Posts Tagged ‘customer service’

How Social Media is destroying brand loyalty


Last week, I wrote about my trysts with Scotty’s diner. I had been there a couple of times, and rather enjoyed the food and the conversations with the staff. On my walk to Scotty’s I noticed another place called Bloom’s Cafe. Wondering, what it was like, I went on-line to read about it. And there were some pretty good reviews of the place. So the next morning, I went to Bloom’s.

There was nothing wrong with my experience at Scotty’s. I was quite happy there, but the temptation to try out an option was too hard to resist, buffeted as it was with great reviews. Quite frankly, there was nothing Scotty’s could have done differently to prevent me from trying out Bloom’s.

And that is the risk that brands are facing with the advent of social media.

Used to be that there was a category of goods called ‘impulse purchase’ that were always susceptible to consumer moods. Typically candy/snacks and the type, where the risk was low and the financial downside was minimal.

Higher involvement categories were pretty much inured against this. These were considered purchases and the sales outlet, the salesman and word of mouth  of friends mattered a lot.

Till the mid 1990s ones awareness was limited to what we read in the media and heard from friends. With the advent of the internet the choices before us exploded. Brands we had dreamt of, or never heard of were all available at the click of a button. But how do you decide on what you were willing to spend your hard earned money.

Enter the concept of reviews. First on amazon, now showing everywhere. From a pair of socks to apartments there is no shortage of opinions being expressed that is changing consumer decisions everyday.

Emirates or Etihad

Hyatt or a Westin

Mobilio or Ertiga

Sobha or Prestige

And so on..

What we are seeing is that with social media, words of strangers carry as much weight as that of friends.

Much as people are willing to try out new options, bad service from their own brands is instantly shared on-line as well.

It appears that the days of lifelong loyalty are long gone.

So what are brands to do?

I believe it is a combination of 3 elements.

Customer Satisfaction: Ensure that existing customers are happy and their issues/concerns are instantly resolved. Don’t give them an opportunity to complain publicly. If they do, ensure the problem is addressed publicly as well.

Consumer Advocacy: As reviews play an important part in prospect decision making, there is need to run a continual consumer advocacy program. Some companies incentivise consumers to post advisors on trip advisor, for example. Similar programs exist, or should be created, by other brands as well.

Consumer Acquisition: Acquisition has to be a continuous program as there will always be people who drop out, seduced by a good review somewhere else. Hence it is important that brands are always on the hunt for new prospects, who may well be loyalists of another brand.

In my opinion consumer decisions will be shaped by

Advertising + Media (editorial) + Social Media.

Brands will need to play in all these spaces and have distinct, integrated, strategies that work across all.



Learnings from the BA Sachin ‘drama’

November 15, 2015 2 comments

So, a few days ago there was a huge hullabaloo over Sachin Tendulkar’s tweets around his disappointment with British Airways.British-Airways-Aircraft--001

In case, by some remote chance, you missed it here are his tweets.

_86665131_3025b3f7-bf0f-4801-bd3d-f1bd637768ef_86665133_23ba61d1-9a17-4088-babe-0597151a8dc0And here is BA’s response..

_86664484_5e8df018-d9ec-43ab-a4f4-b3c2b4cee7a5This seemingly concerned tweet from BA had Sachin’s followers in arms. How can BA ask for Sachin’s details. After all who doesn’t know Sachin.

The whole saga has been well covered by my friend @Saritharai here.

Then there were the saner bunch of people who asked questions around ‘whose baggage was lost? Sachin or his family’s?’ ‘How can BA be expected to know Sachin’s exact passport name’ etc.

Many fingers pointed out to the templated response from large corporations. Some expected that poor fellow, from BA, who tweeted to be fired. Maybe he, or she was as well.

