60 Seconds with Peter Shankman, author and entrepreneur in social media, marketing and customer service.

60 Seconds with Peter Shankman, author and entrepreneur in social media, marketing and customer service.

Peter Shankman is an author, entrepreneur, speaker and innovator in the fields of social media, PR, marketing, advertising and customer service. He’s written two books, “Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work and Why Your Company Needs Them” and “Customer Service: New Rules for a Social-Enabled World.” His third book, “Nice Guys Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management is Over and Collaboration is In,” comes out in 2013. As a frequent business traveler who has flown nearly two million miles with United Airlines alone, Shankman is also a frequent commenter on business travel.

InsideFlyer
Recently we interviewed Dave Carroll, who wrote the book, “United Breaks Guitars” How do you think United handled that situation?
Peter Shankman
First of all, I’m a Global Services member with United and have a tremendous loyalty to them. You’re always going to have people who have issues when they fly. There are always going to be problems. If United had responded immediately, they wouldn’t have had a problem. The guy wrote a very funny song. It should have never gotten to that point, but once it did, United handled it and said they would learn from it. If airlines or any corporation responds and says, “We get it. We screwed up. We are sorry. Here’s $100 off your next flight,” they can turn 90 percent of complainers from haters into lovers in five seconds.

United didn’t become one of the top two largest airlines in the world overnight. That’s not easy to do. There are going to be problems. I think United is starting to respond when people do have problems and they’re finding that the majority of those responses take care of the majority of the problems.

IF
How has social media changed the way companies interact with their customers?
Shankman
It’s become more immediate and more public. It used to be that you’d have to write a complaint and wait for a letter to come back. Social media has really changed the way companies interact with their audience. Customers have the ability in real time to write about a situation as it is happening.

IF
What can airlines and hotels do to improve their social media strategy?
Shankman
It has to start with customer service. Social media in a vacuum will not help you if you don’t incorporate other aspects of marketing into social media, including customer service. For the majority of companies out there, social media becomes a much easier way to screw up in front of a larger audience in a much shorter amount of time. It has to be every single person in the company working to provide good customer service. It takes everyone providing steady customer service every single time. It only takes one employee to create a bad experience. I think that the airlines are getting better with social media. What the CEOs have to understand is that social marketing is directly tied to revenue. The reason that’s important is because in the past several years, we’ve had a bunch of young kids in their 20s running social media and they tell the CEOs they want to do social media for the company because it’s cool. That’s a mistake. I’ve never met one CEO in my entire life who thinks that cool trumps revenue. We have to start looking at social media as simply another factor of marketing and marketing is obviously a way to generate revenue. Coca-Cola doesn’t spend a dollar on marketing to be cool. They spend a dollar on marketing to earn two dollars in revenue. And that’s how the people running social media need to look at explaining it to their bosses.

IF
One complaint members have is when the programs make changes without notifying members. What do you think about that?
Shankman
Loyalty programs remind me of end-user licensing agreements, which is what you sign to use a piece of software. Tell me honestly if you’ve read all 60 pages of the iTunes EULA. No one reads it. The programs can do whatever they want, whenever they want and you are agreeing to that. If they change it, they have the right to do that. You have the option of going to another airline. What I see, especially with United, is that the most vocal of complainers on their Facebook page are people who flew six times last year and achieved Silver status. And they are complaining that with the merger, there are a lot of people ahead of them for upgrades. Dude, you’re Silver. You flew 25,000 miles last year. I flew 247,000 miles. That’s not United’s fault.

IF
Do you have a favorite hotel loyalty program?
Shankman
I’m a Starwood fan. When I first started traveling and stayed at a Starwood in Miami and had a problem, one of the VPs of Customer Service called me directly to remedy the problem. As soon as that happened, they earned my loyalty and I’ve never looked back.

IF
What do you like most about travel?
Shankman
It’s a chance for me to get out of my own head. I’m surrounded by Twitter, Facebook, blogs, my cat … everything. I’m on a plane for 14 hours with no wireless and I can actually get some work done. On my last flight, I wrote two blog posts and answered 45 emails, it was wonderful. Because I don’t use in-flight WiFi, I don’t get distracted by Facebook, Twitter and I can actually do some work. It blows my mind that I can get into a seat in a big pressurized tube and 14 hours later be on the other side of the world. I know it sounds like I’m five years old, but that just blows my mind. A hundred years ago it took nine weeks to get to Asia.

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