Virgin America Takes A PR Tumble, But Its Customer Service History Will Pick It Back Up

Virgin AmericaEvery company has its bad days. We all know it and there’s no way to appease everyone, but you try your darnedest to make it happen. Sure, some of the “bad days” that companies have had to endure are more nightmare’ish rather than just a single individual filing a complaint, but even the ones that earn all the rave and praise have had to go through some changes that really tested the mettle of that brand. The most recent culprit: Virgin America.

The background

Several weeks ago, Virgin America notified its users and flyers that their website would be experiencing some outage, but their customer service support line would be still available. It seemed that everything was going fine until people started to call the airline’s customer service number only to experience lengthy hold times trying to get through to either do simple things like checking in to cancelling flights. It quickly mushroomed into a nightmare scenario and if you’ve been following Virgin America (@virginamerica) on Twitter, you’ll know that their tweets have been very understanding and apologetic. Unfortunately that didn’t solve any problems.

Virgin America complaint tweet

The constant communication

The above issues surrounded the fact that there were changes to the airline’s reservation system and it wound up taking longer than expected to roll out the new platform — sadly this is not surprising, but not really reassuring to those who wanted to use their brand and travel. But it seemed that Virgin America knew what they were getting into. In checking out their website this weekend, I noticed that they have updated it with an advisory on what to expect when you use their site. In addition, they’ve been pretty active in terms of social media (specifically Twitter) to get the word out about what’s happening and trying to smooth things out with their customers. Unfortunately their policies do not allow that much liberal help through Twitter, but they kept people abreast about the status of their reservation system enhancements and even got to direct message some folks in order to find out ways to better serve them. While this might not be much, compared to how other companies handled their own issues, Virgin America has still come out on top.

And this advisory that you see on Virgin America’s website isn’t one where they simply shrug things off and issue a rather bland apology…you know, the ones that say something like “We apologize for the incovenience. Please check back in a few hours and we’ll be working again.” Instead, their team understood the appreciation of over-communication and explained what the issue is and several possible steps for customers to seek redress and assistance.

So the problem:

We’ve recently made the switch to a new reservations platform – a change that will make our booking system and website stronger, faster and all-around better. Although the new Sabre platform will ultimately improve our booking system, the switch to a new platform will cause some inconvenience as we transition from the old system to the new. For those flying or planning to use our website or Call Center, read on for key details about what to expect.

And the possible redress:

We continue to work through web issues and are aware that some users are encountering errors when trying to complete bookings on virginamerica.com or check-in online. We apologize for this inconvenience and expect to have these issues addressed soon. Please note that Virgin America flights are also available for sale on Orbitz.comExpedia.comTravelocity.com and Priceline.com.

In addition to these alternatives, they included some helpful “frequently asked questions” type points since it might help those who don’t want to wait several hours on the phone just waiting to ask one of these “obvious” questions, including, but not limited to, frequent flier mileage, flight cancellations and changes, gift certificates, and future flight news and information.

Virgin America website

You might hate Virgin America today, but it’s not going to be forever

So does this reservation system issue leave Virgin America with little Klout or fans? I highly doubt it. Sure, the airline has caused some unforeseen issues with their migration process, but I don’t believe that it will result in any permanent ill-will. Why? Because of their reputation as being a customer service-friendly airline. Frankly, if Virgin Airline wasn’t known for being customer-friendly, they would probably be known along the same lines as the legacy airlines and if this issue happened in that instance, would people still complain? Probably, but I think the fact that people actually love the brand gives the airline a bit of breathing room and also gives them a psuedo-free pass. This too shall pass and Virgin America’s efforts at customer service have not slacked off or been negligent. On the contrary, the brand’s renowned customer service has continued and during this moment of crisis, has been buffered by an increase in agents at their call center (even though volume still continues to be at an alarmingly high rate), frequent contacts using Twitter, updating their website with latest information (and not letting it be outdated by more than a day) and having it in a place of prominence for everyone to see, along with some other attempts at communication.

To give you a taste of just what happened with Virgin America recently, here’s a summary of the tweets that I saw relating to this debacle:

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."