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June 23, 2011, 5:15 am UTC
A recent spat between giant Vodafone and a customer, shows the perils of messing with a customer empowered by social media and give important lessons for brands to follow
That customer is king is an old cliché. But to what extent that king can enforce his ‘kingdom’ is finding new meaning in today’s world of social media. A recent case between the mobile service provider Vodafone and a normal consumer provides valuable insights for brands on how to tackle complaints and irate customers.
Dhaval Valia, a Mumbai based media professional switched from a service he had been using for seven years, and subscribed to Vodafone to avail of their 3G service. However, he found the service to be not as good as advertised. He complained about the faulty services and an active user of social media, he regularly posted updates on Facebook and Twitter.
This led others who had similar problems with Vodafone and even other carriers, to comment on his status messages. Vodafone, who obviously had been monitoring the activity on social web, instead of addressing the problem that Dhaval had been facing, slapped a defamation case on him. Only, they did not quite expect the outcome.
Vodafone advertises a caped superhero for their 3G services. Turns out a simple man without a cape became a lone crusader, a symbol of one man’s fight against a corporation as Dhaval instantly became a celebrity not just in social media, but also in mass media as newspapers, channels and web portals picked up his story and broad cast it. The result was a huge outcry against the company which was not only unable to fulfill its promises as advertised in its ads, but had also slapped a court case against a customer who was merely complaining.
After the huge outcry all over, the company finally came to its senses and pulled out the defamation case. But, it was too late and the damages that the company had suffered, is something that millions spent on advertising could not correct. However, the good thing for Vodafone is that they pulled back and apologized when they did. Further delay would have cost more brand devaluation and much greater loss to the company. However, in the entire melee, some very important lessons had been learnt which is bound to become staple diet for management and media training institutes across the nation.
Customer Is King:
Almost every company states that customer is king. But internally, no one really believes that considering that every brand has a host of irate customers who do not get the attention that their grievances should get. The case of Dhaval was one such and Vodafone would perhaps have thought that there wasn’t much damage that one disgruntled, but persistent man could do. However, they had not counted on one factor, social media.
Social media has today empowered the customer in ways previously unimagined. With people following thousands of other people on Facebook and Twitter, a single comment, if it catches the fancy of others, will travel faster than the wind and would have crossed the seven sees before even the concerned party could have had the time to react. To thus assume that the customer is helpless in today’s world, is one of the greatest sins against the profits of a company, as Vodafone found out.
What Vodafone Should Have Done?
The answer is simple. It is obvious that their services were faulty. But instead of being defensive or evasive about it, they could have admitted that since these are the initial days of 3G in the country, a little hiccup is expected. They could have apologized to the customer and instead asked for his forgiveness and patronage till services get in perfect harmony.
What this soft approach would have done, as against the hard approach of the defamation case, is that the customer would have been a little disillusioned, but with enough honesty and persuasion would have understood the problem and might have cooperated. At worst, the customer would have gone back to some other service provider. That would still have been better that the great damage that the whole exercise has caused the company.
As the recent Wikileaks expose have shown us, we live in an era of information and communication. It is next to impossible even for governments to hide many facts, as the expose has shown us. What this espouses, is the age old trick of honesty. Customers today are smart enough and have the ability to smell a rat easily. To try and fool them, would lead to the kind of catastrophe that Vodafone had to face with this customer. On the other hand, an honest appraisal and admittance of reality, as it was in the past, could have served much better. Honesty, it was once said, was the best policy. In the age of social media, it is perhaps important for companies to relearn this old adage.
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