Wil Reynolds, founder of Philadelphia-based digital marketing agency Seer, arrived in New York City on four hours of sleep. With a presentation looming, he asked the front desk at the W Hotel for an early check-in. He was declined.
However, a quick tweet sent from the cab before his arrival—“Hoping you can check me in early today, got a big presentation and need a nap”—did the trick and scored Reynolds a suite with an outdoor terrace. “Someone walked over and told me they had a room for me, all because of the tweet,” he says.
From airline snafus to hotel hiccups, business travelers are turning to Twitter as a fixer. And the most savvy travel companies have responded, staffing up their social media teams and monitoring their feeds with an eye to increasing customer satisfaction and boosting brand loyalty.
“If you’re not listening in social, it’s like telling your call-center staff to take the next month off,” says Lucas Vandenberg, founder of Fifty & Five, a Redondo Beach, Calif.-based digital marketing agency. “Twitter is the most real-time tool we have.”
Vandenberg, who counsels major brands on establishing social platforms, has tweeted American Airlines about everything from lost bags to dining suggestions at its largest hub, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, an early social media adopter, has made a major investment in its digital presence; the company has people working around the clock and responding in just minutes. “It’s replacing calling the front desk for that subset of guests,” says Dan Moriarty, director of digital strategy for Hyatt. “We don’t want to pick up the phone and wait for the front desk; we want to tweet and get on with our lives.”
He adds that the company’s strategy has shifted from mainly troubleshooting to also responding to positive tweets, like a customer sending a photo of the hotel swimming pool accompanied by the question: “How about a drink?” Customers, says Moriarty, are trying to figure out if a big brand can be nimble enough to offer them personal attention.
Unlike alternative platforms, Twitter “saves time, energy and alleviates frustration,” says Dalia Strum, who teaches courses on social media for business at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “With Twitter, in real time you can do customer service.”
Case in point: With his flight to Atlanta set to arrive early, Stephen Oddo, co-founder of tour company Walks of Italy, New York & Turkey, used in-flight Wi-Fi to send Delta Air Lines a tweet requesting an earlier connection. Within three minutes he had a reply—“I will be more than happy to place you on standby for this flight”—and received a confirmation 39 seconds after that.
Though not every travel company is fully invested in the social universe, the best of the bunch offer instant gratification, or at least the perception that management is listening to you. Twitter’s brevity cuts to the chase for both sides. And replacing frustrating phone calls (often with long hold times) with text conversations provides a head-cooling sense of distance.
“I get better responses quicker than by picking up the phone,” says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog. “It’s partly because you can use smiley faces and not be so angry, which comes out over the phone in your tone of voice. At 140 characters, you have to be more concise and to the point.”