry customers).

Here’s a better recipe for success:

  1. Make it easy to contact you. Hiding your contact form only shows that you don’t want to hear from me. That’s why we make the contact form easy to find on every UserVoice portal (even when companies request that we don’t).
  2. Provide equal support on every channel. A customer scorned will hurt you, no matter how much clout they have.
  3. Be prepared for disasters. Irene sucked for everyone. Train all your staff in support (like Zappos and UserVoice do) so that the guy who chooses movies for intercontinental flights could have been answering my call.
  4. Apologize. Sometimes, you just can’t provide the level of support you’d like to provide. Try apologizing. We humans are a sympathetic bunch.

On the plus side, I got a lot of UserVoice work done while waiting for a new flight. That’s something, right?

-Richard White
CEO, UserVoice

Airport photo by Ben (Falcifer).
Flier photo by quinnums.