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.



5 thoughts on “Whine flu

  1. what amuses me in the usual whine marathon is how it’s often the social media celebs who use their status to badger a brand without really trying to understand the other side of the story. many of them need to learn to act responsibly first. not many practise what they preach…is there a role for responsible sm guidelines? perhaps. there should be a no-honking policy in my opinion. secondly, i am still waiting to read a story where a fairly ‘non-descript’ customer with no ‘social media standing’ has had his complaint addressed effectively. so when stories after stories are done on how a brand quickly fixed the issues of a whining star blogger or sm expert, i really wonder if the media has taken leave of its senses. as long as there are idiots who lap up such non-stories and help amplify whine or praise as the case may be, the whiners will continue to misuse their social media power.

  2. Excellent debate here… Whine flu indeed.

    However to play the devil’s advocate, when we have a bad experience with whichever brand / company / day / issue, we are socially conditioned to talk about our frustrations to somebody or the other. Normally within our circle, but increasingly, on the ‘net.

    While each one may get us nowhere, it does make sense for the brand / companies to look at it in aggregate (if not individually)… Sometimes they miss the wood for the whiny trees. If there is a tipping point, twitter will surely indicate it !!

    All the companies that have closed shop recently here in the US have done so, often due to this very lack of customer connect. Otoh, those who continue to do roaring service, do so due to this very precise consumer connect.

    (As you can see, am all for the consumer’s voice 😉 )

    AND I love Surekha’s pov : ‘i am still waiting to read a story where a fairly â??non-descriptâ?? customer with no â??social media standingâ?? has had his complaint addressed effectively.’

    So true…. it is almost as if ‘being known/ famous’ has become the only way to get things done in today’s world…


  3. Surekha: Good point on the supposed-web-of-influence of the whiner deciding the brands’ reaction. It might be changing recently though – if you see twitter. Since the content creation is usually impulsively frivolous, customers whine at the slightest excuse. And brands repsond equally impulsively, without promising larger/ bigger changes that may require time/ investment.

    Piyul: I’m all for customer service too, but I see way too many Indian tweeters repetitively badgering a single brand(s) about the same complaint. My Airtel post some months back was a result of me spending inordinate amount of time with their customer care – 30+ days to be precise and I also gave them a warning that I’ll blog about it. They did not seem to care. 5 days after the blog went public, they called me. I’m not a social media celeb by any stretch of imagination. Just that my point of view about the issue was compelling enough to act.

    And the point is I’ve been a loyal Airtel customer for over a decade now and have had excellent service in 99% of my interactions. When 1% went haywire I was surprised and shocked. But after seeing the corporate side of things, given my role as pitching and managing social media interactions for clients/ brands, my perspective on whining publicly changed completely. I understand their inability to move on things fast and to tend to that lone dissatisfied customer – but I do not empathize with that attitude, because it is fixable. It boils down to a question of intent.

    To take the Airtel example, someone from Gurgaon called and apologized and I was instantly pacified by the attention – as a normal customer billing them some 5K per month, I was more than happy that someone took the effort to reach, even if its after 1 month. When we’re tuned to wait in queues in PVR/ ration shops/ flights, we should be willing to wait for customer service too.

  4. fully agree with you piyul (also loved your comment on ‘fine flu’ on twitter!). while i am all for consumers’ voice, it’s the non-stop rant and badgering that gets to me. if one were to dig deeper i am sure we will find nine out of ten cases could have been resolved through a simple dialogue initiated with the company. but many choose to ignore that route and as karthik mentions, take the battle to the streets instead. that practice should be discouraged now if we don’t want to be lost in a cacophony of cribs and complaints as social media gains more and more prominence.

  5. hello friends,

    Happy Makarsankranti..

    i too have a policy with icici and paid advance premium.. what diff i did from you was – after doing payment i called in to their call center and they provided me with a provisional certificate on my email..i think this will help you…


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