E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

Social Business Is People to People Business – The Iberia Story

2009/02/21 EC-JCYAs you may have seen it already, once again, I am on the move. This time around to Zurich, Switzerland, to go and present at the Joint Alumni Conference – JAC 2012 event, perhaps on what may well be one of the most important and relevant speeches I may be delivering to date, around the topic of “The Future of Work in the Age of Social Business“, which is turning out to be one of my favourite topics to talk about at the moment, for that matter. Over the last few weeks I have been working on the dissertation itself for this particular event and time and time again I have been thinking about different ways of how I would introduce the topic to such a rather selected audience. Who would have told me then though that, despite all of the various different iterations I have been working on so far, I would be going eventually for the one I fully experienced during the course of today, on my way there, as perhaps one of the most powerful introductions on Social Business I have done to any presentation I may have delivered so far in the last few months. As part of the series of “Social Business Is People to People Business“, here’s the next take of what living social is all about. This time around with an unexpected surprise: Iberia.

The future of work is social. I haven’t got a doubt about it. And, after today, even more so. The future of work is going to be exciting, too! It’s going to help knowledge workers become more empowered, more autonomous, more trustworthy, more motivated and engaged, more open and transparent than ever before carrying out important, meaningful and purposeful knowledge work. Work that they care for, work for which they have built certain attitude to do it just right, in short, work that aims at perhaps the panacea of what doing business nowadays should be all about: delighting your customers. 

After today’s experience, which I will start detailing shortly, I am 100% convinced that we are not going to have it any other way. On the contrary, we, customers in general, are going to start aiming higher and higher at what excellent customer service should be all about. And we are perhaps going to start demanding it more and more as well! And rightly so, to be honest. It’d be about time, too!, don’t you think? Here is why … Here is another story as to why the future of work is social. 

If you have been following this blog, and my various social networking interactions over the course of time, you may well remember how I get to travel quite a bit for work and throughout all of those years I have been on the road, or up in the air, I keep having a good number of unpleasant experiences, in general, to the point where I have learned to develop lots of extra patience, resilience and perseverance in order to learn to live with it and move on. Well, today it was different. Totally different. Today, for the first time, in a long while, I have been having one of the most gratifying customer experiences I can remember as a road / air warrior. And all of that with what it is turning out to be one of my favourite airlines out there: Iberia

As I keep writing this article further along, I am sure most of you folks out there would be thinking that I am crazy, right? I mean, Iberia? Really? Iberia is your favourite airline nowadays? Are you really sure? Well, yes! And here’s the reason why… excellent customer service through a rather unexpected channel: Twitter.

Indeed, like I was saying, earlier on today, I was supposed to take a plane from Madrid to Zurich arriving about early afternoon to then get everything ready for tomorrow’s presentation at JAC 2012. Everything was going according to plan. No delays, no additional, last minute problems. Just everything perfect. For a change. So we get on the plane, take off and about one hour later, approximately, the captain tells us that the two systems that regulate the cabin pressure of the plane both broke and we needed to lower our altitude to the point where eventually we needed to divert our course and head to our nearest airport, which, at the time, was Barcelona. The tone of the message was rather reassuring and calm, so everyone did just that: remain calm. And perhaps a bit defeated that once again something did eventually happen, although without further consequences. Something for which I am very grateful altogether on its own!

So there they went, all of our intentions to arrive on time In Zurich on another uneventful trip. We got off at Barcelona airport and this is where the story begins and where it’s changed completely my view of the airline itself. When we all arrived to the airport all of the passengers headed to the Transfer Desk to see what was happening and to find out plenty more details as to whether we would be able to fly again that evening or in the early morning. I didn’t. I decided to remain, lag behind and instead get my iPhone up and running and go into Twitter. After all, I was supposed to meet up a group of colleagues to catch up and needed to tell them I was going to be running late and perhaps not make it altogether, if we were going to leave the next morning. So I told everyone what happened, about the incident, about how everyone was all right, about how we all remained calm (Despite the good amount of recent events that have been reported in the press that I am sure we are all far too familiar with for multiple other airlines) and how we were all waiting for things to happen… 

At that point, it occurred to me that I could query @Iberia and see if they would know what was actually happening. What was the failure about, how long we would need to wait for something to happen and whether we would be leaving for Zurich eventually, after all. And lo and behold within a few minutes I got a lovely response back from the @Iberia folks confirming the problem, how they found out from their colleagues they were sending another plane from Madrid to Barcelona and how about one hour later we would be taking that one from BCN to our final destination and how everything was going back to normal. And there I was, from feeling a bit uncomfortable, tense, perhaps a tad too nervous about what was happening, waiting for more news to come through, I got all I needed: the right information to reassure me (us all, in the end) we were being taken good care of

From there onwards, I no longer felt that I needed to go to the Transfer Desk to inquire any longer. Word started spreading pretty quick and before we all knew it we were all enjoying a refreshment waiting for the next flight to arrive. And it surely did! 35 minutes ahead of the scheduled time we were told! Once again, that distress, uncomfortable situation of not knowing what was happening, which is usually the feeling one has when travelling, was transformed into excellent customer service and all of that thanks though a delightful exchange of tweets, not just with the folks behind @Iberia, but also a couple of other folks (Aviation enthusiasts for that matter, who were tuning in on how the plane got diverted for no apparent reason), and also my own social network(s) who all kept me entertaining sharing glimpses of what was happening to them while they interacted with me to confirm whether I was ok and being taken care of, which I was. 

