Monday, August 13, 2012

Social media comes of age for the customer?

I'd say Customer Service is way below the poverty line in our country.

The desire to understand the customer is nil.

The desire to please the customer is therefore completely out of question.

As for addressing customer woes, sorry, not in this country.

If you've not read my previous post, I suggest you read it and get back here.

My calls to the customer care center went unhindered. While they did say they would do 'something' about it there was no confirmation.

Even my tweets went out like the proverbial ship in the night.

It was only when I posted a blog and tweeted and facebooked (right word?) the links did I get an immediate response.

There was action.

In all fairness, Makemytrip has addressed my issue.

They have confirmed that they will refund the amount wrongly charged.

However it still does not absolve them from charging unsuspecting customers double the amount.

If you look at the #makemytrip page on Twitter, it's all about issues.

What pleases me is that Social media is here to stay.

It's here to share customer grievance.

It's here to make a high decibel sound and to be heard.

And now if organisations are waking up, I think it's time the customer wakes up too.

Jaago Graahak Jaago, is not wrongly said.

Twitter, Facebook, Linked in, StumbleUpon and the myriad social spaces are yours to use.

Use them.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Shortcut to Growth: Cheat the customer

I may be getting old.
But of late I am constantly suspicious of large organisations who are trying to do me out of my hard-earned money.
Especially when I transact online.

For people like me, fortunately, there are plenty of ways banks and credit card companies help in safegaurding my money. However not all these options are quick or easy or either.

So when I was booking online tickets last night the first instinct was to check fares then go to the airline site, then see the final fare, generate a Netsafe card and so on and so forth.

Yes, you safe travellers, prudent online shoppers will tell me I did wrong.

And yes I did wrong. We booked our tickets on Make my trip!

So we find out fares, decide dates, time, flights, there, back, arrival, departure. The regular stuff. Then we mentally calculate roughtly how much it will be. Then we buy. Put in credit card details and whoosh! Your off to your destination. Right? No wrong!

Because what you are charged on your credit card is EXACTLY DOUBLE of what the amount is. Why? How? No one knows.

SO here's the deal. The card has been wrongly charged. The first instinct is to call Makemytrip.
Which we do. There comes the IVR. First four digits of this. Then last four digits of that. Then press 1 for... and press 7 for... After using every button on the phone (or touching every square inch on the touchscreen phone) you get someone remotely human who happily tells you "The System is Down"

Ok... step back a bit here... remember the amnesia ad?
The one where all the guy remembers is that he went on several holidays (where he misbehaved like a true Indian!) on Make my Trip? Funny how your brand truly reflects in your advertiisng or how your advertising infects  your brand behaviour!

They've forgotten they have double charged my credit card barely five minutes back. Now the system is down?!

Well, there was an encore. Second round.

Is it success when they tell you that it was an error?

Or is it greater success when they telll you they will return it?

But hang on... they said they'd CALL me in 3 working days and then reverse the charges in another 5 working days. Do the math. That's almost 2 weeks gone. 2 weeks that separate me and my money. Do some more math please. This amount due back to me is over 10 k. And this is not something that has happened the first time. I've heard this story from many people. It's just that your guard is down and wham! You're slapped with being a stupid customer by one of these game-playing cheating organisations.

Find 10 other foolish customers in a hurry and how much do you have for the day? And you sit on it for 15 days? At what interest rate? A banker would be ashamed to be sitting at the same table as you guys.

So here someone is travelling but I am off on antoher trip to spend hard earned money to get my own hard earned money back by some scamsters.

Is that the only way to growth that they can see? Cheating the trusting customer?

Guess we have to be wiser consumers. And the site can be better named:

Make my trip could well be Take My Trip!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Forgive them... cos they know what they do

Customer loyalty as a term has often been bandied around, strung together with numbers, tightly wrapped up in excel sheets. Analyst debate, segment, typify and label. Planners come up with deep insights after much thinking and trying to look out of windowless offices. And some profound statements in a pitch later, one realises that this indeed is true.
One such statement about a customer's loyalty to a brand is the fact that a loyal customer forgives.
This is so true. Provided the brand asks for it and deserves it.
One has a connect with a brand that spans time, emotions and finally and practically, usage of the brand.
In stark contrast with NB's #Nissan experience was my brand experience with #Maruti Suzuki. (My previous post: The Wheels of the Fortunate).
Anyone who has ever owned a (generically speaking) Maruti knows what it stands for - the vehicle represents convenience, value-for-money, low maintenance and finally serviceability virtually anywhere you go.
We've all seen the mileage commercial - 'Kitna deti hai'. It brings a smile on  your face but that is what it once again stands for.
We all know that in terms of numbers and reach, this is surely the largest selling car brand in India.
With that kind of numbers, reach and almost irreplaceable brand equity one would expect arrogance, even complacence. However what puts #Maruti Suzuki as really the No.1 in my mind is their dedication to customer service. And I am impressed.
And here's an example.
Trading in my earlier (also a) #Maruti Suzuki vehicle, I decided to replace it with another one from the same fold.
Not quite sure of the newer models I called the nearest showroom,gave them my co ordinates and asked them for a test drive of three of their hatchback models: the Swift, the Ritz and the A Star.
It's not that I was fiercely loyal to #Maruti Suzuki alone.

I had half-heartedly tried the Honda showroom number. Didnt get through. Gave up as it was not high on my list.

I had called the nearest  #Hyundai dealer. They were to call me back and tell me when they'd send an Eon for a test drive. When they didnt I called back. I was told I had not left my number and address. Strange. I did that. They didn't call back. Obviously Hyundai has enough customers and didn't need my business. Fair enough.

So back to the #Maruti Suzuki test drives.

