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BW Businessworld

No Robots Please

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Recently I was out and about and tired, but delighted to find that one of my favourite restaurants was at the Delhi Art Fair. After a long wait, my friend and I managed to get in and found it was a sort of stall with a table or two. But no matter—as long as the waffles I loved so much were there.

They weren’t. All they had was tea and coffee and a rapidly diminishing collection of sorry looking confectionary items. Well, there was nothing for it as we weren’t about to stand in line elsewhere all over again, so we got ourselves some tea and an extra-small sliver of cake. To our shock we had to pay upward of Rs 550 for what was, after all a regular everyday set of teabags — the kind you have at home anyway. I was considerably disgruntled and wrote a Zomato review in protest. My point was that if you’re charging so much, give value for money. Say, tea that you don’t get elsewhere easily, a nice choice of baked things, a piece of cake that was at least noticeable. Instead of responding to the content of my review, the restaurant got back with a “We’re sorry you didn’t enjoy our food” and suggested I visit again to check out the other brilliant offerings on the menu. Now, if I was 20 per cent outraged before, I was now effectively  100 per cent outraged after the response. I’m happy to say I’ve found another place that serves fabulous waffles and that’s where I’m headed next time I get waffle-withdrawal symptoms.

As is obvious, it’s a bad idea to just put social media on auto-pilot — either with an automated solution or through a person who responds without really being involved, without creativity, and in my case apparently without reading what I wrote.

I faced precisely the same situation when I complained to a Delhi hotel about some food at an event that was well past its prime by the time it was served. As journalists we often have little choice but to grab a bite at press conferences because they’re designed to end precisely then. Unfailingly, it’s an unpalatable experience, but sometimes it can make you outright sick. Again, the response was an invitation to a free lunch at the very place I wanted to avoid.

Everyone will have experienced automatic or cliché responses that only serve to make the annoyance greater. People want to interact with a human, not a friendly piece of software that calls itself social. And preferably the person shouldn’t be royalty — what’s with the “we”?

What’s the point of social media and networks if businesses are only there to be a “presence,” still, in effect, broadcasting to their customers? Social media is a two-way affair and one of the two can’t be a robot.

Much has been said about how social media is the platform for customer service today. But companies need to reach out, listen, talk and resolve issues while at the same time building their brand. A lot on one plate, but tough luck. And companies that handle this well only make those who don’t even worse. A month ago I had a great experience with Indigo Airlines. I can’t see too well and need to be pointed in the direction to go in our increasingly crowded and complicated airports. Indigo used the situation beautifully. They treated me like royalty. With the utmost courtesy and sensitivity, I was taken to the aircraft so that a big deal wasn’t made of the fact that I had weak eyesight. On board, the experience was just as good, with the staff discreetly asking me if I needed anything or any help. In this way they didn’t make my disability bigger than it was and avoided embarrassing me witless. On the way back, I found I couldn’t web check-in and wondered what was up. A tweet to Indigo got an immediate and warm human response. Someone quickly checked and found out what the problem was. The experience back was just fine as well, but the point was the fact that I was able to reach a real human within minutes, with a solution. Needless to say Indigo won my wholehearted loyalty, unlike whats-it-called restaurant.
(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 23-03-2015)