As a marketer I have 3 lessons to share

  1. Response: BA got this right. Within 15 minutes of the original Sachin tweet, there was a response. Now I don’t know about you, but my experience with customer service on-line is patchy. Staying with the airlines industry I have tweeted twice. Once to Qatar and once to Emirates. Qatar was prompt and we had a proper twitterversation. Emirates did not bother to respond. I think the fact that BA responded and that they did in 15 minutes gets them full marks on that score. But that’s where it stops.
  2. Handling complaints: I was in a restaurant last month. And the guy next to me was unhappy about something and started shouting at the waiter. Within minutes the manager showed up. Started talking to the angry customer and placated him and all of us could continue with our meal in peace. Someone tweeting is akin to shouting. Sachin shouted out to his 8.4 mn followers that he was unhappy with BA. And BA shouted right back ‘Hey tell me what’s the problem’. Completely wrong. Take complaints private immediately. You can then apologise, give freebies etc and satisfy the customer. You don’t negotiate in public.
  3. Know your customers: With data available in plenty, data storage being cheap and adequate technology solutions out there every marketer should have a database of their most valued customers and prospects. Complete with their twitter handles, instagram accounts, facebook profiles etc. Cover every aspect of the social media channels and set them up in the ‘social media control room’. The moment someone in that list makes a complaint that should initiate a protocol that involves a high touch program. A call, an email whatever it takes. In some industries this list is static. In the services business this is a bit more dynamic. eg: All first class bookings MUST be in that list. This may be different from the high value customer list. I don’t expect this master ‘watch list’ to be more than a few thousand. If BA had this set up, the moment @sachin_rt tweeted with the words ‘Angry’, ‘Disappointed’, ‘Frustrated’ the flag would have gone up. An account manager would have tracked him down and called him. It’s not so hard. At the risk of a plug, IBM has the knowledge, skills and technology to make this happen today.

So that is what I learnt from this drama.

BA responded and promptly, but wrongly. And their CRM system needs to be set up appropriately to include social media footprints of their valued customers and prospects.

This episode again shows that non issues can threaten a brand in a relatively short time. Having proper mechanisms to deal with it is critical. Large companies need it more than the small ones. And large companies like IBM can help (another plug;-))


September 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Remember what you learnt in school?
Well time to forget it.

2 instances over the past two days make me feel that a new era is upon us, which has relevance to us as human beings and brands.

On a social media site one woman put up a long post accusing another member of having stolen another person’s business, put him on the road etc. It was just that. An accusation with no facts. Within minutes the member who was accused responded saying it was not true and that it was her legitimate business. And then the rest of the group erupted. Of the 100s of comments posted, just 2 asked the accuser for evidence. The rest were after the person accused asking for business plans, dates, employee names etc etc. The group had decided that a guilty verdict was on.

Another woman posted this picture 10704104_10152314070461857_8179011347410255662_n

The complaint was that they found a cockroach in their starter. They put it aside. Ate the entire meal. The bill came to 18,000 KSH. Then they pointed out the cockroach. The interactions are posted below.


The bar response was thus..
Dear S,

The cockroach was found in the starter portion of your meal. However after complaining, and voicing your disgust, you and the other 6 people on the table continued and completed your main course with satisfaction, You then demanded a full discount on all the items consumed ..threatening to post your carefully taken photo on social media and other media.. Francis rightly offered you a partial discount.
We note with interest that the cockroach is on the plate and not put aside, which any reasonable person would have done. Your picture clearly shows that you enjoyed the dish with the cockroach on it.
You may have found this an opportune moment to claim a free meal for you and others on the table. This was not possible as your table happily consumed all the food ordered despite the cockroach. This seemed contradictory, and attempting to claim a free meal with threats was done in bad taste.
G Bar strives to provide a quality product at all times and we highly regret this incident.)