For some reason the sales person who was to come was not on time. 20 minutes late. I pushed my annoyance aside and went down exitedly to test drive a Swift/Ritz/A-Star, whatever the guy had got.

Imagine my dismay when I see a Zen! I was livid. Told him I didnt want to test drive a Zen and how could he get 3 cars wrong! He apologised, said he'd get a Swift and come back but I just told him I didnt want to test drive any car and went back upstairs fuming.

Clearly it was a fruitless day for test drives. I'd not got through to Honda, Hyundai was not interested and now these guys had messed up.

A little later however, the sales guys messaged me. Profuse apologies. He said I should give him one more chance. He told me there was a mix up. A little later he messaged me again, saying he'd not repeat this error. The next morning he called. Apologised again and promised to come for a test drive, anytime - emphasis being on any time.

I softened. And decided to give him that second chance. Forgave my brand. And sure enough... He kept his word. Arrived 10 minutes before the appointment time.

A few days later I was signing the papers. Throughout the buying process the service was impeccable. Even when he had to go out of town unexpectedly he had put someone in charge to complete the formalities.

Did the company need my business more vs Hyundai? No way. Did they make me feel that way. Yes. Would I have forgiven a new brand that I had had no truck with earlier? Unlikely. I forgave my usual brand but I did get back more in terms of service.

And here's what I think, I think we forgive our brands because it's so much easier to be with the familiar. The tried. The tested. The true.

And I think that brand managers who are wrapped up in their excel sheets should understand that Customer Loyalty doesn't come from a customer: it comes from the brand's loyalty to the customer.

Thankfully for me, #Maruti Suzuki has got it right.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Wheels of the Fortunate

Buying a car is an exciting proposition. A bit daunting... but exciting nevertheless.

Most car buying habits have been well documented especially in the Indian scenario. You normally move from a two wheeler to a hatchback, hatchback to a mid-class sedan, then to a luxury sedan and so on. SUVs, XUVs and now even LUVs fall somewhere along that line based on needs, occupation, and finally the brag value!

But that's so much theory.

In practical terms that's really not how you buy a car in India.

You check the car for its features and ask around for the best dealer and the most dependable service. And if you have to choose, the dealer and the service wins way over that fancy set of wheels that you so wanted.

This is a known fact.

But then some times there are new entrants in the market and you trust the brand name, the lineage that it brings with the name and what you've heard about from the media.

And you succumb.

NB, a colleague was on the quest for a new car. Decided to go in for a Nissan Sunny. The excitement seemed to end once the decision was made.

Even the pre-sales service was poor. Many follow ups later the car was handed over at a time inconvenient to him. Minus the desired seat covers.

In his words:
Hi Friends, I had this horrible experience of buying Nissan Sunny from Torrent Nissan in Andheri Mumbai. It felt like they are doing a favor to me by selling the car! Even after giving a negative feedback about the dealer there has been no call or effort from Nissan India to speak to me regarding this matter. Here is what went wrong in brief
- Once I had made the advance payment to Torrent - I had...
to follow up with them every week, not once have they made an effort to update me on the status of my car. They have been at their unco-operative best
- The fittings of the accessories (seat cover & steering wheel cover) was not up to the mark and I was told this is the Nissan Standard!
Urge you to forward this to as many people as possible so the others dont suffer the pain I have been through even after spending lakhs of Rs on Nissan Sunny!
BTW Nissan India when the whole world is moving towards USB, you have chosen to install an old version of music player in your car - dont consider the Indians that forward do you?
After this post appeared on Facebook (Long live social media), I posted it on my timeline too. The PR person from the dealer called and desperately asked NB to get me to take the post off my page!

Here are some interesting facts:
  • Nissan deigned to contact NB after the stipulated period of 72 hours. We suspect they meant 72 working hours
  • Even post putting the seat covers, there was a problem - a seat belt had been damaged and had to be changed for which the car had to be taken to the workshop - one more day lost
  • The dealer has offered no real apology or make good - and has claimed this to be the Nissan standards
Does Nissan think they can continue to take customers for a ride in their caaaaar? Isnt this going too faaaar?

What's your view on it? Have you been more fortunate with your set of wheels?

Monday, May 14, 2012


Phrases like 'Consumerisation', 'Rising Economy", "Buyers' Market', "Customer Service' and 'Competitive Space' get thrown around in dark teakwood boardrooms and hushed corporate corridors.

MBAs from august institutions bring these back with strong traces of international accents bandying them around hoping to impress those who have even stronger traces of international accents.

Consulting firms write tomes on them, charging exponential amounts for newer and better coined phrases meaning the same thing and telling you what you already knew.

But the fact remains: here in India... we have not moved much towards a consumer economy. Here we still remain a 'Take it or Leave it' market, a place where the buyer is actually a harasses soul, and the seller in his utimate kindness usually deigns to sell a few products and services to the hungry soul.

While the world is moving on to Customer EXPERIENCE Management, we've not even moved to an  acceptable level of customer service.

Each of us have examples of where one feels highly cheated after making a purchase, or after choosing to opt for a service.

Are we even important to the seller?

We've all experience bad after-sales service, havent we also experience poor pre sales?

Do the ad agencies that make the mega campaigns shot in remote locations know how the generated demand is followed through by the client?

Do those marketing and sales heads who spend billions on prime time commericals and huge budgets on travel itineraries even know what happens on the dealer's floor?

Does the sales guy who goes knocking on doors in the afternoon heat get backed up by similar sweat-pouring follow up on closing of the sale?

This space is for us hungry cheated souls - a place to shed light on what goes on in a Sellers' Market and why consumerism has still not touched the shores of India. A place where the Customer is no longer in the Dark...

Although moderated, your experiences are welcome.

Watch this space for more...