Managing Customers on Social Media

We all are customers to many many businesses. A lot of us use social media. Some of us use social media to talk about brands we use. Some brands are smart enough to listen to us and interact with us on social media. I have been interacting with the few brands on social media and my experience says what Rahim said hundreds of years ago – Social media is just a tool, the winner or looser are decided based on how they use the tool and not on what the tool can do or is meant to do. Here are some of my bitter sweet experiences with brands on how they respond to customers on social media:

Taj Hotels

They gave a me a best response on social media. I needed some information about one of their properties in Goa but could not reach the right person through their board lines. I tweeted to them asking only if someone can help. They asked for my number, as it is a brand that I trust, I shared my number on DM ( Direct Message). I immediately got a call from the property in question, the person took all my requirements and sent me the information on e-mail within a reasonable and promised timeframe. I was happy and said Jai Ho Social Media. But then I got about 4-5 different calls from Taj Hotels to respond to the same query. This was a hyper response. As a customer, so many calls were disturbing even though a but pampering. I also felt that all these people who called had no clue about the other people who were calling. So response was excellent, but did they go overboard – may be a bit.

Tata Sky

I had a very mixed experience with the. When we relocated to Goa, their engineer did not turn up the whole day to set up our system in Goa. We kept calling, but no one responded. Finally the guy decided to come at 10 PM and at 10:30 Pm after fixing the system he demanded 700 Rs. When I confronted him and asked we are supposed to be Tata Sky through the recharge, he took out the connector and said – if you want your Tata Sky to work, you have to pay me Rs 700/- or ask the company to come and do it for you. We were too tired to argue, but next morning I tweeted about it and within few hours the guy came and returned the money. So far so good. I also had the issue with Tata Sky billing me twice for relocation and to sort that out no amount of tweeting / calling helped. They just chose to ignore where they owed me money. After a while I could not spend my energy on a small amount, but the experience left a bad taste. First part did not leave a bad taste as the company responded and corrected its mistake, but the second one did.

Airtel 

Airtel is a perfect example of how you should not be on social media. To every tweet they have a automated response. They try to solve your problem without knowing your number. In all probably the social media management is outsourced with the team managing social media having no control on the service execution. I understand that with their kind of customer base it is not easy to be on social media, but then they should not take complaints on social media and that it is a medium that they use only to promote themselves. Customers should go to traditional channels to get their problems sorted. True, customers would still crib and rant about their customer service on social media, but then this automated response service is not helping either. Their Facebook page was a bit better in response but am I happy with the solution – not really.

A Travel Company

A small experience based travel company replies to every #travel tweet of mine by saying that if I am travelling in India , I should try their experiences. During my last trip, I asked them to arrange a few experiences for me and they could not. Now after this, I still keep getting their automated tweets and it get more annoying with every tweet. Automation is social media is going to work only to an extent, the moment it starts annoying, people will cut you off.

My take on Managing Customers on Social Media

  1. Do not use automation to reach out to customers and definitely not to respond to them.
  2. Listen to your customer. Even if you don’t like their language or the content of what they say – it takes an effort on the part of the customer to speak and they usually speak only when they are troubled or happy. There is no better place than social media to listen to your customers.
  3. Promise what you can deliver 100% or be ready for a deficit in customer trust.
  4. Avoid outsourcing of social media, specially if you intend to service customers on social media. There are far too many decisions that one may have to take to respond to a customer and an outside agency may not be able to take it on your behalf. The would also try to present a picture rosier than it is – which does not help in the long run.
  5. Have tight integration between your social media and customer support to get out of your presence on social media.

Do you have any good or bad experiences to share of your interactions with brands on social media.

Employees rating Customers?

Apparantly Uber is asking its driver, who are its employees to rate the customers who they deal with as per this HBR blogpost by Sara Green Yes, Your Uber Driver is Judging you! . Uber is not alone AirBnB and OpenTable are also rating customers.

What is new?

Every business intuitively rates its customers, but not in a quantitative way – adding data points on each interaction. May be an end of year analysis was done on the business every customer gave, may be there was a call taken after a clash, but to have a rating of customers based on how they behaved each time they used your services is new.

Open Questions?

How much can you trust your employees rating customers? How will you remove biases that may come due to their personal preferences – all young women end up getting good ratings for example?

These systems are prone to gross manipulation. Do we not know of all consumer companies who close your complaint at the end of the day or at expected hours irrespective of weather they have solved it or not – for they only get rated on closed complaints. If you question them, they quietly open a new complaint for you. Come to think of it, they actually benefit by not solving the complaint and keeping it open.

Are you going to say No to a customer if their rating is not good?

Are you going to give priority to customers who have better ratings?

Will it add to customer discomfort? For now, they have to be worried about another rating that too from a service provider. On a bad day, it can lead to a lot of stress.

Big Quesion

From this article I could not make out what was the purpose for which Uber is rating its customer – adding a layer of process for its employees and another layer of data to be crunched. I assume they would have defined it but it has not come our clearly in this interview. Unless there is an absolute clarity on a definite and in my opinion big enough purpose is solved by data collection – it is a futile exercise that I can call experiment at best.

Do we have to objectify all human behavior even if it means greater business gains?

 

 

 

Is Customer Service just a hyped concept?

Recently I had to interact with two very high growth organizations in India, as a customer. Both the companies are well known in India and are kind of leaders in their own space, one is a bank and another is the mobile service provider.

In the bank, I was facing some random problems with my accounts, the problems were very basic, to me the appeared mistakes, so I promptly wrote to my relationship manager and asked him to correct it. Days, weeks, months passed by, but there was no reply to my mails and phone calls. I had to escalate the issue as not only the time was passing but my no. problems were also increasing. Escalation after escalation happened, till I was talking to the regional head of Karnataka. Till that level no one cared to listen, leave apart attend to my problems. All this when I am so called classified as HNI customer and have a relationship manager to take care of my banking needs, on top of it I work with an organization that is the privileged customer of the same bank. God knows what treatment do the normal customers who walk into the bank for their banking needs. What surprised me was that no one had any inclination to look into the issues, and when the regional head did look into it, he still not had understood the issues or the problems. After exchanging some 50 mails, I could make the guy understand the problem, but still no solution. After few more phone calls a couple of simple ones got sorted, but the more important ones are still hanging. What surprised me was the way all the people in bank try to make a fool of you…the regional manager trying to tell me that he can not credit the interest due to me, as the interest is for the previous financial years…while the dates we were talking about were between Apr-04 and Sep-04, and this conversation happened in Jan-05. Don’t they do any customer profiling in their minds or systems? Just wondering…

With the mobile service provider, I was asked to submit my Id proofs, which I had dually provided when I bought the connection, but the company had lost it. Well some of their executives argue that I have to re-submit as per government orders, but is my PAN no. supposed to change in 18 months. Anyway I did go and re-submit, but still kept getting the messages saying that proofs have not been submitted, the guy whom I submitted refused to give me the acknowledgement that documents have been submitted. You go to their website and try writing to customer care, the e-mail Id is de-funct. The phone numbers go to the call center, where everyone answers in a automated voice ‘Please go to the nearest ….shop and submit your proof’. They do not listen and understand the issue. They do not give you the contact details of anyone higher up in the company. Finally I had to fax across the issue with a copy to the editors of all major publications in Bangalore, which did the trick and I got a mail saying, your documents have been received. Now why do I have to resort to such big steps for a small problem?

Some questions that intrigue me –

Should they not have defined service levels for each transaction?

Should the contact details of the person responsible for customer service not be public?

Should these organizations not publish the escalation mechanisms for their customers?