In December 2008, Oliver Beale, a passenger traveling on Virgin Atlantic from Mumbai to London, was so disturbed by his in-flight meal that he wrote a complaint letter to Richard Branson, complete with photos of the food. Copies of the letter spread rapidly via e-mail and the story was quickly picked up by bloggers and traditional media. To read Oliver Beale’s letter follow this link: The best complaint letter ever?
In response to the media attention surrounding the letter, Virgin Atlantics public-relations team quickly got out the message on Facebook that Mr. Branson had personally phoned Mr. Beale and invited him to help select food and wine for future flights. According to Paul Charles, a Virgin Atlantic spokesman, “Our response was so fast, some people even accused us of setting the whole thing up as a publicity stunt, We took that as a compliment.”
Letter Excerpt: “It appears to be in an evidence bag from the scene of a crime. A CRIME AGAINST BLOODY COOKING. Either that or some sort of back-street underground cookie, purchased off a gun-toting maniac high on his own supply of yeast.”
Honestly, this is one of the funniest letters I have ever read and it shows how quickly a company’s brand can be damaged through social media if they are not prepared with the correct response when issues arise. In this case Virgin Atlantic got off easy, Richard Branson made a call to Oliver and everyone had a nice laugh about the situation and now both Oliver and Virgin Atlantic have tons of publicity to help them sleep at night.
But as the recent United Airlines guitar debacle shows, this is not always the case. Twitter, Facebook and other social media are changing the world of consumer complaints and brands must remain aware that consumers can and will use social media to tell their side of the story.