Will Etihad’s use of Twitter for Premium customer communications take off?

Etihad's Premium Twitter account is an exclusive account just for Etihad's Gold customers. Is Twitter the right channel for reaching out to premium customers however?

Etihad’s Premium Twitter account is an exclusive account just for Etihad’s Gold customers. Is Twitter the right channel for reaching out to premium customers however?

Excuse the pun in the title, but Etihad caught my eye this week with the news that it has set up a new Twitter account to communicate exclusively with Etihad Guest Gold members. The account, named @EtihadPremium, was launched at the beginning of May and Etihad Guest Gold members, Etihad customers who have flown 50,000 tier miles or 40 tier segments in one 12 month period, received emails on the new service. Below is the text of the email that Etihad sent out to its Etihad Guest Gold members over a month ago (courtesy of www.flyertalk.com).

We’ve launched a Twitter Channel to better serve you! We value your loyalty and have created a new channel that delivers a range of benefits with you, our guest, in mind.

Etihad Guest Gold members can now follow us on http://www.twitter.com/EtihadPremium and enjoy the following exclusive benefits:

Five minute response times
Dedicated service
Retro mileage claims
Exclusive deals

To sign up, please:

Email us at socialmedia@etihad.ae with: a photocopy of your Etihad Guest Card, Date of Birth, Post Code, Twitter Handle.
Please allow 24 hours for review and verification.
Post-verification, our team will follow you on Twitter and send a confirmation email.
Follow us back at http://www.twitter.com/EtihadPremium

The choice of Twitter has sparked some debate online. Hussein Dajani, a UAE-based social media commentator, listed on his LinkedIn profile some of the reasons why he thought Etihad’s use of Twitter didn’t make sense.

1- Etihad already has many existing Twitter accounts (Etihad Airways, Etihad Deals, Etihad Help, etc). Do people (Premium or not) really need one more account to follow?
2- Most of the “Premium” users are high profile people, how many of those are actually on Twitter or would use Twitter when having an inquiry or a complaint?
3- Will Etihad block a person if he / she no longer remains as a Premium customer?
4- How is Etihad being transparent and “fair” to all its customers when treating them differently?
5- Can’t Etihad identify who are its Premium customers from non Premium customers and get their Twitter handles?

Etihad’s social media lead Asif Khan shared his opinion as well. According to Asif, the reasons why Etihad went with Twitter for this concept were the customers themselves.

Etihad has public Twitter accounts and pretty tight SLAs for them – all users (Premium and non-Premium). This is an additional Twitter account for Premium members because there was massive demand – we have done proper research and tried to fulfill appetite – not just another channel launch. You’d be surprised to know how many Premium inquiries we receive. It’s just having a unique key number of managing first class and business class guests on a contact centre – different is its a Twitter account.

Just to clarify, this is an additional channel for communication with our high-valued guests – not the ONLY channel. There are other traditional channels that are being used – dedicated contact centre number, email address, etc. etc. Not sure if I entirely agree with your one-many concept because end of the day we’re not broadcasting information on this channel (one-many) because the intent is to have meaningful personalised conversation with each premium customer with contextual information available to us.

With premium customers, personalization is key. They want a one-to-one conversation, and they want the best possible support. Talking to a Facebook executive recently, she told me that Whatsapp was the sleeping giant of the Middle East’s digital sector. Back in March, Whatsapp was named the region’s most popular means of online communication by a survey commissioned by the Dubai Government.

But let’s go further. Whatsapp is one-to-one communication, through which one can share images, video, and recorded audio messages (we can’t use Whatsapp Call in the UAE as it’s blocked on a national level). Whatsapp can also share the user’s location or a contact, and its secure. Unlike a Twitter handle, I can’t communicate with another Whatsapp user unless I know their mobile number – and, let’s face it, how many premium customers will be flying around the world without a mobile?

The other concern I have is about Twitter and its security. What will Etihad do if the Twitter account is hacked? How can it safeguard the information of these premium customers?

The response to Etihad’s initiative has been mixed on travel websites such as OneMileAtATime and FlyerTalk, with some premium passengers praising the move, others saying they don’t have a Twitter account, and some going so far as to say that Etihad needs to improve its overall customer service levels available through its existing social media accounts.

I’d be fascinated to see how this works for Etihad. The initiative is bold, but with the choice of communications being Twitter will it work as Etihad hopes?

2 thoughts on “Will Etihad’s use of Twitter for Premium customer communications take off?

  1. Thanks for bringing this to my knowledge, Alex.

    I have my doubts about this initiative too. While you’ve enlisted the issues cited by Hussein Dajani, I’m narrowing mine to one issue – will 140 characters be sufficient?

    Twitter, like other social media channels, celebrates the democratization of information access. It is in a way the antithesis of exclusivity, and yet it looks like Etihad’s taking the golden route (ah, bad attempt at pun here? 🙂

    I have no experience with luxury, but I’m certain that premium demands personal face-time and attention. Correct me if my wrong, but I doubt if providing relevant links and re-routing these customers from Twitter wouldn’t be the right method of dealing with them. It should be about cutting the channels than adding another.

    An express line, or a dedicated customer service rep for a group of premium customers available at the drop of their hat may be a better alternative. It’s possible these things may already be in place, in which case a Twitter handle becomes redundant.

    It will be nice to know how communications are laid out in the premium handle. What the tone is, and whether or not the response time promise is kept.

    I don’t see myself as being their ‘Premium’ customer in at least, umm let me calculate, another gazillion years. 🙂 So please do let me know if you know of these details from personal observation or from somebody else.

    As always, thanks for enlightening me, one post at a time!

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