The gift that is Customer Feedback. How not to accept it by Southwest Airlines & Easyjet


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Customer feedback comes in many different forms. Often sought out by companies, it can be captured via email, web pop up or telephone surveys. It can be recorded in face to face customer focus groups or received in person before, during or after an interaction with a customer. Some still leave good old-fashioned paper forms for customers to fill in, whilst new-fangled QR codes attempt to entice consumers to use modern technology to tell companies what they think.

It is no big secret that the newest form of customer feedback’ is of the unsolicited kind. This is feedback that is not necessarily asked for, yet can potentially have the most significant effect on the companies it relates to. This is the feedback that is being produced on a daily basis across social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Despite the fact they have been in existence for a while, companies are still struggling to adapt to their very existence. On a regular basis, social media customer experience horror stories are being exposed – in this blog post I will be sharing two of them from the airline industry.

The two stories I am going to share relate to customer feedback posted on Twitter. Before I do share them with you, I would like to make you aware of some amazing statistics about Twitter. These statistics were posted in an excellent blog by Brian Honigman called ’10 Surprising Twitter Stats for Community Managers‘. You can read about all ten on Brian’s blog – the ones I want to draw your attention to are as follows:

  1. The average company is tweeted 39 times a day and 273 times a week
  2. 53% of brand followers expect them to respond to their comments in an hour. That number jumps to 72% when it’s a complaint
  3. 60% of company mentions are posted when you’re not at the office
  4. 30% of tweets including company names don’t include their Twitter handle
  5. Only 9% of tweets mentioning a company are directed at the company
  6. 97% of major brands are on Twitter

Companies cannot hide from the fact that Twitter is a hugely important vehicle for BOTH customers and their own businesses. Customers (whether existing or potential) use twitter as a way of stating a number of things. They use it to praise companies and their employees. They use it to ask companies specific questions and to ask for help. They use it to make complaints requiring a response. They also use it to express their dissatisfaction with companies who do things they do not like. In all cases, the insight that can and is being captured via Twitter is an invaluable feed into an organisations customer feedback engine room.

The beauty of Twitter and other social media platforms is that the feedback being placed on them is completely free and unprompted. There is no bias. There is no skewing of data. Customers will say what they will whenever they want to say it. It is therefore VITAL for an organisation to know what to do with the feedback they capture – how to deal with it when it comes in. Twitter is just ONE of many sources of customer feedback – the key is to ensure that all forms of feedback are linked together in someway to ensure that the strategy for dealing with it is in context with the priorities for improvement in the end to end customer experience. Feedback is a gift – but you need to know how to accept it and what to do with it.

Two organisations who have recently failed to deal well with Twitter feedback are both from the airline industry. Let us start with Southwest Airlines. When a good friend of mine brought this story to my attention, I was disbelieving. I had to check the date to make sure it was not April Fools Day. Sadly the story is not a joke. It is very real. It is one of the most amazing stories of the mistreatment of customer feedback I have seen to date. The story is about a frequent Southwest Airlines passenger called Duff Watson. Usually flying with the airline on business, Mr Watson was on this occasion travelling with his two children. Being a frequent passenger, Mr Watson benefitted from priority boarding. Although his two children did not have priority boarding tickets, he did not think it would be a problem for them to stand in the queue with him. To cut a long story short, Mr Watson was flatly refused entry to the plane via the priority boarding queue. As many consumers would, whilst making his way to the back of the normal queue with his children, Mr Watson tweeted his dissatisfaction at the way he had been treated. What happened next is quite simply amazing.

Having taken their seats on the plane, Mr Watson and his children were told to leave the aircraft immediately. When back at the gate, he was told that his tweet of dissatisfaction constituted a ‘safety threat’. The only way he would be allowed back on the plane would be for him to delete the tweet. With two distressed children, Mr Watson did this – waiting until he arrived at his final destination to tweet the airline again. Quite a remarkable story – you can read more about it here.

Just when I thought it could not get any worse, my good friend sent me another story – this time about Easyjet. Mark Leiser, a lecturer at Strathclyde University, was on the receiving end of some curt, uninformed customer service. Concerned that a delay to his flight would cause him and other passengers the inconvenience of missing important travel connections, all Mr Leiser wanted was help from Easyjet staff. Being dissatisfied with the response he received, Mr Leiser, like Mr Watson, took to twitter to express his dissatisfaction. Mr Leiser tweeted the following:

Flight delayed 90min. Soldier going to miss last connection & @easyjet refusing to help pay for him to get to Portsmouth. Get right into em!

As a result of this tweet, Mr Leiser was allegedly threatened with not being allowed to board the aircraft. Told he was not allowed to tweet ‘stuff like that’, he was genuinely at risk of being refused access to the plane. Astonishing. Eventually Mr Leiser did board the plane, but like Mr Watson before him, the story of the way he was treated will rumble on long after his flight ended. You can read more about this story here.

In both cases, valuable repeat customers of two airlines used their democratic right to leave ‘feedback’ about companies they were interacting with. In both cases, the actions of the companies were wildly inappropriate. Rather than trying to prevent customers from saying what they think, these organisations should be LISTENING to vitally important feedback that identifies weaknesses in their ability to deal with certain scenarios. Rather than defending the actions of employees who have clearly not be trained to deal with these situations, Southwest Airlines and Easyjet should be giving unreserved apologies to Mr Watson and Mr Leiser and reassuring customers that they welcome feedback in the quest to continually improve their customer experience.

I hope I will not read more stories like this in the future – sadly I expect I will. I was told a long time ago that feedback is a gift. I thought that was a very wise statement. Receiving the gift is easy – knowing what to do with it is the hard bit.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ian Golding, CCXP
A highly influential freelance CX consultant, Ian advises leading companies on CX strategy, measurement, improvement and employee advocacy techniques and solutions. Ian has worked globally across multiple industries including retail, financial services, logistics, manufacturing, telecoms and pharmaceuticals deploying CX tools and methodologies. An internationally renowned speaker and blogger on the subject of CX, Ian was also the first to become a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) Authorised Resource & Training Provider.


  1. My mind is having trouble reconciling a negative CX story about Southwest 🙂 Seems like some type of blasphemy. Never-the-less there it is!

    We are becoming more social as a business and this proves that while it is a great opportunity, it is also a liability. I guess it is going to happen in the twitter-sphere whether we are there to acknowledge it or not!

  2. I agree Nate – it will always happen. The trick is knowing how and when to listen and learn, and how and when to respond. Hopefully Southwest Airlines will learn from this particular story to ensure that their people are better able to deal with situations like it in the future. An open honest apology would not go amiss either!


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