Monday, 11 June 2012

Customer Service on Social Media: Happy To Help, Really?

Brands have taken to social media channels in a big way, since the last couple of years. Be it Foods, Beverages, Mobile Phone Companies, Service Providers or Restaurants, there is considerable presence on various social networking websites, not only for branding purposes, but for customer service as well.
Times are changing and so are the companies. With the growing popularity of social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc., there is the need to be in constant touch with current customers as well as potential customers. In today’s day and age, we know how hassling it can be to encounter a problem with any product. Calling on the customer care, being held on the line for long periods of time, having to explain the same problem to different people from scratch during the same telephonic conversation or in some cases, having to go to their branches and wait for long hours only to inquire/complain about is something is a tedious and a bothersome affair.
Hence, it was imperative for these brands to come on the social-media bandwagon, not just to be in sync with the moving times but to make customer service an easier task for themselves as well as the customer. Some of the leading brands that have prominent presence on social media are Tata Docomo (46,800 followers on Twitter, 7,573,381 likes on Facebook). On the micro-blogging website, they are as active as quicksilver, responding to every 'relevant' query, providing their respondents with contact details as well as conducting follow-ups. The same implies to other service providers such as Vodafone India, Bharti Airtel (19,560 followers on Twitter). Although users do have a problem with the lack of courtesy shown by the account handlers, it is usually a one-off incident. Conclusively, the brands have utilized this particular platform well, providing the users with an easier, quicker way to rectifying their problems. As far as food outlets are concerned, popular ones such as Dominos Pizza India (9,786 followers on Twitter), Cafe Coffee Day (6,540 followers on Twitter), which provide information on new additions to the menu, new offers, contest details, as well as entertain customer queries. Customer service on social media has extended to Digital satellite service providers, electronic appliances, cell phones, hotels and food products as well.
It bodes well, both for the users as well as the companies to maintain a relationship on the virtual world. From the companies' point of view, they get to know, how their customers perceive the brand, and look for areas in improvement. It can also be a staggering tool to improve relations and build brand loyalty as well. From the user's point of view, it can act as a relief that one can approach the companies on the move and expect a swift reply, instead of having to go deal with discourteous executives on the phone.
In the past, when a brand or a company rectified any problem through phone or mail, only the concerned customer knew about it. However, now customers lavish praise on brands for the assistance through social media. Here, the brand stands to gain an added benefit of garnering positive publicity.
Many brands run Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts just to embellish their other marketing activities. There is no pre-emptive desire to protect the brand’s interests on social media channels as well. They need to realize that social media is quickly becoming a powerful customer service channel and it should be tapped soon and well.
Social Media is becoming all the more significant, looking at the influx of new technology in the form of smart phones, tablet computers and portable internet.
The old model does not work anymore. Automated replies do not serve the brand of the customer any good. It is imperative for the brands to engage with their customers in a friendly manner in order to expect any goodness in return.
The customer expects quickness in the responses as well as the implementation of results. Also, the last thing the brands want is to be impolite to the customer on a public platform and invite brickbats in return.
Today, social media becomes the last possible alternative for customers who have been troubled with a product/service. So, the brands need not wait for the customer to inquire or complain. They need to keep a track about what it being written or said about their product/service on the social media and accordingly get in touch with the concerned individual.
Customer service is quite an ordeal, even more so owing to the presence of social media. Hence, there needs to be thorough planning and preparation from the company’s side, before they step into this avenue.
To conclude, I would agree that the Indian brands, thus far, have managed to carry out customer service activities through social media very diligently. There have been aberrations, but then, the social media handlers have been helpful, more often than not. However, more attention needs to be meted out to his platform. It is not just about entertaining queries or complaints, but acting upon them as well. Only then, can we say that social media is an effective tool for customer service. 
Shivom Oza

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