Saturday, June 26, 2010

Why Does Twitter or Blog Work? Curious Case of Customer Service

I love my Maruti Swift. I loved my Maruti Alto, earlier. I have been thinking of buying a bigger car, for sometime now. Chevrolet (please don't read it as Chevvy, GM doesn't like it) Aveo, Tata Manza and Fiat Linea to my liking, I have been treading cautiously over the thought. The financial condition is not in the pink of health to accelarate.

But then I know that car buying is a one-year process, so why not test drive! Over the last five months, I have called up couple of dealers in Chennai for a test drive. Surprisingly, I would get a call from these dealers for a time and date, but that's about it. At least on two weekends after complete assurance, I was left 'on-the-road'. I tweeted about it, last week, saying Fiat and Tata are probably overbooked and that is why they are not keen on offering me a test drive.

Tata Manza which has a presence in Twitter, immediately messaged asking me for my contact details. No later, I received a call from the same dealer whom I had contacted requesting for a time to arrange a test drive. But my happiness lasted for a short period. As it would have it, the test drive didn't happen as scheduled, yet again!

In the process I have realized that Twitter makes you heard. Though actual act is still subject to many other things.

I have also used Twitter to track and post developments for my employers. Blogs and customer complaint forums to 'listen' and act.

Is it that social media is working and traditional mediums aren't?

By the way, how does a customer reach out to companies?

  • Traditional modes: Company office, Service centres, Fax (you won't believe, but I have realized with experience that this is the best way to reach to a company and get noticed), Telephone (not call centres)  
  • New-age: Call centre (Toll Free Numbers), Email (standalone or through website)
  • Latest-age: Twitter, Blogs, Customer Company Forums, Social Networking Sites 
Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without OrganizationsIf you carefully analyze the modes, you will notice that companies as much as possible have outsourced customer interaction management. Call centres especially have become the spine in the customer interaction horizontal. And blame it on outsourcing it doesn't come under direct purview of organizations. But seriously, isn't customer service core to a company. Shouldn't it be held by company. Well, that makes a topic for seprate discussion. On the other hand, traditional or latest mediums are is 'owned' by the company.

Why latest-age modes of feedback are more turning out to be more effective is not hard to figure out.  
  1. Unlike call centre and email support, company's have so far not outsourced Twitter, Blog, Forum and Social Media support. But as I had pointed out in a previous blog of mine, this may not hold true if process specialists analyze and figure out how to standardize the responses. The entire BPO industry may find a new opportunity in adding these touch points under their menu card.
  2.  It's public. Unlike the traditional mode, which is an interaction between just the consumer and the company, social media allows anyone with access to publish and post experiences. As my friend Karthik would say, this information can be accessed, retrieved and used by prospective consumers to make future purchase decisions.
  3. And since it is handled by the company directly, it is likely to have employees who are far more capable and clued in that an outsourced customer interaction officer.
As I have also seen from close quarters, the social media is owned and monitored by the top management. Such close scrutiny may not be possible in other modes. Think if a CEO has to listen to all the nasty calls at the call centre. Or go through mails.

But, in my opinion, with so many people contributing so much on the net. It is bound to become unreliable. Search for any product or service that you may be considering on the net, I can safely assure you that you will find equal numbers of results, both supporting and decimating your consideration. Mouthshut and Complaints India, as it would be put by practitioners of Pranic Healing, emanate so much 'negative energy', it is not funny. One starts to wonder if there is not one product or service worth its price!

So do people actually use Internet to make purchase decisions?

Of course, the odd 80 mn odd Indians out of the 1 bn plus population might do it. But is it for making the purchase decision or gathering information. I take the risk in presuming that Internet usually is used to gather information. So, what's the difference? As I have noticed my own experiences, after gathering information it is always the word(-of-mouth) of my friend or an acquittance which is the final nail in the coffin, if I may say so.

Isn't it funny that Geoffery A Moore (oh no, not again) in Crossing the Chasm talks so much about referencing as the key to success! So where does the company begin. Looks like it's basics. Keep your existing customers happy first and continue to woo others. Now, isn't that what has been preached since time immemorial.

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