First it was a ZDNET post on how people are using social media to whine about products and services. And now this piece on walletpop about how effective complaining on twitter is.

Customers have long used an assortment of modes to sort issues with brands – one-to-one modes like calling the customer service, emailing the company or getting to the brand through someone we know, who knows someone from the brand organization. These interactions were only effective to some extent, depending on how efficient the target brands’ service structure was.

With twitter (for instance), this interaction just went public – every whine and complaint became public, for the whole world to read. Does that make the brand more responsible since its brand image is at stake now?

My views have changed considerably, recently – as someone who has seen both the sides – from the customer point of view, since I read a lot of tweets about terrible customer service (examples in India: Airtel, Sony etc.) and also occasionally complain about some brands (like Airtel!); and from the point of view of the organization/ brand, since at Text 100, we manage social media outreach for many of our clients, for very specific objectives – not just brand building.

As a customer of a product or service, I used to be and still am outraged about companies/ brands not treating their customers well. But, when I started looking at this from the other side, I’m quite surprised at the perspective change.

No, I’m not saying brands can take customers casually, when they complain for deficient service or an inferior product. But, a large organization, say a TV brand or a PC brand, is just way too large and involves way too many people in the product selling/ service organization. Many a times, the service depends on people on ground and the delay in responding to customers, however urgent, is still not top priority.

That does show how brands have not restructured their internal organizations (Owyang does call out this pressing need) towards customer service with the onslaught of public whining, but that is how it is. Does this mean brands which respond to customers’ online complaints will do better? Not necessarily – things are not so easy yet.

Let us look at how this behavior – whining/ complaining on twitter – really sounds in real life. In real life, whining on twitter will be akin to sitting on the road outside the company you bought a product/ service from, and shout at the top of your lungs (the more followers you have, the louder your shout, I presume). Asking for a RT of your whining? It’d be like calling a passerby, who you seem to know, to shout your complain to the next road/ street. Literally.

Whining on Facebook? It would be like calling some of your friends to a room and crib to them about how unhappy you’re with a brand. Your friends may listen, depending on how close you are with them!

On the other hand, writing a detailed blog post on your not-so-pleasant experience with a brand would be equivalent to taking time to write directly to the brand itself – just that it goes public. But, the effort makes all the difference in this case – there is a huge difference between a momentary, impulsive shout on Twitter or Facebook and a detailed, meaningful rant.

Suddenly, whining on social media doesn’t sound very appealing, huh? Yes, it is quite uncouth, if you think about the real life equivalent – just because you sit on the cyber road, doesn’t make it any more sophisticated. The point is – complain all you want, but also consider beyond the limited perspectives of ‘I’ve paid money for this service/ product’, ‘I demand better service’, ‘Oh that <brand> sucks’. If the brand doesn’t seem to be budging, it may have far less to do with ‘Ooh, this customer is complaining – we hate him/ her and we don’t feel like helping him’ and much more to do with, ‘Darn, we need to set our internal processes better, but Jeez, where do we start?’. Its easier said than done, given the size of services teams and the legacy attitude that plagues them.

So, if you don’t seem to be getting positive vibes from the brand that annoys you, complain all you want, but most importantly, move on. There will be brands that may bend over backwards to service you and make a good name online. But, a majority of them will pass this opportunity to build their brand and simply ignore you. It may not be worth your time to badger the company into a prolonged tweet war, into submission. You’ve made your point – now move on to another brand and forget this brand. That may well be the best lesson you’re teaching an errant brand.

Plus, you’d perhaps do better to exhaust private, one-on-one modes first before taking your acrimony public – since that shows solid intent that you want the issue sorted out first and making it a public drama is merely incidental to the first requirement going haywire.

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