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Lithys 2017: United - Surprise & Delight

Lithys 2017: United - Surprise & Delight

We worked to recognize loyal customers and provide them with extraordinary experiences that demonstrate how United listens and uses social media to improve their experiences offline as well.




United_logo1.jpgCompany: United

Entry submitted by: Natalie Kempa (Social Media Engagement Manager) 

Social channels: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Lithy category:  Surprise & Delight


United Airlines and United Express operate approximately 4,500 flights a day to 337 airports across five continents. In 2016, United and United Express operated more than 1.6 million flights carrying more than 143 million customers. United is proud to have the world's most comprehensive route network, including U.S. mainland hubs in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York/Newark, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. United operates 743 mainline aircraft and the airline's United Express partners operate 478 regional aircraft. The airline is a founding member of Star Alliance, which provides service to 190 countries via 28 member airlines.




Using social media as a means of customer service has become extremely normalized. Customers have become accustomed to the formula of getting assistance from businesses: post loudly on their channels until a customer service representative responds to your issue. Given social's transparency and visibility, there are high stakes regarding how quickly and how sufficiently customer service representatives handle customers' inquiries. United recognized that simply having a strong customer service presence on social media is no longer industry-leading. We wanted to improve the customer experience by also using our social media accounts to recognize positive events in customers' lives. We wanted to take our customer service presence further than social media by integrating it into the real world for our customers.




With the sheer volume of social media posts, customers sometimes feel like their voices get easily drowned out. So, we worked to recognize loyal customers and provide them with extraordinary experiences that demonstrate how United listens and uses social media to improve their experiences offline as well.

  • When Greg Shaw contacted us about getting a free upgrade for his girlfriend's birthday trip, we reached out to Airport Operations to get them moved to Economy+ and have staff wish her happy birthday as they boarded.





  • When Shaun Burke asked us a question about his flight and said he could "stop by" Willis Tower to discuss, we explained the exact reason for his flight delay and followed up with an offer to tour the Network Operations Center. By going above and beyond for our customers on social media, we've established the perfect way to publicly display our strong appreciation for their loyalty.

With thousands of passengers traveling daily and numerous external factors affecting flights, airlines inevitably encounter challenges. For United, social media is often the way in which we receive word of problems customers’ experience. In addition to addressing these problems and collecting feedback, we saw our social media channels as the opportunity to turn a negative conversations into positive experiences by going above and beyond with our customer service.

  • When customer Landon Howell reached out to us during the October Outage asking for a pizza while he had to wait, our Customer Experience team saw Landon's tweets and sent him a pizza while also apologizing for the delays.





  • Howell Marketing Strategies CEO Amy Howell traveled to speak at the Texas Bankers Association Marketing Conference in San Antonio. She made it public that she had a poor experience flying with United, so we took immediate action to right a wrong. We upgraded her to Economy+ on her return flight and had Airport Operations meet her pre-flight to provide a formal apology and gift. In response, we were able to turn a negative tweet into a positive interaction when Howell recognized and thanked us for our recovery efforts. She stated, "It's not what happens but how you handle what happens." And we couldn't agree more.





The Results


In terms of response time, our average response time has dropped from 280 minutes to as low as 52 minutes (year over year) – that’s an 81% decrease in response time.


Our team is also now able to respond to even more people on social channels like never before. We went from responding to 19,000 to over 47,000 people per month doubling (2.4X) the number of customers we respond to.


Lastly, we positively increased our net sentiment from -15% in 2015 to 6% in 2016.