On Tuesday I chaired a panel on crisis management at Our Social Times’ Social Customer Service Summit. Miguel Henales from Iberia Airlines –  Spain’s national airline – was on the panel.

I’ve got a soft spot for Spain. I lived there for two years. The language is easy, the food’s great, the sun (nearly) always shines and the people are friendly. They’ve also got a healthy attitude to work, with the siesta (aka three hour lunch break) still common in the middle of the day.

Call centres in Spain have a better reputation than ours when it comes to customer service. Cheer and good humour? The Spanish do it naturally (unlike in the UK where training seems to be needed). Local cultural nuances are important in customer services – especially now that social tools are being employed.

Iberia Airlines get social

Miguel talked about Iberia’s new “human-2-human” system, which he is right to be proud of. Last year Iberia achieved the fastest social media response of any European airline. The Iberia community is currently more than 1.5 million people. And they handle more than 1,000 interactions daily. Campaigns like Iberia Social Flight (below) have helped build loyalty.

PR nightmare

But it wasn’t always this way. Back in 2010, when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted, spewing ash into the atmosphere, Iberia was caught in a public relations nightmare as it struggled to deal with an onslaught of customer queries and complaints, many of them via Twitter. After that public failure to reassure its customers, Iberia’s senior management decided they never wanted to be in that situation again.

Since then, Iberia has focused its efforts on building up a strong social media presence that is robust enough to deal with emergencies. Later in 2010, when Spain’s air traffic controllers launched a series of wildcat strikes, Iberia was far more able to cope with the fallout.

Five things I learned

1. Establish a presence on Twitter (and other social networks relevant to your customer base) before any crisis hits. This is akin to putting social capital in the bank.

2. Run campaigns to build up goodwill – again, to create social capital – two great examples from Iberia were Iberia Social Flight (above) and Iberia Mayors.

3. Set up systems (such as feedback loops) to ensure that when you do hit a crisis (which in many sectors, is inevitable), you learn as much as you possibly can from it. These lessons will ensure that your brand suffers less collateral damage next time round.

4. Be prepared. Try to have a standby plan for everything – even one for stuff you can’t plan for.

5. Whatever the situation, have a process in place that enables you to decide quickly exactly how deal with it – then communicate that plan of action to your customers as soon as possible. An efficient way to do this might be to publish a blog post or press release on your website, and link to it from all social channels.

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