The phone buzzed violently. Yet another SMS, and probably sent by my carrier hawking some useless “value added” service. I was right; the message was from Vodafone and it read
Wear seat belts while driving.
Perfectly fine advice, except it was unsolicited. I have enough people in my life giving me free advice of this sort and I didn’t want to pay my carrier for it-in my long experience with mobile carriers nothing comes for free. But this message was one time and maybe there was a goof up. Still I was a bit apprehensive and thought out loud on Twitter
Surprisingly I got a prompt response
This looked good. Maybe Vodafone gets social media, which most corporates seem to think of as just another medium like TV or print to broadcast marketing messages (Wal-Mart vs Target is another great example) .They are connecting, carrying out the conversation and being responsive to customer problems.
The next day at about the same time I get another public safety message
Do not drink and drive
Again, odd. I had no vehicle, I didn’t know how to drive (I am ashamed to admit that) and even if I was the most reckless and drunk driver ever why should Vodafone India care? I was on pre-paid and didn’t owe them unpaid bills.
So it was DM time.As requested I DMed them my number, but I didn’t really expect anything out of the whole back and forth.
Customer service win
Therefore I was pleasantly surprised when I got a call from a lady at the local Vodafone office. The conversation went something like this.
VF lady– Hello Mr Sarma, I am speaking from Vodafone.We saw your tweet about problems with your connection. How may I help you?
Me– What? You are calling me because of that tweet? Are you sure?
VF lady– *Chuckle* Yeah we are calling you because of your post on Twitter.
Me– So my problem, yeah. I am getting SMSes from you folks telling me that I have to wear a seatbelt and drive only while sober. Appreciate the advice by what’s the deal? I don’t remember signing up for any kind of service that that dispenses safety advice.
VF– Oh, sending those messages are mandated by the Assam government and we have to send them once a day.They will last only another day and then it will be over. Also, there are no charges for these messages.
Me– If that’s the case it’s cool. I still can’t believe that you called me because of my tweet. Do you monitor other sites like Facebook too?
Anatomy of a social media monitoring system
Turns out they did. And the subsequent conversation gave me fascinating insights on a new aspect of customer care which I didn’t think existed in corporate India, and different from the traditional call center paradigm.
Like other companies Vodafone has a Twitter account and an official FB page. There are also numerous Vodafone related communities on Orkut but it is unclear whether they are officially owned or operated by customers.
So here is how the system works. You have a problem about Vodafone and like me tweet (or post on Facebook) about it. The people who are operating the Vodafone Twitter account (apparently a third party) will get relevant details like phone numbers, date of transactions etc by interacting with you. A cloud based social media monitoring software mines the semi structured datasets(DMs, tweets,Wall posts),correlating numbers to operating regions. Vodafone representatives from regional offices log in, view the problematic numbers from their regions and call up each one of them to fix the issues.
According to my contact, this system has been launched only a short time ago and the daily volume of customer calls all over India are around 150. She also let slip that turnaround times for responding to customers could not exceed 2 hours.
Did I mention that the system stores your details (phone numbers etc) like any other CRM? I found this out when I sent another tweet mentioning Vodafone, asking them to follow me because I needed to send a DM. Again, my old contact called me up, referenced my latest tweet and asked me what new problem was I facing.
Flash in the pan?
While such efficiency and quick response times are very critical in the fast changing world of social media one has to wonder how long Vodafone can keep up the standards. After all as social media penetration increases and more and more people use it as a forum to air their grievances Vodafone will need to engage more people to talk to customers if they intend to stick to the current model.
Where can Vodafone do better? My guess is, their social media monitoring software leaves out a lot of other platforms. For example, people bitch about Vodafone’s service in personal blogs all the time. They also don’t tend to play soft in threads in thousands of online forums where to many users Vodafone isn’t much different from a massive con operation?
Vodafone probably isn’t noticing all that. Can they? Definitely.
Should they respond to each complaint? Ideally.
But here is the thing about customer service. You can have the fastest, most responsive customer care in the world but in the larger scheme of things it does not mater a damn when the actual service that you provide is shitty. Your customers will still be pissed off at you.
Companies who focus on better service invariably have much higher levels of customer satisfaction-a great example is Zappos (this video by CEO Tony Hsieh is highly recommended for any entrepreneur, big and small).
Over to you now. Do you have any stories about how social networking promptly solved service and product related problems? It’s an open house in the comments section.