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Living Digital: Not Walking The Talk

If you’ve ever ‘gone social’ on a company that hasn’t been giving you after sales service, you’ll know what I’m talking about straight off...

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If you’ve ever ‘gone social’ on a company that hasn’t been giving you after sales service, you’ll know what I’m talking about straight off...

Customers with an axe to grind took to social networks like a duck to water. They had found a voice. Unprepared businesses got the shock of their lives when they found that the more virulent the complaint, the faster and wider it spread. Ignoring it didn’t help at all because unless a brand intervened, and did so appropriately, it would get a royal battering online.

Airlines and telcos have had the worst of it — mostly richly deserved. Lost baggage, endless waiting, mess ups with flights, poor service, you name it. So have telcos that have pathetic after sales service and have long been complacent about dumping the customer once a product is bought.

Gradually, companies figured out they better ‘listen’ to what’s being said about them and respond. They’re doing the listen part just fine, but the responses have been just so much cliche: “So sorry to hear of the inconvenience you’re facing.” And when it comes to the actual problem solution — radio silence. Because social media leaped ahead as fast as it did, companies that have been getting away with poor customer service never really got round to putting their services and processes in place. Some never really set up backend resources to resolve problems and believed they would cruise along as before — all they needed to do is hire a social team to say something nice. Sometimes the response isn’t just templates but automated. There’s an over reliance on technology to make the right response while the customer suffers as ever.

Any wonder that Accenture, in a recent survey, found 83 per cent prefer dealing with real ‘human beings over digital channels’. Even if it means going back to the old ways of complaining. But actually, how a brand responds is of little consequence unless it can eventually go beyond the response and fix the problem.

I recently had a run in with FedEx, whose personnel were calling and demanding KYC information for a package that I never ordered and didn’t want. Explaining to them on the phone that I wasn’t a customer and didn’t see why I should hand over my passport details didn’t help. Resorting to Twitter, I asked FedEx to tell me what I should do. They responded fast enough but only with a cliche answer that didn’t help. It was a waste of time, though it looks good on social media.

Airtel, much beleaguered online by irate customers, also at one time would respond with its standard post and call the customer, but lost networks and dropped calls obviously are still a problem. Now, because the telco has its Open Project and is actually trying to fix problems, it’s in a position to give more meaningful responses to the customer — but this doesn’t always work as towers can’t just be put up overnight.

In contrast, one of the companies that figured social out early has been Indigo Airlines. Opting for the express check-in on a recent flight, I found I couldn’t web check-in and choose my seat. A tweet fixed all that within minutes. What the company had done here is to combine quick social response, keeping it polite rather than over-personal and mercifully devoid of cliche, with action. This isn’t the first time I’ve found the airline instantly resolving a problem when approached socially.

Before we barge into the era of bots and more conversational commerce, brands will need to see if they can back up their friendly social responses with action.