Behind the Scenes: How American Airlines Uses Twitter to Enhance the Customer Experience

There is no question that social media outlets like Twitter have changed the way we interact with individuals, celebrities, public figures, and companies.  With a few keystrokes you can speak to anyone and often have your voice heard.  As Twitter became more commonplace, big brands and corporations have increased their presence on the platform, pushing out branded content, promotions, and resharing content that enforces their brand message.

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American Airlines uses Twitter both as a venue for sharing branded content but is best known in the frequent flyer community for providing excellent and timely customer service.  That’s not marketingspeak, I personally rely and depend on the @AmericanAir Twitter account when I need help and they have come through for me almost every time.

While I’ve always been sure that it wasn’t just 1-2 people sitting behind a computer somewhere offshore, I never truly knew how their operation worked.  I reached out to American Airlines and recently had the chance to go behind the scenes at their corporate headquarters to see exactly how everything works.

Years of Experience

DFW Founders Plaza

American Airlines 777-200

American Airlines has more than 20 people on their Twitter team, and surprisingly the average Twitter team member has  15 years of experience at American Airlines.  They come from myriad departments, from Reservations to Baggage to the Executive Platinum desk to Customer Relations (and more).  This gives the Twitter team an incredibly thorough knowledge base from which to help customers, and in fact that’s one of the tools they use on the team: a searchable knowledge base which acts as a bit of a hivemind, giving the team access to information they need when they need it.

Priority Seating

I know American makes a big deal about Priority Access when it comes to things like elite status and boarding order, and the Twitter team sits in the corporate equivalent of priority seating.  Their team is split between American’s corporate headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Integrated Operations Center (IOC) about a mile down the road.  At headquarters the team sits on the floor below the executives between marketing and external communication teams.  Since the team has their fingers on the “pulse” of their passengers at the moment, they can provide valuable feedback to other customer-facing teams.

The team at the IOC sits close to operations, dispatch, scheduling, and they even have a person on the Bridge, where up-to-the-minute decisions are made by the Duty Director when it comes to delaying/canceling flights, shuffling crews around, and getting planes where they need to be.  Why do they sit where they do?  Because sometimes they need to inform folks in the various departments of issues they see coming across their Twitter feed (seat maintenance issues, things like that) and also so they can get up-to-the-minute information from the people actually making the decisions to help customers trying to get to their final destination.

So what happens when you tweet @AmericanAir?

Your tweet goes into a custom social response (designed in-house by American’s IT team) and various members of the team read through it and evaluate if it’s a question, statement, or something with which they can help.  If it’s a simple “can you give me the status on flight AA___” sort of question they can quickly answer.  If you Direct Message American, they’re able to associate your AAdvantage number with your Twitter account so they can instantly pull up information about your status level and your reservations when you reach out in the future.  They can also pull up your previous conversations with the team in case someone else needs to assist with an issue (so they can see the history of the conversation instead of needing to ask the same questions over and over again).

Whenever a question has been answered, they mark that in their system and move on to the next tweet.  Having sat there and watched the big board at American Airlines headquarters building I can personally tell you that the amount of tweets directed at American are mind-blowing (more on that later).

Put simply, if it’s something the Twitter team can help with, they will.  They are not robots, they are very nice and friendly people who truly do want to help.  That said, sometimes they’re not the best venue to answer a question or assist a customer.  For instance, they can’t take credit card information over Twitter, since it is not a secure platform.  In that case they would direct you to call Reservations or another appropriate party.

Just how busy do they get?

You will be amazed.  Here are some stats put together by the American Airlines Social Media Insights department.

In 2015:

  • American Airlines was mentioned 5.6 million times on social media
  • 60% of conversations about American were on Twitter
  • This adds up to roughly 4,400 tweets per day, or 180 tweets/hour!

It’s absolutely crazy to sit there and watch the tweets fly in.  Not to mention American’s massive social media growth: in 2015 their Twitter followers increased 23%, Facebook increased by 8%, and their Instagram followers almost tripled.  As more and more people embrace social media, it’s cool to see a company as big as American Airlines recognize the shift to social and position experienced personnel where they can be most beneficial.

Best Practices for Interacting with the Twitter team

(a note: these are not from American Airlines, they’re purely from my experience interacting with the team)

  • Praise publicly: If you want to praise an employee, mention @AmericanAir in the body of your tweet with the flight number and the crew member who did a wonderful job.  I’ve verified they do in fact pass on these compliments to the appropriate supervisors to ensure proper recognition is received
  • Critique in private/DM: If you need to discuss something that went wrong on a flight, it’s best to utilize the Direct Message functionality to have a private conversation.  I’m not saying this to protect American, but Direct Messages are not subject to the character limit that regular tweets are, allowing you to tell the whole story in one message.
  • DO NOT SEND PERSONAL INFORMATION IN A PUBLIC TWEET: If you do not know the difference between a public tweet/reply and a direct message, read this article.  If you need assistance with a specific reservation, always use a direct message.
  • Always provide the following information: If you’re referencing a reservation, always provide the PNR (the six-character reservation code) or ticket number of your itinerary, what is happening, and what you would like to happen instead (if you’re complaining about something)
  • They are not counselors, skip the emotions: American isn’t happy that their flight was delayed and caused you to miss your second niece’s third cousin’s dance recital, but there’s really nothing they can do in that immediate moment to help (other than provide information), they do not have a phone where they can call the pilot of an active flight and say “hey go faster”.  Give them the facts of the situation, what you think makes it right, and they will make it happen if they can.  If they can’t help you they will tell you who can.

 

I hope you enjoyed this look into the Twitter team at American Airlines, let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!

7 Comments

  1. I disagree that you should critique in private via DM. When companies like AA do something stupid and it’s clearly their fault (i.e.not thunderstorms)?negative tweets let them and everyone else know they can do better. Everyone here knows American has a LOT of room for improvement.

    Reply
    • I agree with you that there’s a lot of improvement needed but it’s more about the venue of the complaint for me.

      Reply
  2. This is super informative. Thanks for putting this together!

    Reply
  3. I know you wrote this in reference to AA but it is quite useful for all airlines. As far as AA, I had the fastest resolution via twitter to access Doha airport lounge when my Exec Platinum card had not arrived before my flight.
    I’ve used your twitter tips for United & Hertz with great results.
    Thanks for the concise but informative post.

    Reply
  4. Andy, do you have anyone that you can contact for conflicting information about policy that’s given from the Twitter team? For example, I’ve read many Executive Platinums complain recently about mixed messages regarding whether or not they need to be at the gate to receive an upgraded boarding pass. When asking the Twitter team, they get differing responses as to what AA’s policy is. How does this happen?

    Reply
  5. I’m wondering about highlighting American airlines and Delta Airlines current policy change on crediting mileage accounts based upon fare class. This seems incredibly punitive in further punishing economy class passengers so that they receive only 25% of their base miles traveled on their account. I could certainly understand not applying bonuses to those economy fare accounts but to actually only partially credit their miles traveled based on how much they paid for their ticket seems like a policy supportive of the “rich getting richer” ideology.
    Why have I not seen more pushback on this to American and Delta… Alaska airlines has not made this policy change and they’ve stayed in business?

    Reply
  6. I have found Tweitter to be the best way to successfully communicate with any airline with issues such as lost luggage which I unfortunately have had to do too many times.

    Reply

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