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The power of social cribbing

Consumer complaints on online social media cannot be taken lightly as they can create a negative snowball effect on a brand’s reputation. Brands are under pressure to speed up their response times. Commentators on social media

india Updated: Nov 20, 2011 21:22 IST
Rachit Vats

Ever been through that frustrating experience of calling in a complaint on a branded product or service with its company and getting delayed or worse, no action, on your complaint? An airconditioner that suddenly stopped working in the peak of the summer heat, a washing machine, your water purifier, your mobile or banking service goofing up on something.

And then came online social media where a thought, an idea, even a crib can catch fire as it get shared in no time at all. Facebook, Twitter, a blog where a single negative post could see a plethora of similar messages in response. Small wonder that consumers are voicing their frustrations online.

“In most cases, consumers go on the social media to vent their frustration when all else fails. The situation wouldn’t have arisen if that particular brand had a robust offline customer care mechanism. In turn, brands should not react but listen and address genuine cases,” said Sanjay Mehta, joint CEO, Social Wavelength.

Recently, Neha Mavani, a brand manager with a media firm, swiped her HDFC credit card while on a business trip abroad. To her shock, the bank approved a particular transaction twice. She immediately called and e-mailed it to rectify the fault. Even a week after her return, the bank had not taken any action. Eventually, she tweeted her problem, leading to a quick response from the bank.

"Only when I tweeted did my problem get resolved quickly," she said. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/21-11-buss-05.jpg

Consumer feedback for brands is beginning to change in implication. Not in a position to control consumer feedbacks, companies are waking up to the need for quicker response systems.

“A new trend is beginning to emerge where companies are putting a chief customer officer in the top management to oversee online feedbacks and quickly resolve customer issues. There is a big opportunity for brands to start textual analytics, instead of simply responding to individual complaints, to improve the overall system. Staying passive is no more an option,” said Sanjeev Aggarwal, senior MD, Helion.

A query with a number of companies on how they handle online consumer feedback gets somewhat similar answers on how careful monitoring is carried out and how the team is proactive and empowered to resolve grievances quickly and effectively.

A Vodafone India official spokesperson said: “The digital team acts both on feedback received through our established channels and also monitors conversations about the brand online. Typically, if the feedback is a complaint, the digital team is empowered to reach out and find the root cause of the complaint. It provides resolutions by itself or can escalate it to the right teams and seek a resolution.”

Jnaneswar Sen, senior VP - sales and marketing, Honda SIEL Cars India, said: “We acknowledge each complaint and try to get all the details from the customer. If there is a quick response that can resolve the complaint, it is provided immediately. If further investigation is required, we get our service and customer care teams involved. We attempt to provide closure to each complaint as soon as possible.”

However, companies are still grappling with their response capabilities. Vodafone sued Dhaval Valia, a customer, for posts on his Facebook wall that criticised the company. Vodafone sent a legal notice to Valia, holding him responsible for “false allegations”, “defamatory statement on social networking website Facebook”, sending “unneeded and unwarranted text messages to the company’s senior officers”, having “heated conversation” with a “senior female officer”, “threatening” the company, posting the “names and contact details” of two senior Vodafone officers who have been getting calls from the “public at large” and “facing mental trauma and torture” due to Valia’s “intentional and mischievous conduct”. Vodafone eventually withdrew when Valia gathered huge support from social media enthusiasts.

Kapil Ohri, a digital media expert, started receiving data card usage bills via e-mail from Tata Photon a few months ago despite not being a Tata Photon subscriber.

“I figured out that the data card belonged to someone who shares my name. I tweeted the issue with a mention of the brand name. Tata Photon got back, assuring me it would resolve the issue, but nothing happened. I still receive the bills and details.”

“Most brands do not have a clue what to do in the social media. They need to give emphasis to online reputation management as much as they focus on the offline, as the future is digital,” said Naresh Gupta, head – brand strategy, iYogi.

Brands also point to people sometimes being deliberately malicious. A Fortis Hospital spokesperson said: “We respond to queries within 24 hours of receiving them. In some cases, individuals do circulate e-mails or posts with the intention of maligning a brand and we respond to such accusations with detailed information on the case. The web is a free medium and we cannot prevent anyone’s online activities.” Noida-based complainant Srijan Sharma had recently posted messages on social media and other consumer fora about how, due to Fortis’s negligence, he had lost his wife.

Not all brands are distressed by negative feedback, however. A group of youngsters tweeted about how a Café Coffee Day store manager in Chennai demanded a cover charge for spending more time at the outlet. The conversation turned into big chatter online. CCD intervened quickly and apologised to the bunch.

“Citi monitors social media conversations on an ongoing basis. The engagement with our consumers, till date, has been positive and helped us in improving our processes. These interactions serve as a catalyst in further strengthening our product and service offerings,” said Gowri Mukherjee, senior VP & head e-busines (internet & mobile), Citibank India.

Honda SIEL’s Sen added: “We receive a lot of feedback on what the customer want from our cars. We consolidate these and drive trends out of these for newer models.” From a business perspective, monitoring social media conversations provides a low-cost and easy way to resolve issues. While a global study by TNS shows that more consumers prefer to praise rather than complain online, brands can no longer take consumer complaints lightly.

As Helion’s Aggarwal underlined: “The democratisation of information makes it a must for a brand to ensure that the promise of delivery matches the actual delivery. If a brand stands true to its promise, consumers will not go on the social media to vent out their frustration.”