I don’t know about you, but if I find a cockroach in my starter course I am going to make a scene right there, or at least bring it to the attention of the waiter/manager and not wait till the end of the meal. There is some reason to suspect the diner’s version of events. It doesn’t meet the justice criteria of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ And, obviously, the bar could have responded much better.
However, the picture had done the damage. Everyone, responding do the lady’s post was on the side of the lady. The bar being one of the most famous bars in the city will probably continue unharmed.A smaller one would go down under.

As you can see from both the above cases people no longer have the time and patience to wait to find out what’s right or wrong. Decisions are made instantly and then get fed on by others and before you know it minds are made.
Equipped with a smartphone, one becomes the judge and jury and digital vigilante justice is meted out mercilessly.

As a marketer one runs this risk everyday.
What if it is your brand that is at the receiving end? Are you equipped to move quickly? If not it is time.

I recommend a simple 4 step process:

First the listening. Many companies have set up listening posts of varying types for themselves or their clients so on a real time basis they know what is being said.
Second is the analysis. Hearing the words is one part of the job. Interpreting it is the next. Simple rules can be set up as alerts. eg cockroach and your brand should never be used in the same post. Set up the rule so that if someone says it, it bubbles up immediately.
Third is the response. What is the rule? Accepting and apologising is the start of the ‘healing’ process. Ignoring or combating doesn’t work at all. Start the conversation and steer the person off social media to an acceptable solution
Fourth is measuring. Now that you’ve solved the problem can you convert that story into a favorable one? Will the person communicate that she had a problem that was solved and now she thinks the better of the brand/company?

Marketing is now a 24X7 activity and speed and a proper process will decide whether you are innocent or guilty!


Brands need the sweet after taste

images For the past couple of weeks a member of the family has been ill. Several tests later no one was any the wiser.  Finally on the weekend we were told to have her admitted to a hospital for a couple of days so that a specialist could conduct further tests and uncover the issue.

So, Saturday morning we duly arrived at the hospital. Some tests were done and then we awaited the specialist. And waited. And waited. 6 hours from us showing up the specialist arrived. By then, as you can imagine, we were all irritated, angry, frustrated and so on.

But the doctor changed everything in an instant. He apologised, which did nothing to our mood. But his demeanour, bed side manner, the way he dealt with the patient, everything was just so wonderful. Perfect, even. He spent a good half an hour with us. Gave us his mobile number to call at any time. And left with more apologies. This time we ‘forgave’ him.

We left the hospital feeling positively happy with the experience. Forgotten was the 6 hour wait.

And that’s the point of this short note. Marketers need to ensure that their customers always have that sweet after taste.

It is this thinking that drives companies like Amazon to not question consumer complaints. Free replacement. Overnight shipping. Reversing charges. It is all driven by ensuring the consumer leave happy with the experience.

Contrast that with nearly any real world supermarket experience. It is still hell. You are pretty much guaranteed a long wait at check out. Firstly the available tills are never manned. Then the person in front will not have change, or have a product without a price, or will have forgotten something and be ‘back in a second’ and so on. Frustrates the hell out of you. I nearly always leave a store remembering the check out lines. Not a good taste.

The other one of course is airport immigration lines. You could have travelled first class but when you land you are one of the masses and you have that long irritating line to go through. a very few airports have separate counters for first and business class passengers. Now some airlines are giving passengers express clearance passes to fast track the process. Few airports care about giving passengers a pleasant experience. But airlines do. So this is their way to show that they care.

But what about non service brands? esp FMCGs where you don’t know who bought your product?

Well an unhappy customer is likely to complain.

In the good old days a few really perseverent customers would write in to the company headquarters. These letters would either be binned or sent to legal. This is true. I have worked on brands where the brand manager has shown me a drawer full of customer complaints and joking referred to it as ‘handed over’ from the previous guy.

But these are new days. More customers will take to social media and rant. And others will like/favourite/share/retweet and so on. Ignoring customers is a perilous task. Big brands like Dell have social media listening posts to track good and bad customer comments and react in real time. And when brands respond the customer feels she is listened to and leaves that transaction happy.

