A couple of weeks ago, I had tweeted (and Facebooked. And Google+ed) about how I prefer Aliva over Hippo for casual munching. I had tried Hippo when they had launched and didn’t seem to like it as much as I liked their tweets.

Aliva, on the other hand, had silly, star-powered advertising (featuring Jimmy Shergill and the gorgeous Chitrangada Singh), but had a fabulous product – I loved Aliva enough to buy it often, sometimes weekly. In the process I had almost stopped buying Hippo.

Then I tweeted that statement. And added the fact that I liked Hippo’s tweets more than the product.

A few days after that tweet, I got a direct message on Twitter from Hippo asking me for my address. I assumed it was a gift hamper that Hippo is known to bestow on select people. Of course it was! The hamper arrived the night before my daughter’s first birthday and we shared most of it with the kids who came to the birthday party. The kids loved it and asked for second and third helping!

A couple of packs remained unopened and we had a go at it in the next few days. That’s when I noticed that I liked some flavors – for example, there was a Goan butter garlic flavor that I found irresistible. And the job was done by now – Hippo had used the sampling tactic to hook me and I now alternate between Hippo and Aliva regularly.

Another seemingly related incident happened with Mast Kalandar, the restaurant chain from Bangalore. I’m a fairly regular Mast Kalandar visitor on weekends and we order food from a nearby outlet of Mast Kalandar for office lunch, almost 2-3 times a week. A month ago, on a Friday, we had ordered lunch and it didn’t arrive even after 2 hours. The team was tired and hungry, and decided to head out to another eating joint further down the road and cancel the order we had placed (that we had delicious hot akki roti is a yummy digression!).

Everybody was so agitated that the annoyance got to me too; enough to tweet about it. It is a normal service deficiency and I generally do not whine about such things since they are bound to happen in the labor-centric industry like food delivery. It was perhaps the collective starvation that noon that led me to do it and I’m not too pleased about that momentary outburst.

But the tweet was out and Mast Kalandar had noticed it too. I was enquired about the outlet which delayed the delivery and my contact number…all on Twitter. I shared the details and promptly got a call from someone at Mast Kalandar apologizing for the lack of delivery and also offered a free meal for all in the office when we want it. We chose our free meal last week and loved whatever we ordered, as we always do, from Mast Kalandar.

Why am I sharing these examples? To illustrate what brands seem to be doing and how it could help other brands. Can they do this to each and every user/customer? Of course not! How should they select people for such generosity? There’s no golden rule, but unlike the offline world, there are better ways to identify appropriate people online. Imagine – in the offline world, if the brands were to interact with you in a shopping mall, or on the road, they get no background information about you. Online, brands can get a wealth of information, including your waist size, for all you know! That intelligence is pure gold since brands can afford to be more relevant.

The other reason why brands do this is to help spread the word about how good they are. From that perspective, it helps in targeting seemingly influential people online and this is the area where Klout, Peerindex and Traaackr are working on. This is nothing but the online version of offline celebrity outreach – at least the objective is similar.

The Mast Kalandar example is of course straight forward – it is a case of deficient service and there are 2 ways to set things right. One, they could call up and apologize, but what they did helps in other ways too, since the conversation goes beyond one-to-one communications…into the realm of social. So, when Mast Kalandar apologizes to a person on Twitter, it ceases to be between a brand and the person and gets into the lives of the person’s and the brand’s followers. That sets expectations afresh, that if things go wrong, the brand is willing to set things right promptly instead of sitting mum and ignoring annoyed customers. This blog post is a well-deserved bonus!



5 thoughts on “Hippo, Mast Kalandar and lessons in sampling and social communications

  1. Interesting post Karthik! Beyond the specific cases of Mast Kalandar and Hippo/Aliva, I have a general comment:

    You ask, if brands can repeat these actions for all customers? Certainly they cannot make these sweet gestures to each and every customer. They have a selection criterion which is what is a bit of concern. Do you think something like this would have happened if the tweeter had 20 odd followers? Do you think a brand would have been influenced by his tweet then?

    On the contrary, what potentially worries a brand is the network impact of a tweet when made by someone with over 1000 odd followers. This is where brands start thinking!

    1. I wonder why that selection criterion should be a cause for concern. It is not a perfect world when it comes to customer service – customer engagement shouldn’t be confused with customer service, in any case. If it comes to service, *ideally* the brand should invest in every customer, but when it comes to engagement, I suppose they can prioritize their efforts towards those from whom they could gain more…in the form of amplification of positive word of mouth, appreciation etc. It is the PR equivalent of opting to do an interview with Times of India instead of a local, city newspaper.

  2. Karthik,
    as a shameless fan of Mast Kalandar’s food and as a friend of the founders, I followed both your tweet trail and the subsequent response on Twitter, so your follow through on your blog is indeed icing on the cake. One important point, you allude to in passing, is a quandary I’ve faced even when the founders are not my friends – namely do I as a customer tweet about a service deficiency first (tempted so many times) or do I give the folks a chance to address it.

    Of course clearly there are folks, such as Airtel, who after even a fourth (or nth call) fail to mention that the broadband is down in an entire apartment complex and so their pledges of sending someone to fix it right away are actually lies at worst and misinformed service agents at best, who (Airtel, not their service agents necessarily) deserve a public flogging (which I am yet to deliver 🙁 )

    To the other point @twitter-730823:disqus makes, I agree with you engaging, at least with the (key) influencers is a way to show that brands listen, which is a good place to start.

    1. Have addressed that point in a different post – Whine flu http://bit.ly/bbYHUw

      The crux: Public whining is my last resort, usually, since it says something about both parties involved – the brand and myself, as a person trying to badger a brand by taking an individual complaint public without giving the brand an opportunity to address it via a direct communication channel. If they don’t do even after telling them one-to-one, I guess we resort to it as a last resort.

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