In the early morning of June 17th, professional golfer Rory McIlroy announced to the Twitter world that United Airlines lost his golf clubs and that he “sort of needs them this week.”


For us social media marketers, we know how quickly a negative tweet can spiral and the importance of responding to all customer service inquiries via social media at warp speed. Luckily for United Airlines, Rory McIlroy has a sense of humor and didn’t explicitly bash the company for losing his luggage.

United Airlines quickly responded to McIlroy and managed to return his golf clubs within one day. As Mashable mentioned, United Airlines redeemed itself and displayed top-notch customer service. Companies can learn from this situation about what to do, and what not to do, when handling customer service issues on social media.

When your company receives a customer service inquiry, here’s what you should do:

  • Follow your social media crisis plan. Every business that has social media channels should also have a social media crisis plan in place for handling issues such as customer service complaints. It will ensure a streamlined process for handling crises and a quick response time. If you don’t already have a plan in place, it’s time to create one and make sure the entire team is aware of the protocol.
  • Adhere to company messaging standards. A company’s website, print materials, social media channels, etc. must all have the same messaging standards and one consistent voice. Whether you are managing your social media channels internally or have hired an outside firm to do so, everyone who interacts on social media on behalf of your brand must be on the same page so that your customers aren’t confused by different messages.
  • React and respond quickly. In today’s society, we all have the need for instant gratification. Social media channels must be monitored actively so that you can respond to issues quickly, and before they escalate. Customers expect under an hour response time to all inquiries via social media, and the faster the better!
  • Be personal. When customers interact with you on social media, they don’t want to talk to a computer, they want to talk to a human who can understand them and help them with their issue. It’s okay to veer off standard messaging somewhat, as long as the same idea is getting across. Don’t always respond with the same tweet or post, make it personal to the customer; they will value your service much more that way.

Here’s what you should NOT do:

  • Ignore complaints. If a customer called your company and asked a question, would you not answer the phone, or pick up and then not talk? Of course not, which is why it’s not accepted on social media either. Some users explicitly post on social media to get out their anger and are not actually looking for help, so use your best judgment if a user doesn’t require a response. However, if you want to maintain good perception of your brand online, most inquiries necessitate a response.
  • Use automated messages to respond. It’s easy to identify on social media when companies create canned responses that they use for all social media crises. It’s important that the customer feels you have taken time to understand their issue and give them a personalized response. Responding, “We are sorry for the inconvenience, DM us so we can better assist you.” to every inquiry will not work. Of course, such a response is okay sometimes for simple issues, but make sure your customers can tell there is a person behind the computer.
  • Anger the customer further. In business, the customer is always right. If you find yourself in a back and forth with a user on social media, your strategy isn’t working and you may need to go back to the drawing board. If that means directing them to a senior manager or someone who can better solve the issue, change your strategy so that you ensure your brand maintains a positive image online.

United Airlines did a great job handling a high-profile customer service issue on social media (McIlroy has almost 2 million followers!). Rory McIlroy even posted a witty tweet, thanking United Airlines for their service which as of this posting has 742 retweets and 2,610 favorites.

Job well done, United Airlines!