Delta Air Lines jettisoned the bland, cheery persona employed typically by social customer care representatives in favor of stoic sarcasm in two now-notorious Twitter replies to author and political commentator Ann Coulter on Sunday, July 16. Coulter, furious that she had been moved from a seat she had paid extra for on a July 15 flight, and that she'd been given an insufficient explanation by a flight attendant, had been raging at the airline on Twitter, where she has 1.61 million followers.
She finally pushed Delta to the edge, and instead of offering a flat-out apology and a full refund, as one might expect, Delta leaped fingertips-first into the new age (new for brands, that is) of direct confrontation on social media.
@AnnCoulter We're sorry you did not receive the preferred seat you paid for and will refund your $30. (cont.)
— Delta (@Delta) July 16, 2017
A few hours later Delta followed up with an official statement that only slightly backed off from the tone of the two tweets. The comical offer of a $30 refund stood. Judging by a New York Times report, Coulter had every right to vent at Delta through every means at her disposal. She paid extra for her seat and then Delta gave her seat to someone else, seemingly at random and for no easily discernible reason.
The following three tweets from Coulter provoked Delta's ultimate response. The airline made a choice: If you insult its employees and customers in a public forum, it will not remain silent on that platform.
Coulter is not just a provocateur, she's a powerfully influential provocateur beloved by Americans on the conservative side of the political spectrum. Delta had to know what it was getting into by dropping its usual customer-care persona. On July 18, Coulter implied that she'd been singled out by Delta flight attendants because of her political leanings.
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) July 18, 2017
Executives at Delta may have felt like heroes for an hour or two; now they just have to deal with the full-on conflict. Meanwhile, JetBlue is probably thinking "there but for the grace of God go I." But JetBlue's time may be coming, as it may for other brands in other industries—and for individual citizens. These are the times we live in.
Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI