Travel brands: How to use social media to prevent a break-up with your customersNews / OnlineBy Viewpoints | November 27, 2013Share This article was originally published on Most relationships fail because of not "being there" when it matters. The recent viral post about the travails that an Air France passenger had to undergo is just the tip of the iceberg of situations which could have been saved by just ‘being there’ when it mattered.NB: This is a viewpoint by Vijay Raghunathan, Consultant at Cognizant Business Consulting.The damage in reputation that companies have to undergo due to situations such as these really makes it necessary to handle it at the very root cause.Real-time monitoring and audience management are pressing need of the hour. Listening to the customer goes a long way in building long lasting relationships, this is no rocket science.The volcanic ash cloud that caused more than thousands of flight cancellations in Europe proved to be a nightmare for all airlines and was perhaps a turning point in the use of social media in customer servicing.The ‘being in a relationship’ with the customer is the most sought after state by any CRM teams. But to get into relationship with customers is certainly not a cake walk.Social media is helping some companies to a certain extent in strengthening one line of communication (shifting away from email marketing) and companies like KLM, JetBlue have managed to achieve the ‘being in a relationship’ state by constantly engaging with their customers.Concepts like Gamification are helping companies engage with their customers through the use of platforms such as social media.Customer retention and acquisition rates have to be closely studied in combination with the average revenue per member in order to understand the dynamics of how well your customer relationship programs are driving revenues.The spending on social media has been a very thoughtful decision by most companies, and most of them have chosen to spend on a need basis to meet their current requirements. However, careful choice of tools which are sustainable for the future is the hard decision which companies have to make. Brand spend on social mediaBrand spending on social media can be broadly classified into the following five types:1. Social media management toolsAmount spent to build tools surrounding the social media ecosystem can be seen as one form of investment. These may be tools integrated with social media or those which help companies monitor and manage the social media.These type of tools helps in publishing, monitoring, audience management and reporting social media activities.For example: Turkish Airlines and Virgin America uses Sprinklr’s Social@Scale tool to connect with their customers in real-time through multiple social media channels.2. Private consulting agenciesFees paid out to consultancy firms, social media benchmarking companies etc. can be classified under this category.For example: Campaigns run by private consultancy firms for companies such as Virgin America, Baltic Miles, etc. fall under this category.This includes creation of content which are assessed on its ability to create buzz or achieve viral effect. These can be YouTube videos, contests, campaigns which either help to increase the number of followers for the brand or help improve on the customer engagement rate.The viral commercial starring Kobe Bryant and Lionel Messi (that was launched when Turkish Airlines signed up as a sponsor to Manchester United) ended up getting 105 million hits.3. Integrated campaigns on social mediaThese are tools and campaigns modeled on joint collaboration with social networking sites.For example: EtihadMappedOut developed by Etihad Airways in partnership with LinkedIn, use of the social media influential score tools such as Klout by Cathay Pacific, American Airlines and Virgin America, Delta’s Delta-Assist and Ticket Counter, Estonian Air’s Air Score, and KLM’s Meet and Seat.4. Social media marketing spendSocial media advertising spend that are charged to the company (on the basis of click-through rates) falls in this category.Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and hotels are the major spenders in this category. Since most of the hotel bookings happen through them, OTAs get customer information which is crucial in maintaining customer relationships.5. Spending on campaign analysisCompanies run various campaigns on social media and require pre and post analytical data to understand effectiveness of such campaigns.A portion of the budget is utilized in gathering such data from companies that are involved in social media benchmarking. These companies report statistical data on number of new followers, likes, comments or engagement activities during a promotion activity.New Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that companies need to measureYou cannot manage if you cannot measure, and if you do not measure then you cannot improve. With changing technology landscape, businesses have to adopt new measures to validate the performance of their programs and promotions.With reports of paid fans and followers, it becomes all the more important for companies to validate their fan following base, and if possible, link social identities with transaction data.On a periodic basis, the growth in fan base should also be looked as an indicator for validating the effectiveness of promotions through advertisements.The Air France incident led to a surge in people sharing posts about the airline’s mishandling and apparently a private agency which benchmarks companies on social media metrics has ended up giving Air France a rather high score of 71 (out of 100) for that week in customer engagement.Thus, it becomes necessary for companies to set up their own metrics based on their social media strategy in order to understand how they stand rather than depend on third-party agencies.The net social sentiment and the social advocacy rate help companies understand true customer sentiments about the brand.Companies should strive to improve their engagement effectiveness score and social advocacy rate if their focus is to be ‘in a relationship’ with the customer. Bombarding followers with large number of posts and marketing messages is not going to help brands stay with their customer base.With social media becoming another distribution channel, especially to promote deals and promotions, having a check on the social commerce rate becomes a necessity.Hotels and TMCs that are struggling to monetize through social media has to definitely measure this.What is compelling most companies to be present and active on social media is the drive towards online reputation management. Not being active and not available real-time to solve customer issues is perhaps the biggest threat to your business today.Dynamic marketing platform for social marketingHoteliers have already felt the ramifications of their over dependency on OTAs. The strong commissions doled out to OTAs are emblematic of this fact. This is reflected on the marketing spends; OTAs are now the biggest spenders when it comes to marketing through paid search listings.With hoteliers having to pay large commissions to OTAs, the budget allocation for marketing shrinks to a considerable amount. Even if 5% of the commission amount could be spent on marketing, the dependency of hoteliers on OTAs can be reduced to a large extent.Shown below is a dynamic marketing platform which will utilize real customer reviews and feedback to increase marketing exposure for hoteliers.In the platform, positive comments with high influence and stand-out reviews are separated from negative sentiments and pushed to the system.This would be combined with property listings and comments to make a dynamic advertisement and then pushed to websites where customer’s friends, followers or fans visit.Impressions leading from the dynamic ads are separately measured and the social marketing ROI is measured. NB: Click on the image for a high resolution version.Negative comments with high influence (gaining buzz) are sent to a different channel where customer relationships team monitor the accurateness and validate the data to take necessary remedial actions through customer care channels.Customers who constantly generate positive or negative comments or influence are identified as advocates, influencers or detractors. This data is then utilized to create an army of brand advocates or evangelists for the brand.Integrated customer contact centers - Serving customers through social mediaContact center applications should be equipped with social media channel integration to service customers better.The social service rate is a metric which tracks the number of customers who are served through social media. System identifies customer posts into comments, queries or feedbacks.The queries which need immediate attention and reply are taken to a service queue. A customer service agent who is idle is then identified and message from the service queue is directed to the agent’s dashboard for replies.Comments and feedbacks are sent to a separate queue to be sent to the customer relationships team. The customer relationships team then acts on the comments and feedbacks to generate insights, product solutions, service gaps, etc.Comments that might create a buzz are sent to a separate queue which is directed to customer relationships team who needs to act on it immediately.The CRM team may direct the request to the contact center team with remedial action or contact the customer directly.Customers who are not detected in the database are again handled by the CRM team to elicit more information and contact points to establish a relationship and update the CRM database.NB: This is a viewpoint by Vijay Raghunathan, Consultant at Cognizant Business Consulting.NB2:People image via Shutterstock.