At Tampa International Airport, it's always personal. The airport used social media to make that point by highlighting the story of an airport operations manager who went above and beyond for a little boy who left his toy tiger in an airport play area.
The operations manager took the tiger around the airport campus, photographing it by the air traffic control tower, on a luggage cart, hanging out with airport firefighters and at other landmarks. He created a storyline to go with the photos, turned them into a book and left it for the family to pick up along with the tiger when they returned on a late night flight to Tampa. The story went viral, reinforcing to the public the airport's commitment to customer service.
Our goal was to tell this story – unfiltered and exactly how it happened – and let it showcase our core value of customer service and to encourage brand loyalty from a local, national and international audience.
The story of a boy's lost stuffed tiger and his grand adventure at Tampa International Airport is a reflection of our airport at its very best. That one of our employees would take time out of his busy day to create a book and make a little boy's day was truly special.
Our strategy was to promote this act of kindness in a way that reflected the spirit of the gesture and showed the airport's interest in delivering customer care with a personal touch.
Shortly after Owen received his stuffed tiger back from the airport, we typed up a story of the whole event – complete with photos of the tiger's journey and of the emotional reunion between boy and stuffed animal.
We wrote of how a frantic call from a boy's mother led to the discovery of the lost tiger, and we reached out to that mother to get her account. We described how an airport employee took it upon himself to then take the boy's tiger around the terminal, photograph it and make it into a book. We mentioned that he did this on his lunch hour and later used a coupon code that evening to make a hardbound photo book at Walgreens.
We posted the story on Facebook and Twitter with a handful of photos, linking back to the story on our website. As interest in the story grew, we continued to keep it personal. When a staff member's mother posted on Facebook: "What a great story. What a great airport," the airport answered: "Thanks, mom!" That prompted this reply: "I love that TPA has a mom ... who's also on Facebook."
The story provided an opportunity to highlight other customer service achievements through social media. One man tweeted: "I know @FlyTPA connects with children. My son still has the little airplane eraser an employee gave him last summer."
Extensive interest on social media led to widespread media coverage locally, nationally and internationally. With all the media coverage, we tried to keep the story simple and personal. We allowed airport staff and the boy's family to do all the talking. The airport just facilitated the conversations.
The story of the lost stuffed tiger quickly went viral.
In just a couple days, it appeared in all the local print and media outlets. The tiger's story was featured by such national outlets as Good Morning America, ABC News, Time, People, NPR, Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post, CNN, New York Daily News, Yahoo Parenting, in addition to numerous affiliated sites. It made the rounds on news sites based in Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, New Zealand and the Netherlands.
In Germany, a headline read: "Stoff-tiger Hobbes erlebt witziges abenteuer." Loosely translated, that means: "Fabric tiger Hobbes experienced funny adventure."
The story rapidly set social media records for the airport, with thousands gushing support for the feel-good story and the Airport. The reach surpassed 3,000,000. Followers commended airport staff for the exceptional customer service. Many said the story brought tears to their eyes. Nearly 115,000 people liked, commented and shared the story on Facebook. Our Twitter post had 78,000 impressions, and millions more through shares by airport partners.
The Disney Institute – the professional development arm of The Walt Disney Company – highlighted the act in a post titled "Celebrating When Employees Go Above and Beyond." The story was also included in a recent book about customer service excellence titled, "501 Ways to Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your Customers."