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How one unhappy tweet led to exceptional service

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All hoteliers have been there: a customer, upset by the poor level of service received, decides to name and shame the offender in question – your brand – for all the world to see through a well-known OTA or Twitter.

That’s exactly what one customer on a Virgin Train commute to Birmingham decided to do, as described in a recent article she wrote for industry magazine Hospitality and on a popular social media website.

Social media consultant and Virgin customer Karen Fewell was upset by an unhelpful response received by the train assistant when requesting a gluten-free meal:

Fewell: “Please can you just check the packaging and confirm it is gluten free.”
Virgin assistant: “No, it contains potato.”
Fewell: “But gluten isn’t in potato.”
Virgin assistant: “The packaging doesn’t say you can have it. I will tell you what we’ve got.”
Fewell: “I can’t eat any of those as they all contain gluten.”
Virgin assistant: “I know, I was just telling you what’s available. You could have some fruit.”

Knowing that Virgin responds quickly on social media, Fewell decided to take matters into her own hands. “Without really thinking about it, I tweet @virgintrains and tell them I’m disappointed that they can’t offer me anything for breakfast…Sure enough in about three minutes I had a response,” she writes.

Virgin said they are unable to guarantee gluten-free meals onboard trains. Fewell was content to have received something, despite being less than satisfied with the response itself.

She then tweeted Virgin again, politely reminding them that competing train companies have no problem delivering food to people with food intolerances. Strangely, Fewell received no reply to this and continued her early-morning report writing on an empty stomach.

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After 15 minutes, the same assistant tapped her on the shoulder and asked “Are you Karen? Would you like some breakfast?” Amazed, she presented an extensive list of ingredients. “I am gobsmacked to see she has a menu in her hand…with a full ingredients list,” Fewell says.

Download: 15 Great Examples of Remarkable Service That Earns Social Media AttentionGuide: 15 Great Examples of Remarkable Service

Virgin had taken the time and care to ensure that she would not be going hungry that morning. But what is truly remarkable is the process that Virgin’s social media manager took to make this happen:

  • Escalated Fewell’s tweet to top priority
  • Found her full name on Twitter
  • Searched the booking database for a match
  • Researched identity of her train and seat
  • Contacted staff onboard and alerted them to the complaint
  • Prepared the list of suitable food and delivered it to Fewell personally

Hospitality is the binding force across almost every service industry. The train assistant, while polite, lacked the knowledge and basic training to fulfill a simple catering request. This led to dissatisfaction, causing Fewell to believe that she would be working on the train without breakfast that morning.

Virgin’s responded to this issue efficiently and stylishly through their brilliant use of social media. But why was this remarkable turn-around in customer service so effective?

  1. Virgin acknowledged and responded to her request immediately through the same medium
  2. The response was timely – they reached her while still onboard
  3. The response was highly personalized
  4. Virgin clearly went out of the way to compensate
  5. The staff member had been educated in a very short time-frame

This story underscores a lesson that many hoteliers know well: when things go wrong, your best way of rescuing the situation is to deal with it in real-time so avoid further damage to your online reputation.

“I would take a guess that for the majority of you losing money because of social media, it will be due to poor online customer service,” writes Fewell.

Hoteliers: Have you succeeded in turning around a customer who had tweeted about a disappointing experience while at your property? Let us know!

Download: How to Respond to Online Hotel ReviewsDownload Guide: How to Respond to Online Reviews

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