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twitterI thought I’d share my recent experience with WestJet as it was one that started sour and ended sweet!

Let me start by saying that I (along with many others) have been quite frustrated by the recent “re-launch” of http://westjet.com.  That being said, I can only imagine how frustrated Westjet must be in having to field all of those calls while their online booking system is not working properly.

I was scheduled to fly from Saskatoon to Vancouver tomorrow (Tuesday, Oct 27th) on a flight that I booked some 2 months ago.  As my plans have changed due to my recent sports tour/holiday (http://sportfanconnect.com), I found myself needing to cancel my flight as I will now be leaving tommorow from Ft. Lauderdale to Vancouver.  In the past, the process has been very simple:

  1. Log into your online account
  2. Enter your confirmation number and confirm your identity
  3. Cancel your flight within 2 hours of flying and get a full credit (minus the $50 change fee – which is one of the lowest among all airlines)
  4. If that fails, you could always call the 1-888-WESTJET call centre and, in most cases, have your problem solved within 5 minutes.

Today, hwestjetowever, that was not the case.  Being accustomed to trying to solve my own problems online…I first went to the website to try to cancel my flight.  Not possible at this time.  So, I resorted to Plan B and called the 1-888 # and was informed via prerecorded message that the average wait time is now “60 minutes”!!! No, not 6 minutes…….6-0 minutes!!  So, not thinking there were any other options, I decided to wait it out.

I made it to about the 30 minute mark when my call was finally answered……only to be told that the person I was talking to couldn’t help me because my ticket was booked before the did the website re-engineering.  So, back on hold I go 😉  Another 30 minutes later, I hear silence (usually a good sign because I think it means that someone might pick up on the other end).  But, this was not the case……..CALL DISCONNECTED!!!! (Note the all caps which translates to….not impressed!!)

So, once calmed down, I started to weigh my options:

  1. Get back on the phone and wait it out
  2. Track down an email address so I can at least have record that I was trying to cancel my flight….but couldn’t reach anyone (that proved to not be an option as I couldn’t find an email address on their website)

At this point….I didn’t like my options.  Then, it hit me……………why not try Twitter???  They seem to be engaged in conversation with most people that try to talk to them on Twitter.  So, it was worth a shot!

I went straight to my Seesmic Desktop application and entered the following message:

trevorturnbull: @westjet tried calling in to cancel my flight tomm…on hold for 1hr then got disconnected. Cant find an email address on your website

Here was the Direct Message reply (approx 10 minutes later):

Westjet: Email us at [email protected] and we’ll see what we can do to help

I promptly followed up with an email explaining my situation as well as a copy of my email confirmation with the reservation number and all my contact info. Here is a screenshot of the conversation that followed on Twitter.

Btwitter_westjeteing in the business of social media consulting, I come across examples of best practice all the time.  But, when you have a first hand experience like I did today, a person really starts to understand the power of social media. I think the biggest lesson learned from this is that it is one thing to say you “do” social media as a company, but it is another thing to actually do it well!  This is a shining example of how to do it right.  Westjet is not just using a social tool like Twitter to broadcast messages in the way that traditional media works.  Rather, they are taking the time to engage in the two-way conversation made possible through social media.

I have always been one to check Westjet first when looking to book flights.  My previous experiences have all been good, so, I’ve never had any reason to jump ship (unless they don’t happen to fly to my preferred destination….but that is becoming few and far between nowadays with the addition of many US flights now offered by Westjet.

I’m sure there are many people that have felt frustrated with Westjet over the past few weeks. We are all so used to technology just “working” that when it fails, we don’t know what to do with ourselves! Westjet’s use of Twitter is a great example of how all companies/brands/teams/etc can use social media to create engaging experiences that result in loyal customers.  I’d like to see a radio ad or brochure do the same thing 😉

The only thing I would suggest to them is that they more prominently promote their Twitter account through all of their other marketing channels.  I make fun of traditional media…….but the reality is, you need to combine your efforts in order to reach as many people as possible.  Therefor, cross promotion between their TV, Radio, Print, Online and Social marketing is key for maximum success.  After all, I’m sure my parents wouldn’t have thought to ask their question on Twitter like I did today.  But clearly, THEY SHOULD KNOW THIS!  And, the first step is educating people in as many ways as possible.