Customer service via Twitter – what a missed opportunity for airlines

Twitter can be a great channel for customer service. As my own research shows, customers see Twitter as a quick way of solving problems, obtaining information, and connecting with (and learning from) other users. Yet, not all firms seem to be embracing it.


Research by Priyanga Gunarathne, Huaxia Rui and Abraham Seidmann, looking at how seven major U.S. airlines respond to customer complaints on Twitter shows a disappointing picture. The researchers analysed the companies’ response to three million tweets from customers, and found that the airlines responded “to less than half of the tweets directed at them by complaining customers”. This is a poor performance, especially if we remember that firms usually respond to every call that they receive in call centres.


Gunarathne and her colleagues found that there was a very significant correlation between the number of followers and the probability of getting a response. That is, airlines were more likely to respond to the complaint when the tweets were posted by customers with a high number of followers.


Figure 6
Source: Gunarathne et al (2018)


However, the response rate declined when the tweets tagged multiple parties. For instance:

Table 1
Source: Gunarathne et al (2018)

Given this apathetic response, it is no surprise to see that more than 50% of the customers surveyed by Gunarathne and her colleagues felt worse after they had complained to the company, via Twitter. More than 50%! What a missed opportunity!


The study is entitled “When Social Media Delivers Customer Service: Differential Customer Treatment in the Airline Industry” and was published in the journal MIS Quarterly, here (paid access, only). A free summary is available here.

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