Brands are compelled to be at their best behaviour and always on their toes as social media bashing becomes the norm. How should brands deal with this pressing need to be quick, smart and human? Marketing honchos, digital heads and brand experts share their views
In the last two weeks, social media has been abuzz with discussions on two topics: the Flipkart Big Billion Day sale debacle, and a consumer complaint against Amul Milk. The posts went viral to such an extent that they managed to create a negative vibe for the respective brands. However, both these brands were extremely prompt and smart to keep the damage in check by responding swiftly.
The day after Flipkart’s sale, Sachin Bansal and Billy Bansal personally sent out an apology letter to aggrieved consumers, and promised to not repeat their poor performance ever again. This gesture was highly appreciated in the online community because people felt that the note had a ‘human touch’ to it.
Amul, on the other hand, replied to the consumer who had posted about her ‘horrifying’ experience with Amul Milk by not only sending its team to personally visit the complainant’s house, but also posting a rather lengthy reply on its Facebook page. This brought the negativity down and also managed to restore faith in consumers’ minds.
In an era when consumers can rant and complain about brands that don’t please them with the click of a mouse, how do brands keep up? BestMediaInfo.com spoke to marketing honchos, brand experts and digital heads to understand the importance of a responsive brand in this digital era and the golden rule for keeping the customer happy.
Being ‘all ears’ to the customer
Ramesh Chembath, Associate Vice-president, Marketing, Godrej Appliances, said, “Customer service is the core for any brand, be it in appliances or any other industry. Throughout history, big and established brands have evolved ways and means to reach out to customers to ensure that the grievances get addressed at the earliest. For example, Godrej has over 600 service centres, just to ensure that the customers get the best service at the earliest. But, the challenge was the limited opportunity for customers to reach out to the company.”
“Therefore, with digital revolution, a whole new world for customer interaction has opened. Today, most customers, before making any purchase, go online to read the feedback on various forums from other buyers. Therefore, if brands don’t address the consumer grievances on time, it will surely leave a negative impact on their minds, which will slowly damage the reputation of the brand,” he added.
Godrej is one of the early adopters of Online Reputation Management (ORM) tools to track positive and negative sentiments in the digital space. Today, the company tracks all digital and social assets, along with numerous online consumer forums, to check consumer feedback and resolve them at the earliest and to their satisfaction. As a result, the company has successfully responded to more than 3,000 queries and grievances on social media and other forums. The golden rule which the brand follows is inclusiveness of all the stakeholders in its journey, and believes in the rule ‘Know your customers like nobody can and serve your customers like nobody will’.
Vivek Nayer, CMO, Automotive Division, M&M, emphasised on the need for brands to first analyse sentiments and act accordingly. “As an automobile major, we are very proactive and responsive. There have been many occasions when consumers have directly tweeted to our Chairman Anand Mahindra for problems faced by them and action has been taken immediately,” he said.
Lloyd Mathias, Marketing Head of Hewlett-Packard India, said, “Marketing has now become a two-way process, with a consumer’s say having a very important role to play. The golden rule which every brand should follow is to stay honest with consumers and never take them for granted; otherwise, they will come to bite you back. So, if you have committed a mistake, apologise from your heart, but make sure you don’t repeat it.”
For Mad Over Donuts, being a food & beverage company with more than 50 stores across India, it becomes a Herculean task to track and respond to all the appreciation and grievances that they receive each day. To add to this, in a huge community of more than five lakh donut lovers, one wrong move can lead to a crisis. Therefore, to keep the consumers happy, the brand conducts fun campaigns and contests on various platforms. This is done by its social media team which monitors social trends in real time and keeps adding a fun twist wherever possible.
Tarak Bhattacharya, COO, Mad Over Donuts, said, “Today, as the world gets more connected as ever through social media, people love documenting and sharing their opinions and feelings in real time. It is, thus, more important than ever for brands to be cautious and alert about the sentiments shared by their consumers and fans. Each time a brand fails to respond or acknowledge actions of its social media audience, it is a huge missed opportunity.”
He says that the trick also lies in being prompt, because when a brand fails to respond immediately, the number of negative comments and flak towards the brand only increases as time passes, until it snowballs into a PR disaster and the damage becomes irreparable. “The brand then comes across as an entity that does not care about its customer and no customer enjoys being associated with a brand like that,” he explained.
Vijay Kshirsagar, Product and Service Head, Mitashi Edutainment, said, “Through our call centres, we try to at least look into consumer grievances and reply within two hours to any complaint. The severity of the complaint decides how badly it can tarnish the face of the company. But, thanks to the dawn of the digital age, it has now become easier for the consumers to interact with us. We always believe that customers have endowed trust by purchasing our product; now if they face any problem, it is our duty to solve it and never turn our back to them.”
