524132107_3a33aaeea3I was waiting for Kiruba to blog the second part of what we now Ludlum’esquely call, ‘The Kiruba Incident‘. Why? Because I had something similar to share and I was curious to see how all the negativity of Kiruba’s part one turns out in part two.

My story is a lot less painful and no airports, thankfully…as if we don’t get enough of those airport scenes in most movie climaxes in India.

There’s this small, interesting firm called Hammock Holidays in Bangalore. I came to know about them from a former colleague of mine and was fascinated by how they select and empanel a resort/ hotel in their fold. They go to those exotic places and experience it themselves and then pass those on to us. In fact, Hammock does not charge anything from customers like me – they get the cut from the partner hotels/ resorts. And, their rates are much more competitive than other sources. Heck, they arrange for the complete travel plan, right up to the cab at your door step to pick you up!

I’ve used Hammock’s services for my trips in the last 5+ years – all in South India…Ooty, Kodaikanal, Yercaud…! My wife and I would naturally think of calling Hammock as soon as we think of a vacation!

Now, there was a small issue. Hammock to us was one person – let me avoid taking specific names here. We have always dealt with a person at Hammock and that person’s response and commitment was perhaps what got us hooked to their service. This person was very sharp, understood our needs fast and suggested adequate alternatives that always helped us decide better.

When we wanted to head towards Munnar recently, we naturally turned our Hammock contact, on email…only to find that the person is on a long leave – according to a response from a corporate Hammock mail ID. We were assigned another person for the planning. We found it difficult to plan this trip with the new person since the responses were to the point, or sometimes, even without the point. The multiple options that we are so used to, were missing. After a few failed attempts, I gave up on Munnar, booked a fantastic resort on my own in Chikmagalur, thanks to another friend’s snaps of the homestay on Facebook.

But, I was quite upset. That Hammock did not have that one person to help us, though, as they explained later, there was a perfectly legitimate reason why that person was on long leave – since I’m not taking names, let me leave it at that.

So, like any self-respecting digital citizen, I wrote to Hammock. This!

Hi,

I’m not sure who I should be addressing this to. Neither am I aware of why <name 1> has gone on a long leave, according to one of the earlier mails I got from this ID.

<name 1> was for me, the face of Hammock, ever since I heard about your organization from <the former colleague>, 3 years ago. From that point, every single holiday I’ve planned was through <name 1>. <name 1> was extremely helpful in all my family holidays to places like Ooty, Kodaikanal, Yercaud…we are planning a Manali trip later this year too.

I had written to <name> recently for planning a trip to Munnar. That was when I was asked to interact with <name 2>. Without getting into how unhelpful <name 2> was, I can only say that you’ve lost a loyal customer. I had in fact recommended Hammock to many of my friends in office and most of them commented – after using Hammock’s services – on how innovative and helpful it was. They all spoke to <name 1>! Trust me, I’ll not be recommending Hammock again – its my reputation at stake too.

The one small part that I’m not able to understand is this – I work in a PR firm and we work extra hard to keep clients happy. In a deep recession, I’m not entirely sure how Hammock can afford to be so lackadaisical.

Frankly, I did not expect any response from Hammock. But, they mailed me back quite fast and said that Hammock’s executive director will get in touch with me. And, he did. I explained my point of view and he apologized for the inconvenience. Happy customer – will use Hammock again for that Manali trip, hopefully towards the end of this year.

Let us not compare ClearTrip and Hammock, since both are very different entities. But, both got back to their respective, annoyed customers and that says a lot of customer service in this age of vocal customers – customers having a voice even if that voice is loud, like Kiruba’s…or relatively feeble, like mine.

But, another thought! My experience and impression about Hammock was built by a single employee, over 5+ years. This was not via social media, but through conventional communication including phone calls and email. I’ve never met that person too! But think about it – when an organization’s community manager leaves or the person who has been assigned to manage the twitter profile (for instance) of a company leaves…he takes along with him, his style of tweets, his way of responding and his style of engagement.

Assuming a new person is put in place, I’m sure it’d take quite some time before he can align his style with the expectations of regular customers/ people having regular conversations with the brand. How does one manage that? In my case above, it turned into a make or break situation!

The way I see it, organizations having social media presence and engaging actively with customers online need to ensure that a clear, top level guideline exists as a ready reckoner. This will be akin to a brand manual, only, this will be a social media engagement manual explaining the type of content and tone used as a standard. Ideally, this should be created by the person responsible for social media engagement, after he/ she has put in a couple of months’ effort of active engagement. This articulation of interaction style and tone could be extremely useful for brands having social media presence using their brand name and not on an individual employee’s name.

For PR agencies like ours who manage social media outreach on behalf of our clients, this is a sensible and critical value addition. Articulating this not only means anyone from our side could manage the client’s social media interactions seamlessly, but it’d also help us transition the task back to the client when they are ready to handle this internally.

Photo courtesy: kernbeisser via Flickr.

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