I have been following Virgin Atlantic – a British airline recently brought to North America. I had heard through a friend that Virgin had a great Twitter account that not only shared exclusive promotions, but also responded live to customer concerns and questions.
A quick look at the Virgin Twitter profile and it’s clear that the company has invested a lot of time and resources into the platform, and likely have hired a few a full-time employees just to manage the account. Along with their exclusive Twitter promotions (which are pretty common across all brands these days) they are constantly Tweeting funny pictures and updates from staff, pilots, or travellers, and retweeting updates from their customers.
Virgin also manages to be extremely responsive to customer’s tweeting concerns to them about things like in-flight food to their online ticketing purchases. They respond promptly and in a very personable manner. I decided to test their ‘Twitter customer service’ by sending them a direct message regarding the poor quality of their in-flight wifi on my flight from Seattle to Arizona. About 30 minutes later I received a response from the company profusely apologizing and stating that they would look into the issue immediately. I thanked them for their great customer service and the immediately responded with a smiley face wishing me a great day. Based on my expectations prior to this online interaction I would rate this service experience a 7 out of 7. I would base this rating on how prompt they were with their response, and the empathy they displayed that made me genuinely believe that they were concerned about my issue and were going to make sure it did not happen again. I was very pleasantly surprised to receive this kind of personalized service from such a large organization. When I sent in my complaint through Twitter I did not expect to receive anything more than an apology and some empathy and that is exactly what I received. The price of these services is absolutely free. You do not have to be a customer of Virgin Airlines to receive answers to your questions. This kind of personalized and humanized service would make me extremely likely (7 out of 7) to continue to do business with the company.
These days it’s pretty rare to find a large company that’s not on Twitter. But the issue I have found is that these companies fail to understand the essence of the platform; that Twitter is an innately social application, not just another medium to blurt out advertising messages. Virgin gets that Twitter is about one-to-one communication. They use the application not just share promotions, but to actually listen to their customers to allow them to enhance the Virgin Atlantic experience, and they don’t speak to us in some stodgy corporate voice, but a young and fun one that allows them to showcase their great brand culture.
Application to Text
Using Twitter as an outlet for fielding customer questions and complaints is a great way for Virgin to close Gap 1 of the Gaps model of service quality. The function of their Twitter activity can be used to eliminate inadequate customer research orientation, insufficient relationship focus, and inadequate service recovery. (Zeithaml, 2012 pg. 37)
Virgin’s one on one Twitter communication with customers almost adds a tangible characteristic to their services even though a major distinguishing characteristic of services over goods is that they are often thought to be intangible. (Zeithaml, 2012 pg. 20). Customers can see the Twitter responses from Virgin and they can go back and review the tweets whenever they want, almost making the twitter responses a piece of physical evidence of their service.
Services are also often thought of as heterogeneous. “They are frequently produced by humans, so no two services will be precisely alike” (Zeithaml, 2012 pg. 21). By being able to respond to customer inquiries and complaints through Twitter, Virgin can easier mechanize their customer service through these outlets by using consistent language and templates for their responses that fit the company image, reducing the challenges that heterogeneous services pose.
For organizations that have a presence on Twitter and other social media outlets, the effects of word-of-mouth communications have a major importance. One customer’s bad experience can be shared to their network of followers who can also share the experience with the click of the retweet button. These effects can travel very fast so it is important that a company like Virgin be very quick to respond to anyone trying to communicate their thoughts as negative word-of-mouth can travel very fast amongst Twitter’s ever-growing user base. The text states that “word-of-mouth communication tends to be very important in services that are difficult for customers to evaluate before purchase and before having direct experience of them.” (Zeithaml, 2012 pg. 64)
Another concept that could apply to service businesses using technological products can be the Eight Central Paradoxes of Technological Products. (Zeithaml, 2012 pg. 19) These paradoxes can cause challenges for companies like Virgin Atlantic just as much as they can benefit the organization.
This article talks about how service businesses are using social media to establish trust that will in turn lead to positive word-of-mouth communication. According to the article, “trust is not built overnight. It’s nurtured over time with every customer, vendor and employee micro-interaction.” (Smiciklas, 2011) I find this to be very accurate and relative to my service experience with Virgin Atlantic – – Although in my case they almost did build trust overnight with their prompt personalized responses.
Smiciklas, M. (2011, May 11). Word Of Mouth Marketing. Social Media Explorer. Retrieved January 15, 2013, from http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com/social-media-marketing/word-of-mouth-marketing/
Zeithaml, V. A., & Bitner, M. J. (2012). Services marketing (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education ;.
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