It’s high time companies start taking social networking seriously

Airtel twitter rant

The social networking revolution is not just for single users who want to spend more and more time on their computers and mobile devices. If tapped properly, its has great potential for consumer goods and service companies to get closer to their customers and bring up their brand value. At the same time, if not used properly, it can also be a huge disaster (as is evident from the image above). Lately, many companies have tried to get into social mode in order to provide customer service to their customers. In my opinion, except for a few, all others have failed.

What I am going to suggest here is my perception of what ideal customer service & feedback social networking option should be. I hope that someone who can call the shots within the companies reads this and implements it.

Don’t just do it for the sake of doing it

Do not open a social networking page just because every other company is doing so. Doing so and not being able to justify it will only ruin your brand image. As an example, TataSky’s twitter account (@tatasky) does nothing and is unable to solve any customer issue in addition to possessing the inability to read and interpret tweets. Getting customers’ hopes high and then crushing them will only fuck up your brand image.

Social networking is not “just another customer service channel”

The whole idea behind social networking is personalization. When I log in to Facebook, twitter or any other social networking site, I expect to see items that I want to see, as opposed to everything the site has to show me. Both Facebook and twitter have personalized timelines which are populated with feeds from my friends. “My” is the USP of these sites and the primary factor why they are so popular. I see what I want to see and I share what I want to share, However, if a company considers them just another customer service channel and routes any requests/complaints to the same non-helpful, non-personalized team that I can get over the phone, it will only attract heat from their customers. This is exactly what Airtel has been doing on twitter. If you send a complaint to them over twitter, they will send you a canned response to email them your issue. Once you do that, it is routed to their regular customer service team. If I had to do that, I would have called their customer service number or sent them an email in the first place.

What is needed here is to give your social customer service executives the power to do things. Start by getting a feature rich social management tool like HootSuite which is tailor made for this purpose. Then efficiently and quickly resolve the customer’s issue. If the issue is taking time to resolve, keep the customer informed at regular intervals.

Don’t confuse customer service with advertising channel

If you want to advertise/publicize something, open another page/account for that sole purpose. Never use the customer service channel to advertise your products. As an example, Airtel did open a different twitter account (@airtelnews) for its news and general info. But lately it has been also using its customer service twitter account (@airtel_presence) to tweet the same thing that the former is tweeting. As a customer, if I see that you are spending money sponsoring F1 race instead of resolving my issue, I would be pissed off.

Don’t run Bournvita Quiz Contests

Star India’s Asli HD twitter account (@aslihd) keeps asking users technical questions related to HD broadcast. There is nothing wrong in doing that if you were satisfying your primary goal of opening the channel (unless running prize-less quizzes was your primary goal). They never reply to any user suggestions or feedback. I am assuming that they do listen to their customers (based on the fact that I suggested them to do something about the IBF banner on their channels blocking the subtitles and a few days later, it was fixed), but since they did not reply to me, I do not know for sure if it was me who made that difference. The personalization thing comes in play here. If you do not reply to me, why would I contact you again?

Another point to note here is that there is no point in running polls on things which are out of your reach. Asli HD keeps asking users for show suggestions and most of the users suggest shows which are owned by their rival channels. I am assuming its pretty difficult to run the same show on two channels (otherwise every other channel will be showing Balika Vadhu). Instead of asking a subjective question, give your users options to choose from the shows for which you can secure broadcasting rights.

Aslihd twitter mistake

And if you still want to run bournvita quiz contests, provide answers in addition to asking questions. No one has the time to go through all the responses. And get your facts right. If your questions are framed wrong or have wrong facts, and you are caught doing so, apologize. It goes a long way and will only increase the respect for your brand.

Keep customers informed

Not all of your customers will be on twitter or Facebook. Those that are there will be generally more informed than those who are not (no offense). And they will like to be informed about the latest developments which might benefit/affect them. It will go a long way if you keep such customers informed. Planning to get a new satellite for more transponder space? Tell them. Making 1 Mbps as the minimum speed for all broadband customers? Inform them. Upgrading your systems which might fuck up customer records and reporting systems? Inform them.

Engage your best customer service executives

This is probably the most important aspect. Not every customer service executive in your company will be able to understand and resolve customer issues efficiently. There are always some who are better than the others. As noted earlier that the users requesting/complaining you through social networking are generally more informed than the others, resolving their complaints faster and efficiently will earn you points with their not-so-informed friends who might be your existing or perspective customers. I guess I can take my own example here. I am a tech blogger. People come to me when they have to take tech related decisions about buying a new gadget or deciding on a service provider. If I am satisfied with your customer service, I will promote you for free (seriously, all you have to do is do your job well). On the other hand, if you piss me off, you piss off a lot of other existing and perspective customers.

Learn from those doing it right

Look at how @cleartrip and @bookmyshow handle customer service on twitter. In my opinion, they are the ideal use case for a company planning to enter in this space. They reply to tweets, work on suggestions and feedback and keep their customers engaged with them. In addition to all this, they are transparent with their customers. This is the reason why they are so successful in what they do.¬†And remember, the human factor is the most important one. If I contact you and your executive says that he cannot help me because the system won’t allow him to help me, what’s the point? I am contacting you in the first place because your system made an error. Is it really hard to believe that computer systems can make errors? If that is the case, then you probably need professional help.

I believe that all the above suggestions that I have pointed out should help any company planning to start a social networking channel for their customers to get in touch with them.

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