Southwest Airlines Teaches Us the Don’ts of Customer Service and Public Relations in the Twitter Age

Southwest Airlines’ Twitter Missteps

If you are not convinced how crucial customer service is, especially now in the digital age, then Southwest Airlines has a lesson for you. Last week, a news story made the rounds that said a Southwest gate agent allegedly removed a passenger for tweeting that she was rude.

The claim states that Duff Watson, a Minnesota man, and his two children were flying Southwest Airlines out of Denver, and Watson is an A-List program member. As such, he is entitled to priority boarding, but the gate agent allegedly told him that his two kids, aged 6 and 9, are not allowed to board early with him. They had an exchange, allegedly without any swearing or aggression, and he then tweeted that she was the rudest agent in Denver and included her first name and last initial. Watson got on the plane with his kids, but was then escorted off because the gate agent said that she felt threatened by his tweet and he was not allowed to get back onto the plane until he had deleted that tweet.

Let’s put aside the conversation on the implications this has on first amendment rights and that the gate agent had him removed from a flight because she felt threatened by him after he had already departed the airport, and then suddenly felt better when he removed the tweet. Different conversations for a different time. What this exchange does teach us is the importance of customer service because when you talk to one person, you’re actually talking to all 500 of their followers and their followers’ followers, and so on. And then there are the news outlets that love a story like this.

If the story is true, then Southwest’s first mistake (we are saying Southwest because any customer service agent is automatically a representative of their company) was taking a petty stance with Watson. It doesn’t cost you to show a loyal customer a little extra attention and kindness. However, when you don’t, that customer can (and will) easily blast your company on the internet, which is easily spread with the click of the retweet button.

Secondly, you have to know when to quit. There have been dozens of stories of companies getting into social media fights with customers and this is no different. Twitter and Facebook and other social media platforms are often a company’s primary marketing tools, it gives them a voice to a large public, but it also gives everyone else a voice to a large public and you don’t want it to be a bad one. A negative tweet or post about your company may sting, but picking apart the issue with any negativity will burn.