Yes, I can imagine! I am sure you may all be thinking this success story is an easy one. I mean, so easy to keep your customers informed about what’s happening, right? Specially, while they are on the move… Well, the thing is that it’s not happening as often as it should! Like I have mentioned above, I travel quite a bit throughout the whole year and this was the first time any airline tuned in on to their social channels (Twitter, in this case), to go the extra mile and help their customers get comfort after a rather interesting incident which turned itself into just another anecdote, which is essentially what happened after we got the information we needed. Now, imagine this whole scenario without having social technologies helping out. Imagine the chaos of several dozens of people piling up, complaining about their own rights, about having good information on what’s happening, about their vouches for refreshments while the wait ensured, etc. etc. Yes, I am sure it’s not hard to imagine. It would have been a complete chaos. Mayhem unleashed. And yet, a couple of exchanges with @Iberia through Twitter and we are all good. Yes, just that, 2 or 3 exchanges in Twitter and we are back in business!

Needless to say that this success story, just like it did for Movistar a little while ago and that I have blogged about over here, can only mean something, something that we all seem to take for granted, but that, time and time again, it’s incredibly difficult to gain and enjoy for much longer nowadays as we have all become rather disenchanted: customer loyalty and employee engagement. Because you know, happy and engaged employees surely help cultivate happy customers. Each and every time.

Indeed, thanks to that helpful exchange on Twitter, one gets to comprehend how the future of work is social, how Social Business is all about people to people business and how customers don’t interact with brands to get their problems addressed and fixed and their needs met. Customers talk to people, people who take ownership of their customers’ problems and whom, within a matter of minutes, ensure that problem has been taken care of and a proper resolution is on the way, depending on the context, obviously. Essentially, no matter what people out there may well say, that’s what customers care about. Perhaps not so much about engaging with those brands per se, but more talk to people to have their problems solved, so that they can move on. And since that’s just what has happened to me that can only mean one thing: my new favourite airline out there to do business with is … @Iberia. Just another business that has embarked already on that fascinating journey to become a successful socially integrated enterprise.

In short, another business that, finally, shows and demonstrates fully, by walking the talk with these social technologies, how to care about their own customers: From people to people solving their problems by making them their own, while finding a solution in a timely manner. That, folks, is what a Social Business is all about! And, I do realise that this may well be just an isolated occurrence, so we will have to wait and see about that! But, for now, once again, Iberia is showing everyone the way… It’s now up to us to follow suit.

[ I already have, by the way. They just landed themselves a new, happy AND loyal customer 😀 ]

0 votes


  1. Am obviously glad you are OK and that you had such a good experience in the end, Luis.

    Although in no way dramatic, I had a similar experience of an airline yesterday – Air France. I was flying with Flybe (operated by Air France) from CDG Paris to Manchester. The terminal was chaos. I am an experienced traveller but could I see where the check-in desk was? In the course of sorting it out, I was directed to three different places.

    I should have been annoyed but in each case, the people were doing their best, were warm, one cracked a joke and all were – calm! Like you said. And of course the mystery was solved – and Air France have a new fan. As a p.s. to the story, the experience continued with the cabin crew. Lots of children returning from Disneyland. I watched how lovely the crew were with the children. A wee girl in front of me (about 3 years old) was being cajoled awake and strapped in for landing. It was done so gently.

    It is all about people – and it is not hard. Good luck with the conference!

  2. Hi Luis,
    Lovely story and noted something similar a few weeks back when KLM was experiencing problems that caused all their IT systems and website to go down. Causing major delays and problems at Schiphol airport. In their press release they specifically referred their customers to contact them through twitter & FB instead for help even for check-in and bookings. It caught my eye and I did a blog on it a few weeks back.

    KLM did a 4 piece blog series themselves on how they formed their social media strategy after the Iceland vulcano disaster. Quite an entertaining read that I can certainly recommend reading! http://blog.klm.com/klm%E2%80%99s-social-media-strategy-part-1/4670/

  3. Totally agree with your integrated view! People-to-People Business requires trust and more specifically “trustworthiness”. Adopting open standards for the capture & measurement of Relationship Capital (RC) will play a greater role in accounting for kept-commitments & positive perceptions!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *