Air India to use Twitter, mobile app to address customer queries

Air India has created a back-end team dedicated to handling its microblogging account

Air India will be the sixth Indian airline to take to Twitter. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Air India will be the sixth Indian airline to take to Twitter. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

New Delhi: Air India Ltd will start tweeting soon in a bid to modernize the way it addresses queries from customers and try and attract younger travellers. The airline, which already has a Facebook page, will also introduce a mobile app within the coming fortnight to try and extend its reach and boost revenue.

“We will be launching our Twitter account in the next few days,” said Rohit Nandan, chairman and managing director of Air India. “I know it’s a tough task for us to be there, but we have to improve our customer services and I think this is the step in that direction.”

With a fleet of about 120 a aircraft and operating 500 daily flights, Air India has the largest international network for a local airline. Its move to tap the world of social media is backed up numbers: India has a Twitter user base of 15.3 million. Nearly 73.3% of these are in the age group of 15-25 years, and 14.9% are in the age group of 26-35 years, said a second Air India official who asked not to be named.

“This will keep us on our toes. We would try to do our best so we can solve customer queries in real time. And gradually scale up our efforts,” Nandan said.

Air India will be the sixth Indian airline to take to Twitter. It has created a back-end team dedicated to handling its microblogging account.

Jet Airways (India) Ltd leads the pack with 55,000 Twitter followers, SpiceJet Ltd has about 17,000, and IndiGo around 14,000 followers. Air Costa and AirAsia India are also on Twitter.

“I think it is a positive move and AI (Air India) is trying to keep pace with the new generation of travellers—the young emerging workforce. India is a cradle of technical development and at the forefront of IT services, so it only makes sense to jump in with both feet and modernize the way to communicate with customers,” said Steve Forte, a former chief executive officer at Jet Airways. “It is also an easy way to collect feedback on a large scale and crunch the numbers to get good statistics that can be used to improve services and meet customer expectations. It will be important for AI to maintain an efficient staff to promptly handle requirements arising from Twitter, or otherwise it could backfire.”

Air India will also launch a mobile app allowing users to book flights. It will be introduced for Android phones initially, followed by iOS (used by Apple Inc.) which the airline believes will makes up for 80% of the traffic. A Blackberry app will follow thereafter.

The move will help the airline save costs as direct sales will cut the additional payment it has to make to the GDS (global distribution system) every time someone makes a booking. On a Delhi-Mumbai ticket, for example, Air India has to shell out $3 extra for each booking; and $7 for a Delhi-New York ticket. A low-cost airline like IndiGo, which does not use GDS for booking, does not have to make this additional payment.

Nearly 14% of the total revenue of Air India comes from sales on its website, which it hopes to improve by another 4-5% percentage points with the help of mobile apps.

Joyce Manalo, data analyst with New York-based consulting firm Skift, said Jet Airways (domestic) has a SkiftIQ score of 554, beating Frontier Airlines (540), Ryanair (484) and Spirit Airlines (410). Air India (international) has a SkiftIQ score of 234. SkiftIQ Score is a cumulative measure on how proactive travel brands are on social media.

“How to improve on Twitter? Provide hours of service; add initials of social customer service reps; optimize efforts with social listening/community management platforms to handle volume of comments; mix photo and video content; celebrate holidays; create call to action content like “RT if you agree”; and hold contests with hash tags,” Manalo said.

“The ROI (return on investment) on social media is not elusive. It comes from return on engagement. It might be the improvement in customer services through a better response time on Twitter than on the phone. The likes of KLM make a 4X return on their investment from social media in terms of revenue as well,” said Shashank Nigam, CEO of consulting firm SimpliFlying.

Airlines on Twitter get detailed response reports from digital media agencies they typically hire every few hours, identifying each tweet as either positive or neutral or negative, allowing them to depute teams to address each of them accordingly.

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