I was quoted recently in a DNA story on how savvy consumers are using to Twitter to publicly shame brands into responding to their complaints.
I said that social media in general, and Twitter in particular, is allowing customers to cut through the bureaucracy at big organizations and inject a sense of urgency into the customer support process. An irate tweet is likely to become more of a nuisance than an irate complaint letter, and organizations are struggling to respond to complaints in real time, in public.
Twitter is becoming an important channel for customer support, in two ways. If I ask for help on Twitter, the brand in question might responds itself, but other people who have faced similar problems might also respond. The first dynamic (real-time, public, customer support) doesn’t always work, as brands find it difficult to engage in one-to-one conversations at scale. The second dynamic (crowd-sourced customer support) is more likely to work, and lies at the core of customer-driven support forums like Get Satisfaction, Salesforce Service Cloud and the Social CRM movement.
Yesterday, I wrote a post on why social CRM is a non-starter in India. In short, if your product or service sucks in real life, it will suck on the social web. Most Indian companies don’t care if their product and service suck, as long as they can find enough customers who want average products at average prices with average service, and India has more than one billion such customers.
Here is the full text of the DNA story –
Poor customer service? Don’t call, just tweet
Published: Sunday, Aug 8, 2010
By Arcopol Chaudhuri | Agency: DNA
Savvy consumers are discovering that raising a stink on Twitter works better and quicker than dialling a call centre and being put on hold forever.
When noted blogger Kiruba Shankar had a harrowing experience booking an air ticket on a travel website, it threatened to spoil his wedding anniversary — a short vacation to Malaysia with his wife. While the ticket got booked, it was yet to be a ‘confirmed ticket’. When he and his wife landed at the airport, officials continued to pass the buck, and eventually, after running from pillar to post, when he did get the tickets, the couple was the last to enter the flight, five minutes before take-off.
“I was panting and awash with sweat. My wife was really hassled. This is NOT the kind of experience I wanted to give her on her vacation,” he wrote later on his blog, livid with the travel website.
He eventually posted a tweet venting his frustration. “That’s when I realised the importance of Twitter. You get to say what you want in quick time.”
Soon after, the co-founder of the company in question, Cleartrip, not only sent him an apology email, but also confirmed his return tickets, calling him up to tell him that he had double-checked the tickets himself. The icing on the cake happened when the couple was upgraded to business class on their return flight.
Almost a year after the incident, Hrush Bhatt, founder and director (product and strategy), Cleartrip, recollects, “In terms of customer care, that episode was challenging, not because we could not fix it, but because of the number of people to whom the incident was exposed.”
Bhatt is probably right. Shankar’s tweets are read by about 56,171 followers, and every tweet could be influential in shaping or damaging reputations.
Brand manager’s nightmare
The episode probably sparked off the first amongst many such customer care exercises on Twitter, when companies took note of what a single tweet could do. Today, brands like Kingfisher, Cafe Coffee Day, Parle Agro’s Hippo, Vodafone, Bajaj Allianz, Flipkart amongst several others in India have warmed up to answering customer queries on Twitter.
The time taken to solve each query might be different, but with India showing the second highest number of Twitter users in the world — approximately 3 million out of an active internet population of 52 million — it is acknowledged that a consumer’s frustration about a certain brand is only 140 characters away from becoming public.
Gaurav Mishra, CEO, 2020 Social, reasons, “Social media in general, and Twitter in particular, is allowing customers to cut through the bureaucracy at big organizations and inject a sense of urgency into the customer support process. An irate tweet is likely to become more of a nuisance than an irate complaint letter, and organisations are struggling to respond to complaints in real time, in public.”
Manoj Damodaran who works with an online media agency, shares a dilemma he faced with a telecom company once, when he wanted his credit limit on his cellphone connection to be extended. “Repeated calls to the customer care helpline went in vain. It was annoying because the customer care executive did not understand the urgency of my situation. I tweeted to the company’s Twitter handle explaining my situation. They took about five days to respond, but when they did, I got a call from their headquarters and they solved my problem immediately.”
Twitter is too open
But not many companies will warm up to dedicated customer care on Twitter. Experts say that Twitter is too open and brands are insecure of customers washing dirty linen in public.
Sanjay Mehta, who heads social media agency, Social Wavelength, says, “The only companies who’ll handle complaints better are the one who choose to do so. Most brands fear that their response to a complaint on Twitter may end up creating a storm which they may not be able to cope with. So estimating the resource demands, creating a protocol, all these have to be in place. Only then can a brand take on the onus of responding to Twitter-based complaints.”
Shankar says there are lessons in all this. “It’s natural to screw up. But it takes courage for a company to admit its mistake,” He adds, “A prompt response and phone calls help. I haven’t stopped booking tickets on that website.”