Foster, not fester
Commenting on Flipkart’s apology and Amul’s prompt response, Harish Bijoor, Brand Expert & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults, said, “The digital age is a ‘quick and now’ age. In this age, responses need to be quick and fast as well. What Flipkart has done is quick and fast. The Bansal apology is a classic one. It addresses issues and addresses fallibility. I call this ‘fallibility branding’. It simply means to say that we are all human beings. All of us err. Please forgive us for this big error. In a day and age when complaints go viral, marketers’ responses can also go viral. That is the learning from Amul’s response, which is a brilliant one. Who would have imagined these cooperative marketers from Anand would be so quick and efficient in response!”
Bijoor’s word of advice to brands is: “If problems are not addressed immediately and are swept under the corporate carpet, they fester. 99% of consumers will not even complain after that first complaint. However, they will nurture a grouse in their hearts. This grouse moves from heart to pocket when the next buying occasion arises. Never allow complaints to fester. Stay honest; stay real; stay fallible. When you make a mistake, sit on top of a mountain and tell everyone that you messed up. Consumers love that. If the error is a particularly serious one, publish a white paper on it and put it in public domain. Never hide. Never ever hide. And never ever pass the buck.”
Saurabh Parmar, Founder & CEO, Brandlogist, quotes David Ogilvy’s famous words, ‘The consumer isn’t a moron, she is your wife’, and reiterates how relevant it is today. “If consumers are going to talk about you anyway, why shouldn’t you be a part of the conversation?” he asked.
“There are broadly three steps in this entire consumer redressal process, first of which is to make sure your systems are efficient enough to prevent any issues from happening. In case of an issue, you should have an effective social media monitoring system to detect it as soon as possible. Finally, create an effective and courteous response addressing your customers’ concerns. I believe Flipkart failed to deliver on the first point and Amul, despite doing very well on the first and second parameters, failed on the third. They could have definitely been much more courteous when addressing a customer,” Parmar observed.
Nip it in the bud
Zafar Rais, CEO, MindShift Interactive, pointed out that a customer service redressal and social media response work at different paces. “If you have a dedicated customer service department, the team probably has a process in place that works well to respond to within 48 hours. However, on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, if you let that much time go by before responding to customer inquiries or complaints, it seems like ages. Hence, a swift response of even assuring the customer of guaranteed support works. Simple acts of responding with a timeline or acknowledging receipt of their concerns and then working upon it go a long way,” he stated.
Swati Nathani, Co-founder, Team Pumpkin, said, “In these times of unlimited connectivity, you never know when a single tweet or a simple comment spreads like wildfire and causes severe damage to a brand’s reputation. Flipkart and Amul are two different cases. On one hand, Flipkart acknowledged its mistake in front of millions of customers and sought an apology for failing to deliver its promises. Amul, on the other hand, was so confident of its product and operations that it decided to visit that one customer’s home, resolve the matter and close it duly. While Flipkart’s apology ensured repair of its damaged reputation, Amul’s stance enhanced customers’ confidence in the brand.”
Social media gives consumers an upper hand, which sometimes proves to be unfair to brands. “We have had many instances when people who lose a certain contest start writing negative things about brands until they are recognised in some way. This certainly is not a very happy situation for the brands to be in, but through smart customer service and great online reputation management services, this can be taken care of,” Nathani said.
She further added, “I have always believed that customer service should run in the blood of employees of the organisation. If customer service is only limited to lip service, where the only aim is to shut the customer up, it will only last for a short time. To ensure proper customer service, the brand’s entire value chain must practise it – right from quality production to great after-sales service, and the most crucial element in the chain is employees’ attitude towards customers, which can make or break a brand.”
Pratik Gupta, Co-founder, Director – New Business & Innovation, Foxymoron, said, “Treat your brand as a human being. It is very important to manage the online reputation of a brand, which many are not doing. I feel Flipkart’s apology was a genuine one; it committed a mistake, so it accepted it without giving an explanation as to how it happened, but promised not to disappoint its customers again. Amul has also done a fabulous job in clearing the negativity which surfaced on the online medium for a few days. There is no way that a brand will know beforehand of any impending problem, but they can surely stay prepared.”
While the love-hate relationship between brands and customers is more evident than ever in this socially-connected world, brands have to try doubly hard to appease and delight customers, one post at a time. After all, the customer is a bigger king is these times of social media.