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Long Hold Times? Try Using Twitter

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If you don’t have time to wait on hold, consider contacting your airline via social media. TPG intern Kevin Song digs into the top airline accounts to see which carrier can best handle your request.

Nobody likes waiting on the phone, and these days, it seems that any time you need to call an airline, you’ll listen to the supposedly calming and orchestral hold music forever before reaching an agent. Last month, I wrote about how dialing international call centers can sometimes lead to a shorter hold time and less time spent on the phone, but in some cases there might be a better option available.

Thankfully, several US airlines has begun to offer customer service in 140 characters or less, by way of Twitter. This means that you can often get things done with only a couple of seconds of effort with no tinny voices and poor connections, even via in-flight Wi-Fi.

Today, I’ll look at the major airlines’ Twitter response times: American (@AmericanAir), Delta (@DeltaAssist), JetBlue (@JetBlue), Southwest (@SouthwestAir) and United (@United). To do this, I used SimplyMeasured‘s social media analytics tools.

The tool took a sample of thousands of tweets dating back one week. During this time, American received the most tweets by a wide margin — unsurprising, since it’s now the largest airline. Like most of the other airlines, many of those tweets, however, aren’t customer service requests. The exception to this is Delta, which has a separate Twitter handle for its customer service inquiries.

Second-best Delta is the airline to have a separate Twitter handle for customer service requests, @DeltaAssist.
Delta has a separate Twitter handle for customer service requests, @DeltaAssist.

I found that JetBlue, a pioneer of using Twitter for customer service, fared the best of all of the major airlines. With a blisteringly fast response time of just six minutes, you’d be hard-pressed to even reach a customer service rep over the phone in that time. Not only that, but a glance at JetBlue’s Twitter page shows tweet upon tweet of happy, satisfied customers, mood-lightening emojis and responses that show JetBlue really does care. Great job, JetBlue!

Delta’s response time was second-best at a respectable 17 minutes. American followed closely behind at 21 minutes. Notably, American attempts to prioritize elite flyers, for which tweeting via the American mobile app can help. The airline has even built its own Twitter client platform to better-manage its customer-service presence.

Lagging behind this leading pack of airlines, United showed a significantly slower response rate of 237 minutes (almost four hours). This seems consistent with our evaluation of the Twitter page, with most original tweets displaying “4h” at the time of reply.

At the same time, United featured the lowest response rate of any airline, at just 16%. Perhaps it just gets fewer customer service requests and more general tweets than the others, but the difference is drastic: JetBlue responded to 33% of tweets, while American responded to 41%. Delta has the highest response rate at 54%, but that figure is a bit skewed since Delta has separate accounts for the airline and customer service requests.

I’m a bit disappointed to see Southwest at the bottom of the pack — the airline performed so poorly, in fact, that I originally thought the reported average response time of 453 minutes (over seven hours!) was inaccurate. A quick visit to Southwest’s Twitter page, however, verified this number. While there were some quick responses, the page is littered with responses to two-day old tweets that sadly now display the date instead of “20m” as a sad reminder of the time elapsed since the tweet came in.

Rank Twitter Total Mentions Responses Response Rate Avg. Responses/User Avg. Response Time
1 @JetBlue 5,151 1,690 33% 1.94 6 min.
2 @DeltaAssist 5,383 2,926 54% 1.95 17 min.
3 @AmericanAir 16,218 6,649 41% 1.86 21 min.
4 @United 10,426 1,686 16% 1.38 237 min.
5 @SouthwestAir 7,759 1,884 24% 1.3 453 min.

Ultimately, sending a quick 140-character message on Twitter and waiting a few minutes for a reply trumps waiting on hold for hours. Even better, you can do it when you might not be able to chat on the phone — say, mid-flight.

Twitter can be a valuable tool, and even if you don’t regularly tweet, keeping a Twitter account active for that time you know you’ll miss your connecting mid-flight could save you hours when you land on the ground. It’s a great option, and I love that airlines are embracing social media.

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