I was in San Francisco in August to attend the UX Week conference. At about 3.30pm on the last day of the conference – Friday – JetBlue sent me an email to say they had cancelled my flight to Boston on the Sunday.
I had accommodation booked in Boston, and in New York, where I was supposed to be on the following Tuesday. Not sure what to do, I immediately rang JetBlue’s customer service number to find out what my options were. The call was answered by a machine (as most incoming – and even some outgoing – calls are these days). The voice recording told me that the JetBlue customer service hotline was too busy to take my call, and that I should try again later. And then it hung up on me.
Ringing a call centre is rarely fun, even at the best of times. But to have them hang up on me when I needed help left me pretty angry. I didn’t know why they had cancelled my flight, or what my options were.
I scanned the internet and found that JetBlue had, in fact, cancelled over 1200 flights for the forthcoming weekend due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene on the east coast of the United States. I was just one of thousands of JetBlue passengers (and thousands more passengers on other airlines) who had been inconvenienced by the hurricane. Not wanting to be stuck, I quickly found a ticket out of San Fransisco to the east coast with US Airways for the following Tuesday – the first day that air travel looked like it would resume normal service.
So I had a ticket out of San Francisco, but I also needed to see what I could do about my cancelled JetBlue ticket. The JetBlue website said that they would offer full refunds for flight cancellations. I looked up JetBlue on Twitter. They appeared to be active and responding to mentions (of which there were not that many). I tweeted for help.
Not long after, JetBlue tweeted back, requesting me to send a direct message with my booking number. After a few messages back and forth over a ten-minute time span, my refund had been processed. And only a few days later, the full cost of the ticket was refunded to my credit card.
With 1200 cancelled flights and many more disrupted passengers, the customer service hotline was unable to cope with the instant spike in traffic and left me (and surely others) frustrated and anxious about my travel plans. By employing Twitter as a customer service channel, JetBlue was able to be responsive to customer demand where customers were requesting help.
While unanswered calls to an organisation’s customer service hotline can disappear into the ether, tweets for help are harder to ignore, especially as tweeters can instantly take their dissatisfaction to a wider audience. It’s good to see organisations becoming more aware of the conversations about the their brands happening in the online world, and best of all, to see them being responsive to facilitate better customer service. Good work, JetBlue!
Update: Sounds like this kind of help is typical of JetBlue. Check out this Harvard Business Review blog post for another view on great customer service during Hurricane Irene and another great save during ‘Snowmageddon’ 2010.