Wallposts and tweets are in; complaint boxes, out

You may have come across an SMS rant about how a pizza reaches home faster than an ambulance! Whether or not that smacks of exaggeration is debatable. But there can be no two opinions that the response time is such a key element in customer interface that today a business entity can do a Dale Carnegie and Win Friends & Influence People on the social media with ease. Quite like Sunny Gavaskar who was known to use the pace of the Carribean quickies to make the ball reach the boundary faster, mobile operators’ Twitter handles such as @Airtel_Presence or @VodafoneIN or @TataDocomo have been converting a good number of complainants or feedback providers into followers. The response time, they claim, is less than 10 minutes and their dedicated cyber net teams are active between six in the morning till midnight. Let off steam on Twitter about a connectivity issue or even the eternal telemarketing menace despite being on the Do Not Disturb registry, and you get an immediate reply with a request for more information through a Direct Message. The trick here is that you need to follow each other to be able to send direct messages. That’s the first step in the following, as it were. Of course, the proof of the following is in the follow up! With more than 50,000 to one lakh tweets and 25 to 50,000 followers, these private mobile operators have realised the scope for a speedy redressal mechanism on Twitter and Facebook. Or, call it customer anger management if you like!

Contrast this proactive approach with what I’m tempted to refer to as the King Herod mindset of a public sector telecom body. The Roman King had come up with a fiat to kill all male newborns just to wipe out future threat to the throne. With a similar broad sweep strategy, to remind a few defaulters, every subscriber is disturbed. So even those who have paid their bills are woken up with reminder calls at odd hours. I have even got payment acknowledgements through SMS at two in the morning and a payment reminder the next day, perhaps unwittingly designed to ruin that rare siesta! Surely, they can spare punctual customers of this nuisance, instead of reminding everyone in their database with an afterthought: “If you have already paid your bill, please ignore this”. What’s worse, the other day my broadband connection stopped working. The service centre nonchalantly mentioned that a server was being changed. How about the courtesy of advance intimation to customers that even Electricity Boards give out?

If private players, and even the Chennai Traffic Police or the U.S. Consulate in Chennai, can engage with the public on the social media quite effectively, what is stopping public sector undertakings and other government departments from keeping up with the times? And what about archaic rules such as banning social media sites in office computers? Don’t most people have them on their mobile phones? In this age of mobile number portability, the customer may not be the king, but definitely a chooser. And it does make sense to reach out to a few crore people on their very own platform.

Ideally, every civic body, every police commissionerate, as well as other departments such as Registration, Passport, Transport, Electricity and so on that have high public interaction, must be on the social media. Let the respective pages be monitored by the department heads periodically. With the private sector, we have a choice; with some of those government wings, we don’t. All the more reason for interaction between public servants and the people they serve. When, let’s say, a senior citizen, sitting at home, manages to reach the Police Commissioner at a designated hour, that’s empowerment. That’s accountability too. Wallposts and tweets are here to stay. The days of shabby complaint boxes opened once in six months are over.

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