You might think the unofficial airline of the ultra-tech savvy would understand the power of social media to communicate both positive and negative messages.
Up until recently Virgin has benefited from an outpouring of positive social media messages spread by its army of loyal supporters. Lately, however, the coin has flipped and they are on the receiving end of a deluge of negative press brought on by the implementation of a new reservation system which has led to delayed flights, problems with their customer service system and problems with their web site.
What I found most interesting about this debacle is the response from their spokesperson: "Virgin spokeswoman Abby Lunardini said, “It’s a once in a lifetime cutover for an airline. If you look at the past history of cutovers [to new reservations systems], they never are easy for airlines. Every airline has tended to see issues for weeks, if not months afterward.”
Am I to infer from this statement they knew how bad it was going to be and did nothing to mitigate the problems they anticipated? That seems very...um, 20th century.
All of this negativity could have been avoided with the proper use of their huge social media network.
1. Communicate what's coming so guests can be prepared. Nobody likes surprises, especially surprises that work against them or inconveniences them in ANY way. Don't assume things will work themselves out eventually. This is a recipe for social media disaster. (see the recent example set by Netflix.)
2. Increase your social media diligence and be ready to handle the questions, complaints or suggestions which are likely to start rolling in within MINUTES of the changes. Don't wait until the problems start popping on as a feature story at CNN. Be ready to address every problem that comes in IMMEDIATELY.
3. Review your plan again. If you believe the plan you are about implement is going to cause problems for your customers ask yourself if it is really worth the trouble you are going to cause. If it is, if there truly is no way around the changes you are about to implement, let your customers know as soon as possible. Tell them what problems you anticipate this will cause for them. Solicit their feedback BEFORE you implement the changes. It is possible will someone will make a suggestion or piece of advice which might help you improve your plan. It at least shows you care enough to make the transition as painless as possible.
These are three simple steps Virgin Airlines could have taken to make this less of a disaster and more of a seamless integration of new technology. Instead it has cast a shadow on their (until now) spotless record of flawless customer relations and made them yet another example of What Not To Do.
Lunardini said that a major deployment that went in on Friday should fix many of the issues that customers are experiencing. She hopes that any remaining issues will be fixed with another deployment schedules for Dec. 8.
Once the bugs are worked out, the Sabre system will allow Virgin to offer new capabilities such as codesharing with V Australia and Virgin Atlantic, an elite program for very frequent fliers and mobile tools.
“We are hoping that when we get on the other side of these last errors that guests will still enjoy the experience with us and stay with us,” Lunardini said.
In the meantime, frustrated passengers continue to use social media to vent. To its credit, Virgin America is leaving negative comments up on its Facebook page, where it could easily remove them.
“Arrrgffhggh. – based in silicon valley – high tech airline that can not get it’s website working for weeks – wrong. Hold time on phone over 47 minutes !!,” wrote commenter Winston Vaughan.
Click here to read more about the Virgin Airlines debacle.