Speed up customer service by using Twitter instead of calling on the phone

Last weekend, I was booked on a Southwest flight from Boston to Nashville for a series of work meetings. Most of the Northeast had been crippled by a winter storm, but both Boston and Nashville just received glancing blows. My flight was still listed as on time.

However, when I checked-in to receive my boarding pass, I discovered that my Pre-Check status did not come through. Pre-Check is a wonderful service provided by the TSA that gives you an expedited and simplified security check when you arrive at the airport.

The way that it works is that you pay them $85 to do a background check and finger prints, and assuming everything looks good, they put you on a special approved list. When you arrive at the airport, you get to go through a dedicated Pre-Check line, and you don’t have to take off your shoes or belt.  You also don’t have to take out your laptop or remove the 3 oz liquids from your bag.  You just go through an old fashioned metal detector and you are off. It’s like flying used to be back in the 1990s.

While I don’t fly super often (most of my travel lately has been on the Acela between New York and Boston), I’ve come to depend on it for flying. Naturally, I was horrified at the idea that I might have to go through the slow line and take off my shoes – I know, it’s a first world problem.

After confirming that my account had the correct KTN # (the magic code that makes Pre-Check work), I picked up the phone to call Southwest. After jumping through a series of automated prompts, I was told that the wait time would be 116 minutes. I immediately remembered that thousands of flights were being canceled due to the storm, and I’m sure they were being flooded with people trying to rebook.

I wasn’t about to wait 116 minutes, so I decided to try twitter. I found their customer service account and tweeted at them:

My KTN # is listed on my profile, but Pre Check doesn’t show up on my boarding pass. How can I fix this?

Within two minutes, Southwest had responded asking me to “Direct Message” them my name, confirmation number, and KTN. We then proceeded to message back and forth troubleshooting the issue.

The representative’s initial thought was that perhaps my last name was causing a mismatch with the Pre-Check systems. My last name of Rothman-Shore is hyphenated. Normally, having such a distinctive last name is quite helpful, but for the airlines it is a headache. Despite the fact that it is 2016, most airline systems cannot handle a hyphen in a name (what are they running on the backend, IBM mainframes from the 1980s?), so usually I fly as either “Rothman Shore” or “Rothmanshore”.

Over Twitter, they changed my last name from “Rothman Shore” to “Rothmanshore”, but this didn’t seem to do the trick either. After trying many other ideas over the course of an hour, including comparing one of my wife’s past flights, since she was able to use Pre-Check on Southwest and has the same hyphenated last name, they ran out of ideas:

I’m sorry for all of the trouble. It might be worth following up with TSA to see how exactly your profile is formatted, and if they have any recommendations. -Daniel

I had assumed this would be a dead-end, but it turns out that the TSA has their own Twitter-based customer service account called @AskTSA. They responded almost immediately, but unfortunately they were going to take a little more time:

Thanks for the information provided, Jeremy. Unfortunately, the earliest we will be able to give you an answer is in one business day. We apologize for the inconvenience and we’ll get back to you as soon as we receive an update.

Sigh… at this point my flight was a few hours away, so I had to knuckle down and go through the regular security line. Hopefully we could sort out the issue and fix the problem for my return flight. The combination of a Sunday evening and the large number of canceled flights made for a rather empty airport, so aside from a little extra inconvenience, no harm done.

When we landed in Nashville Sunday evening, I turned on my phone to see a notification from TSA:

Hi Jeremy. Our records show the DOB in your reservation didn’t match the DOB in your TSA Precheck enrollment. Your DOB was submitted as [**redacted**] and our records list your DOB as [**redacted**]. If your full name, DOB, or KTN in your flight reservation isn’t an exact match to the information you enrolled with then you will not receive TSA Precheck status. Please reach out to your airline to have them update your DOB. When you reprint your boarding pass you should receive TSA Precheck status.

Well, that would do it! I waited at the end of the jetway for my other colleagues and tweeted back to Southwest to try to fix the issue.  Once again, they responded immediately, but now there was a new hurdle:

I see. Your birthday in your reservation was also listed as [**redacted**], but I assume this may have pre-populated from your Rewards account. In order for us to make the change within your account, can you send us a photo copy/picture of your ID for verification? -Rebeca

Umm… how was I supposed to to do that? You can’t send attachments on direct messages. And then, I remembered Dropbox. I snapped a photo of my driver’s license, uploaded it to Dropbox, and then tweeted it back to Southwest. Moments later:

All should be good now! Let us know how things go on your return trip. -Rebeca

Sure enough, a few days later, I checked in and my return flight to find that my Pre-Check status had indeed come through.

I’m still amazed by just how responsive the airline was over Twitter. On a day when wait times were pushing two hours, I was having real time messaging with their customer service department. Rather than being chained to the phone trying to sort it out, I was able to just message back and forth at my convenience, wherever I was. All I ever needed was my smart phone.

I think in the future, Twitter will be my first stop on customer service issues. Picking up the phone will be the last resort.

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