That is the sweet after taste that is nirvana and has customers coming back for more. That is brand loyalty.

Coming back to my hospital episode, this evening (Sunday) we called him with some Qs and he answered the phone, handled all our Qs and we’re still happy. My super market on the other hand…less said the better.

Consumer v/s Legalese

A very recent exchange on facebook brings about this post.

flipkart is aiming to be the amazon of India. Image

They started out with delivering books. From those who have used them, they have 3 key strengths.

1. Books that are available at a discount

2. Cash on delivery

3. Outstanding customer service

Experience with them, from all accounts, has been outstanding.

As they have grown, they have added other product lines.

They have now even included a market place, whereby their platform is available to other vendors.

Yesterday, someone in my newsfeed posted this link. In this article the author talks about how he ordered something from the flipkart market place and they didn’t deliver and further, the experience was terrible. The author goes on to make some assertions about the company’s modus operandi etc.

If you go down the comments section of the article you will find many comments about their experience with flipkart. Some also comment their points of view about the author’s experience.

When I shared this article I got a couple of comments along the same vein as the article itself. However, a friend of mine who is from the legal fraternity was very vehement about the simple fact that the terms and conditions are extremely clear and if the ‘shopper couldn’t be bothered to read them then it’s his problem’.

He is absolutely right. When you decide to do something you need to be aware of what you are getting into, balance the risks with the rewards and act accordingly.

However, this made me wonder how companies treat this sort of event.

Do they hand it to the legal team and say ‘Check if we are in the clear’ or do they hand it to their customer service department and say ‘Talk to the guy, find out his problem and try to resolve it’.

The former protects the company and ensures no harm comes to it. The latter builds customer trust, even if the company is in the right.

As brands start, more actively, engaging with their consumers this is something they will come to face rather often. And the choice the marketer makes will decide what kind of company they will be in the long term.

Being seen to do the right thing, often, is more important than ensuring everything is covered in the Ts and Cs. It is this kind of attitude that drives much of the communication one sees around promotions. ‘Upto 95% off’. ‘Win Rs 1 crore Ts & Cs apply’.

Transparency builds trust and trust builds companies. The more we bury consequences in the fine print the more we erode that trust.

Also reminds me of much of the global financial crisis where some large financial institutions were selling products that practically no buyer understood and when the tide turned they all went ‘but you signed this, so I am repossessing your house’

That is clearly one way of doing business. And if you have a big legal department, might as well keep them busy.

Or have a bunch of happy consumers.

I hope it never has to be a choice.



Can Customer Service Mindset Be Taught?

August 13, 2013 3 comments

Over the summer we went on holiday to England and experienced the real life in England by staying in B&Bs as opposed to the usual hotels that one tends to do on travel. And it did reveal a different side of the place and the people.

Right across the place we were staying in London was a little lane and there was this really cute little café run by a couple of Italians. Wot The Dickens!

The first time we went there for breakfast they were friendly and welcoming and as we placed our orders made some recommendations to save us some money. Not bad you’d say. Or perhaps, even, expected. A few days later when I went again, for only the second time, the man behind the counter recognised me and engaged me in a conversation on the reason I was in London. On being told that I was there for a wedding he talked about weddings and how his partner did not believe in weddings and thereby bringing the partner in, resulting in an entertaining chat. As I left with merely my cup of coffee in hand I had a smile on my face. Ah well you may say, small cafes recognize their customers as individuals and can spend time building a relationship.

Next to this café is another little one, which is where we went the first day. Run by a couple of Polish girls. We got what we ordered and that was it. No chit chat. No attempt to make you feel welcome or comfortable. And no it was not a busy day, we were the only ones.

So clearly being small is not enough.

