Saturday, February 9, 2013

how i met porter gale or the power of microblogging

originally posted on the posterous site. july 24, at 02:49:00pm

it’s been a long time since i have blogged and for my “loyal following” i apologize…i do have a few more in the pipeline, and i knowhow you hang off my every word…lol.

that said, here is my latest entry...

tonight (june 23rd), i saw in action the power of what i do (e-marketing, social media) in action. sure i know, you’re saying, “but kirk, you do this for a living, and if you were a skeptic, what the heck am I [the reader] doing here?”. to some degree, you bet, sure i was a skeptic about the usefulness of social media and e-marketing, some times seeing both as anything more than ways to get coupons and well frankly, twitter as nothing more than the “collective’s state of consciousness”, if you were to see my inbox, you’d agree – if i get another email about my faulty hip-replacement, i’m gonna break some one’s hip –more over, what the hell kind of websites do I visit i end up on anyway…

anyway, back to the subject matter at hand… as i’m writing this, i am in san francisco airport, waiting to get on a plane to get home to dc. i should clarify, i am waiting stand-by to get on a flight to get home to dc.

i called the airline this morning, told them that i wanted to know if there was the ability to fly stand-by home this evening, instead of flying home tomorrow morning. the call center agent told me sure, there is plenty of room on the flight, and to just show up at the airport two hours before the flight. i repeated to the rep, “so there is more than likely enough room to go home this evening; i just need to show up two hours before the flight. yes was the response (or something along those lines).

i worked all day, in our san francisco office, and went back to the hotel and packed. checked out, and shared a cab – yes i know…i shared a cab, with a guy who snored the whole ride! got to the airport, and went to the virgin america gate. it was here that i met abby, a wonderfully sweet agent who started processing the stand-by request and then it happened. abby said to me that the policy is that you can only fly standby on the same day of the flight you’re already scheduled for, and since i was supposed to fly out tomorrow on the first flight (at 7:00am), i would have to pay the change fee and airfare difference, which was more than $800.00.

i told her that wasn’t what i was told on the phone, and she called over a supervisor. the supervisor said that policy was policy and that no exceptions could be made. abby said that i could call the call center again, and talk to them, and ask them to pull the recording of the conversation and to note it in the file, and then maybe something could be done. i called, talked with franklin, who was not willing to make a concession at all, asked to speak to his supervisor – because at this point i was stranded at the airport, i had already checked out and everything. i got amy. amy talked with me and went in depth about how it is the airport staff’s option to bend the rules and make an exception. i asked her to call the gate agents and speak with them, and she said that since it was their decision, there was nothing she could do. i explained to her that since it was her employee who gave me misinformation, that she should as a courtesy call the gate and tell them and try to advocate on my behalf. she was having no part of it and said that I could tell them to call her (well the call center) and that they would pull the recording of my call this morning and verify that misinformation was given and that it would still be up to the airport staff.

i went back to abby, told her, and she called over a different supervisor. the supervisor said to abby, hold on, there may be something we can do – i need to make a phone-call. the supervisor returns, and says to abby in passing – the decision has been made, he’s not getting on – and walks away.

it was at this point that i took to twitter. i’ve been following porter gale for a while now, she is the vice president of marketing for virgin america. and i tweeted to her and to virgin america that i couldn’t believe that they wouldn’t stand behind the call center’s misinformation and that i was now stranded at the airport. friend’s picked up the cause too. it was then that I walked down to the usairways counter, having found a same day flight for $400.00 to dca. talked with the rep from usairways, she told me to book it online cause if i purchased it from her, it would be an additional $35.00 since i was dealing with a real person and told her how nice it was to hear the full story from an airline and i proceeded to call virgin america again, to ask, nay beg, for them to refund the airfare home, so that i could purchase the ticket with usairways. while i was explaining the issue, another call came into my cell and it was a 650 number, and i answered. it was abby the gate agent.

abby said to me, mr. gray we have your stand by ticket, can you please come back down to the gate and pick it up. i walked all the way back to terminal two, and found abby who had the ticket printed for me, told me what i needed to do and where i needed to go. and then in what had to be the most professional move i have ever seen by anyone in a service oriented job, came from behind the counter, said that she was sorry for what had happened and shook my hand.

it was then that i looked at my phone when I got in line for security and there were a bunch of messages from virgin america and porter gale in my feed saying to please contact them to explain what was going on, that they were sorry for the delay and that they knew it was being taken care of. i immediately tweeted that i knew that virgin america really was the rockstar airline that i knew they were.

i got to the gate, had dinner, checked in with the gate agent, and gave her my “get out of jail” pass, and saw her pick something up and put it behind that (it was actually my boarding pass). and she said to me, if we have any seats, we’ll call you up 20 minutes prior to loading the plane. i waited around, and low and behold, I was actually given a prime seat – aisle, and allowed to board with the rest of the passengers – in fact in zone 1. the first time ever! i asked the gate agent if my twitter conversation was in my notes, she smiled and politely said, i don’t see anything out of the ordinary and a wink.

all said, the morale of this story, and one that we are taught from day one as customer service reps or marketers is that good service goes unrecognized – and if it does, you know you’ve done your job. bad service though on the other hand…well that one person who received bad service will tell ten people…and they’ll tell 10 and so on. and that was before the days of social media, i told 130+ people about my poor experience and my friends told untold numbers of people. in a matter of minutes, a rock-star reputation can be turned into one of a snake-oil salesman. so it is important to respond to clients and to naysayers alike in a timely matter on social media, the comments and the feelings get communicated at 4G speeds (okay i carry an iphone4, so at 3G speeds) to every corner of the planet, and they live on forever on some server somewhere.

a recent survey conducted by forrester on behalf of dell found that companies that implement and engage customers through social media see positive business returns in customer satisfaction and loyalty metrics1. meaning that people may not still tell more than one person about the good service you’re providing, but they will and can tell hundreds and thousands more about the bad service and that is a public conversation, and they need to be cleared up as soon as possible.

in my case, virgin america did turn out to be the rockstar company that i knew they were, that they would do the right thing, and porter gale and the others at virgin america knew that by doing this, and staying on top of the conversation, that the level of engagement would net them a customer for life. they know that “you have choice when it comes to air travel…and they thank you for flying virgin america”.

so do yourself a favor, as a marketing professional, develop a social media plan, and follow it and engage your customers and clients. as a customer or client, use the power of the internet sparingly. a wise uncle once said, “with great power, comes great responsibility”.

follow porter gale on twitter
follow virginamerica on twitter

1Survey Reveals Social Media Listening and Engaging Pays Off. Retrieved from, http://socialmediatoday.com/steve-olenski/320749/survey-reveals-social-media-listening-and-engaging-pays on July 23, 2011.

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