Building Brand Advocacy Through Social Service

2014 Customer Champion Gregg Tilston, global social media leader at Flight Centre Travel Group, empowers employees with the social playbook and creative freedom necessary to exceed consumer expectations and cultivate true fans.
Customer Experience

For many companies, social media remains mysterious, as marketers and service professionals work to develop their brand's online strategy. But, for Gregg Tilston, global social media leader at Flight Centre Travel Group, this avenue offers team members the opportunity to expand upon the customer experience and build brand advocacy.

Tilston leads his 14-person social team by empowering each member to engage with every single brand mention across Facebook and Twitter in an on-brand, prompt fashion. Previously, customers who tweeted @Flight_Centre would receive an auto-reply that asked them to email customer service, at which point they would then receive another automated message claiming their request would be addressed within three days to a week. But, as social media becomes increasingly enveloped in its own immediacy, such methods could no longer satisfy consumer demand. Thus, Tilston introduced responsive customer service, thereby enabling his team to move beyond simple engagement tactics and deliver faster turnarounds and resolutions for all customer concerns and issues.

Under Tilston's guidance, Flight Centre's global team also received social media training, including tens of thousands of employees at local travel agency storefronts, to become social ambassadors. Said programs teach staff to be more thoughtful and strategic when it comes to delivering an effective, positive in-store customer experience. "When a customer leaves one of our shops, often they will go out and tweet, update, or post something about that experience," Tilston says. "So it's all about instilling the mindset that, the better experience you provide your customers, the more likely they'll say positive things about you. Thus, they become your champion on social."

Emphasizing the importance of two-way conversations also drives Tilston's goal to interact with every social brand mention and cultivate advocacy. Such behaviors boost satisfaction, ultimately leading to revenue gains. Consumers who received assistance and engagement on social media, for instance, were nearly three times more likely to convert, with these same individuals bringing in 10 times more revenue.

Through its partnership with HootSuite, Flight Centre team members can easily access dashboards that display all brand mentions for the quickest response possible. In one such case, the consumer believed the speedy reply came from an automated bot. Empowered by Tilston's best practices, the employee infused his response with quick wit by taking a photograph of himself alongside the consumer's tweet. This engaging reply brought an element of fun to an interaction that, if unattended, could've harmed brand reputation, as the employee reassuringly extended his helping hand to this potential pessimist.

One Australian blogger also threatened Flight Centre's reputation when she began critiquing the company's Twitter avatar. The blogger claimed the pilot in the image looked drunk because his hat was tilted, causing her to question Flight Centre's reputability. Rather than ignore her insult, someone on Tilston's team took this opportunity to engage in friendly banter and jokingly Photoshop the hat in question onto the blogger's own Twitter avatar. The next day, Flight Centre discovered the blogger had written a positive post filled with nothing but praise for how the team handled the interaction, ultimately converting this potential detractor into an enthusiastic advocate.

Moving beyond these one-off social queries and comments, Tilston and his team also created real-time information hubs on the Flight Centre blog dedicated to issues that impact customers and threaten to disrupt their travels. Through the power of social sharing, these hubs link to fresh information, answers, and social resources so people may better navigate during times of natural disaster, as was the case with the Icelandic volcano and Brisbane floods, for instance. By collecting and disseminating information from partners, government authorities, and social media, Flight Centre's blog transformed into the destination for both travelers and the general public to interact with one another and crowdsource help and goodwill.

Through crisis management, in times of both social and natural disaster, Tilston has effectively equipped his team with the tools and knowledge necessary to assist customers with authority and confidence during times of confusion or need.