Dear Southwest Airlines: You Still Don’t Get It
in crisis communications, In the news, Online public relations, online reputation management, social media, Travel
27 Jul 2016
Here’s an update on my ongoing issues with Southwest Airlines. I was, in fact, DM’d on Twitter by someone two days ago (it’s important to note that this occurred ONLY after I wrote my last blog post, put in in four places and it went pseudo-viral):
@markstory_ Sorry to hear that, Mark. Please DM us your confirmation number so we can follow up. ^JB
— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) July 25, 2016
Ok. That was way later than when I needed Southwest to respond, help me find my medications, my charging cords, my glasses, etc., (see last post), but it was a start. So I sent them my confirmation number and got this DM this morning:
What wrong with this
Although they responded, here’s what’s wrong with this picture:
- Congratulations on recognizing that I filed a baggage report. I did that at 10:00pm on July 21st in the Omaha airport. That was six days ago.
- I picked up my bag at Reagan National on Monday afternoon, July 25 at about 3:00pm. As simple check of the baggage database would reveal this. Why are you asking me something that you should already know?
- Yesterday, on July 26th, 2016, was when I got the DM asking me if I got my medications “so I can submit the receipts to [their] baggage team.” It’s almost tragically comical that I sent this tweet:
LOST BAG AND I HAVE NO HEART MEDICATIONS, @SouthwestAir and no one answers at the Omaha number. No answers online nor on 888. PLEASE HELP.
— Mark Story (@markstory_) July 22, 2016
I was asked if I got what I repeatedly referred to as LIFE SAVING HEART MEDICATIONS FIVE DAYS AFTER THE FACT. SO I CAN SUBMIT A CLAIM TO BAGGAGE?
Please get a clue, guys
My concern was not receipts, reimbursement nor the FIVE hours that it took me haggling with the insurance company to pay for a five-day supply of meds (along with the entire co-pay for a 30-day supply to the tune of more than $100) while in the middle of helping my friend move in 102 degree heat. I was concerned about my heart going “poof” and ending up six feet under. I conveyed this concern repeatedly via social media (Twitter and Facebook) as well as in probably more than 20 conversations and urgent messages left for baggage claim in Omaha and Chicago Midway. Yet surprisingly, I did not hear from anyone until my last blog post got pretty popular.
Moreover, no one cared then, in fact, if you recall, on four occasions when I got someone on the phone at Midway baggage, the HUNG UP ON ME and let the subsequent call to to voicemail. No one cared at the 800 number to put me on hold to see if THEY could reach anyone at baggage. All I heard was they would “send a message to Chicago.” No matter how desperate I was. No matter how much I pleaded.
So now, Southwest, do you actually think that my concern is solely getting “submitting receipts to the Baggage Team” (note that they did NOT say “for reimbursement”) nor did the person address any of the other things that I HAD to buy like an $84 power cord for my computer so I could continue to make urgent (and unanswered) pleas on social media? Or extra clothes and a host of other items?
Where I am now
I don’t like doing this. I sure hope that someone at Southwest is smart enough to not just read that I am angry, but to read the entire background. I am angry, and I am also a social media pro, guys. And I do not intend to stop. The communications that I have received up to now are rote and tone deaf. Again, I am not stupid. There were likely thousands of social media messages like mine. And I learned yesterday from a PR Week article that Shel Holtz sent me that:
Of the 104 people in [Southwest’s] communications and outreach team, two-thirds have been engaged in the response and support efforts.
By my math, that’s about 68 people – responding to thousands of messages. What that creates are almost bot-like answers like the one I got. Not good enough. As I have already pointed out, airlines have some of the best crisis communications planning of all industries, so why not add 200 or 300 customer service people from an agency that specializes just in this sort of thing? A simple Google search reveals dozens.
It starts at the top at Southwest
And as a side note, in the PR Week interview, “6 questions for Southwest Airlines’ CCO Linda Rutherford on outage crisis,” (published on July 22) Ms. Rutherford, presumably prepped by her communications staff, stated:
We’ve had a bit of a ragged start today. We found we had mismatches. In other words, we might have an airplane in one city, but our crew had timed out the day before and they didn’t get proper rest to fly. We have had some issues today we’re continuing to work through.
Since when are 700 canceled flights on July 21 and 800 canceled flights on July 22 considered a“ragged start?” This demeans my awful experience. It was not “ragged,” it was terrifying and exasperating.
When asked if Southwest was planning to offer any compensation to customers, Ms. Rutherford mentioned extending a fare sale (I think that people are going to be LESS likely to fly Southwest now) and a:
…massive effort underway to reach every customer individually impacted by a cancellation.”
Somehow, those messages never reached me, but MY messages fell on deaf ears. Finally, Ms. Rutherford stated:
Every situation is different, so we are tailoring the communication.”
TAILORING THE COMMUNICATION? How about just responding to my urgent appeals when I needed you last week? The DMs that I got could not have been more generic – and I also provided links to the posts that explained my situation. To not have “tailored the communications” when I provided excruciating detail in inexcusable.
Finally, and perhaps this is nit-picking or editing, but in Ms. Rutherford’s interview, the words “We’re sorry” (rule #1 is crisis communications – apologize early and often) do not appear until the ninth paragraph of the 11 that constituted her Q&A in PR Week.
Please stop shooting yourself in the foot, Southwest. I can keep this up as long as you keep messing up.