Consumers of India: Unite on Twitter

To say that there is anger on the social media against the political class is like commenting that pop corn is available at a movie theatre. But I wonder where the same spirited demands for answers go when it comes to the service industry that also has a growing presence on this platform. Why isn’t the cloak of anonymity that is used to spew venom at political adversaries and their supporters with contrarian views, empowering users to lambast shoddy service providers?

This week, noted journalist Vir Sanghvi flagged the pathetic response from a service centre of a big brand to his almost seven lakh followers. Barring about a dozen responses and retweets, there wasn’t an expected avalanche of customer grievances shared online. Not much about the poor after sales service despite Annual Maintenance Contracts. Not much about the exasperating automated responses to specific complaints with a meaningless ‘At Your Service’ in the subject line. Not much about the Udupi Hotel style rattling of Reference Numbers by executives for follow up calls. Not much about the promise to “revert shortly” that may invariably take even 72 hours. Not much about the artificial twang with which some staff prefer to speak. Not much about the template sign offs “Is there anything else I may assist you with. You’ve been speaking to xyz. Have a nice day” after not being able to solve the simplest of issues. (Reminds you of the TV commercial disclaimer - ‘Mutual Funds are subject to market risks. Read the Red Herring Prospectus carefully before investing?!)

In one of my previous columns, I had mentioned, tongue in cheek, that twitter, with all the venting of spleen, could well help users with low blood pressure. This week, I’d like to replace that with certain call\service centres. Why are consumer organisations and activists not making much greater use of the social media to expose brands and service providers that indulge in unfair trade practices? Or those that have the temerity to even question the mental strength of their customers after goofing up! I’m sure the day is not far when our Courts, that are evolving with the times, start considering tweets and facebook messages and updates as possible notices to service providers in this post telegram era.

Conversely, for instance, where was the shock and anger when an innocent egg vendor in Uttar Pradesh was shot at because he didn’t add onions in omelettes served to customers who happened to be gangsters? Except for story links from newspapers, I didn’t see too many comments on this outrageous attempt to murder case. Buy onions and you shed tears. Don’t use them and you shed blood? Like selective amnesia, is this selective anger, reserved for certain issues that are Delhi or Mumbai centric? Is the social media going the mainstream media way when it comes to highlighting issues?

Mercifully, the light hearted side of these platforms sort of offsets the lack of anger over some developments. The ‘Tell Us About Yourself’ elevator pitch question is regarded the most challenging part of facing job interviews. Wit is like common sense – not too common. Have you noticed that of the many twitter profiles with beaten to death disclaimers like ‘retweets are not endorsements’, some stand out and do bring out a smile. Here’s my pick: @SrBachchan “Actor...well at least some are STILL saying so!!” @SudhishKamath “Part-time writer. Full-time bum. Small-time filmmaker. All-time scum. Seriously, Film Critic for The Hindu. Three film young director. Reluctant superhero.” And if the two Tamil cinema juggernauts – Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan are not directly on twitter, at least their daughters are. Like @shrutihaasan who calls herself a “Singer who acts and Actor who sings”. And finally, @madhutrehan “Limit 15 mins a day on Twitter – No more! Sorry if ur question is not answered in those 15 mins.” Consumers of India, unite on twitter. You have nothing to lose but your 15 seconds.

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