When it comes to consumer’s online discussion about airlines, those taking place on social media, TV broadcasts and news articles tend to get the most attention.
NB This is a guest article by Todd Grossman, CEO of the Americas, Talkwalker
While Twitter and online news generate most conversations about airlines, forums aren’t far behind.
One example of an influential forum is FlyerTalk. With approximately 20 million page views per month and around 50,000 unique visitors per day, FlyerTalk is one of the go-to sites for discussions about airlines and travel. Forums such as this hold a wealth of information for airlines, and in many ways represent the opinions of their most knowledgeable and frequent customers.
My business has produced a report which examined the discussions taking place on the Flyertalk.com forum in the previous 30 days to see exactly what the main topics of discussion were among the hundreds that take place on FlyerTalk forums every day.
Here are some of the key findings and some tips on how airlines can find, analyze and utilize this gold mine of customer data.
Know what your best customers discuss online - and take action
A good starting point is getting an overview of the types of conversations that airlines forums’ users are discussing, as this gives airlines an idea of the key points of interest on a specific forum or website:
We can see from the above theme cloud that it’s discussions about business class, airport lounges and air miles that generated the most activity.
By contrast, our report found that on social networks such as Twitter, conversations were far more focused on delays, lost bags and customer service. This shows that frequent flyer’s concerns skew more towards premium products and perks rather than general inconveniences.
This kind of information gives airlines a better idea of what their most loyal customers are worried about and helps airlines to customize their reward programs and maximize upselling.
Airlines can also consider using forums to promote exclusive discounts, rewards and deals to top customers.
Monitor forums to get ahead of issues and challenges – isolate specific problems and target your response
The data in forums can also provide valuable information about, for example, an airline's customer service.
Using this kind of information, airlines can keep a general eye on forum discussions about key issues such as customer service and then dig deeper to identify specific problems:
Such comments are of course present on other media channels too like Twitter and Facebook. But as forums are used by more frequent flyers, being able to track problems in this type of environment is arguably more important, as the people posting are often high value, repeat customers.
Once a problem discussed in a forum has been identified, customer service reps can then contact the customer directly or, if it’s a recurring issue, pass the information directly to the relevant team so the problem can be rectified.
Use forums to manage brand reputation - respond tactfully to negativity and respect privacy
Understanding what experts in the aviation community are saying about your brand is critical, as their opinions tend to be more informed than general conversations on Twitter. Keeping track of sentiment towards your brand over time lets you track fluctuations in performance and give you a good understanding of exactly when you need to change tack or dig a little deeper to find the sources of issues.
Managing your brand reputation on forums is important not only because of the audience involved but also because discussions can continue for a long time and gradually erode customer confidence in certain aspects of an airline’s service.
Airlines can stop this from happening by jumping in quickly to apologize or fix issues, but they must be tactful and respectful of the forums posters’ right to be aggrieved.
Manage discussions in forums – react and adapt in real-time to prove that you care
With thousands of conversations taking place on hundreds of industry forums, keeping updated on discussions that could possibly damage reputation is critical.
The best way to manage this is to first divide conversations about your brand into several categories such as “complaints”, “reward programs”, “fares” etc. so you can see the frequency and manner in which these topics are being discussed. Forums tend to be less “viral” environments than social networks are, so this should be enough to make the volume of data manageable.
At this point, teams can keep track of the conversations happening in their space and determine whether to directly react to problems themselves or advise customer service staff on how to deal with each issue.
Having this type of data stream can also be used as part of a social media dashboard or command center so staff in all departments (and even management) can keep a close eye on exactly what is being said on important forums.
Don’t let a crisis surprise you – let forum users help you identify serious issues
It’s impossible to keep an eye on all issues all the time, especially if you’re managing large teams across a very wide-reaching industry. For some, what’s needed are regular updates and/or a notification when there is a serious problem. As users of specialist forums tend to have a better idea of exactly what airlines can and can’t do to fix a problem, getting alerts from forum posts may give airlines a better idea of when something is a potentially serious issue.
In fact, airlines may even be able to find possible solutions to a problem in forum discussions, as some discussions include current and former aviation professionals who may have had to deal with such an issues in the past.
Specialist forums hold all kinds of insights that airlines can use to their advantage. There are few other channels after all that airlines can access to understand the opinions of airline afficionados and other aviation professionals all in one place.
By analyzing these conversations effectively, airlines can get a better understanding of the products and services that frequent flyers care about and discover and fix specific problems. And by measuring volumes of discussion using social media analytics, airlines can track their progress and work on improving the way they serve their most valuable customers.
NB This is a guest article by Todd Grossman, CEO of the Americas for Talkwalker.
NB2Image by Shutterstock