During this same holiday we were also traveling by train. A cousin of mine stood at a counter to buy 4 tickets for us for our trip. When his turn came to buy tickets he said ‘2 adults and 2 children’. The man behind the counter asked ‘ Will you be traveling together?’ . ‘Yes’ replied the cousin. ‘Then what you should buy is the family ticket. It is much cheaper and gets you 2 adults and 2 children’. My cousin was quite surprised with the attitude. Here was an employee of a large organisation who was willing to ‘lose revenues’ by being honest. If we’d bought the 4 tickets as individuals we’d have been none the wiser. But the fact that someone is willing to ‘help’ with no ulterior motive save the need to do the right thing, leaves an extremely favorable impression.

We’ve all been to places like Starbucks and sometimes, some employees are engaging and welcoming while others are focused on getting the order processed as efficiently as possible.

All service organisations have process manuals and training programs. It can teach you a way to act and behave. But does it bring the genuine warmth that relationships need?

Lots of brands now seem to be defining themselves as being in the service business. So they are looking beyond being in the product business. Which is great as building consumer relationships are vital to the long term success of brands.

However, the service business requires a different mindset. And I don’t know that it can be taught. Zappos and Amazon have shown that it is possible to build a customer service oriented organisation. So, it is not impossible.

Nordstrom has a hiring philosophy that says ‘Hire for attitude. Skills can be taught’. Perhaps, brands can learn from them?1077_lg_nordstromIrvineSpectrum

Again this is clearly far easier if you are in the service business. Restaurants, stores, hospitals even indeed live and die by customer service.

But what about if you were a marketer of soaps? How does customer service apply then?

I believe a customer service attitude is all about ‘being interested’.

If you marketed a soap how would you show you were interested? Technology to the rescue. Give the customer opportunities to reach out to you. Ask them how they liked what they bought. Any feedback? What did she not like? What did she like? Would she like to try something new? Would she be interested in a promotion? and so on. Social Media fits so right in to this space.

So again, if we started with what we wanted to do, we’d end up with a brilliant social media strategy. If we started with ‘let’s do a social media strategy’ we’d end up with…well…literally anything.

Perhaps customer service cannot be taught, but it sure can be learnt with a little help from social media.

Penny wise is very foolish

About 15 years ago I was on a domestic flight in India, on Indian Airlines. Like many flights in those days it was delayed and no one knew why. Nor when it would depart.

Many irate customers were screaming at the counter staff who didn’t know, nor care about the flight status. There was no food offered, nothing and finally some 7 hours after it was scheduled we departed on an alternate flight.

Fast forward to last week.

A Kenya Airways flight to Amsterdam was diverted to Greece due to a technical problem. Image

A big issue no doubt on its own.

But hearing this rant from a passenger it appears the issues of not treating the consumer well continue to be rife.

No doubt, that there’s nothing the airline can really do as the flight’s had a technical problem. And until it is fixed the passengers are stranded.

But there’s a lot the airline can do to mitigate the hardship of passengers stuck in a foreign country.

Get them food, make them comfortable, if possible put them on a sight seeing trip of the new place, put those who have deadlines on another flight. Basically, treat them as humans.

For a few thousand dollars you’ve just converted a bunch of inconvenienced passengers to be your champions.

Yet the approach often by airlines, and other service providers, in such situations is extremely short sighted. We’ve all read about Life Time Value of the customers. So when there’s a chance to really protect it, I am surprised that such modest investments are often ignored.

In every marketer’s life there comes a time that you have an unhappy customer. Deal with it swiftly and positively and you’ve converted that bad moment of truth into a favorable one.

In some big hotel chains the customer facing staff are given a ‘cash limit’ to resolve a issue on the spot. eg if you order a dessert in a restaurant and you’re unhappy and you complain to the staff member. There are 2 approaches. One involves ‘let me talk to the manager’. The other is ‘I am sorry let me replace it for you right away’. The cash limit refers to the latter approach.  Not really sure what the first approach achieves, save irritation and aggravation.

Spend those pennies and gain pounds of customer satisfaction and loyalty is what I say!


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