Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Storyboard18: Making sense of Indian brands' online reputation management systems

At a time when consumer grievances are flooding social media timelines, brands should have a better narrative than just the bot-generated "apologise for the inconvenience caused to you" reply

Published: Dec 20, 2021 02:21:54 PM IST
Updated: Dec 20, 2021 06:50:16 PM IST

Image: Shutterstock 

On November 20, Jaehwan Cho, a Tesla owner from South Korea, tweeted to the company’s CEO Elon Musk, about an error he was experiencing on the brand’s app. Cho got a reply from Musk in three minutes. Twitter-verse couldn’t stop praising Musk for his promptness and attention to the complaint. Cho later tweeted, “….Musk may or may not have personally checked out the error in this case, but it sure makes for a good accountability and customer service tale in Tesla history.”

Closer home, a few startup founders are taking consumer grievances seriously too. iD Fresh Foods’ founder PC Musthafa is also called the ‘chief customer officer' of the brand by his colleagues. Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, co-founder, Wakefit, checks his Twitter notifications only for customer feedback or complaints which need to be addressed. While this is a positive change, there are several brands that are hammered by angry customers on social media every day.

But it doesn’t always end with an angry tweet. According to a report, on an average, 70,000 complaints are registered with the National Consumer Helpline every month. According to the Department of Consumer Affairs, between April 2017 and February 2021, India’s grievance redressal system registered 5,23,837 complaints related to ecommerce; 2,06,417 related to the banking sector; and 1,83,185 related to telecom.

The maximum number of consumer complaints were related to electronics—1,12,200.

Instances of consumers airing their grievances are increasing on social media because of ease of access to companies, management, and brands.

Ecommerce brands commonly face consumer backlash for delayed shipments, returns and refunds, product-related issues, etc. Complaints related to BFSI brands are mainly around the inefficiency of their online services and AI virtual assistants. Telecom brands are flooded with issues around poor network and data connections. Airline brands face a barrage of service-related complaints every day, covering everything from delays, cancelled flights, Covid-19 protocol related issues, to bad in-flight food and entertainment.

Meanwhile, food delivery companies often face the wrath of "hangry" customers online.

Adhvith Dhuddu, CEO, AliveNow Creative Tech Studio, who works on creative AR solutions, chatbots, Alexa Skills for various local and global brands, says that in case of online brands, especially ecommerce, they aren’t able to keep up with the volume of demand. Factors such as supply chain issues, regional lockdowns, panic buying, unavailability of delivery agents and labourers, which are not always under the control of brands, add to the stress of completing orders.

Treat ORM as an investment and not an expense

Dhuddu says brands still look at online reputation management (ORM), “as a post-sales function,” adding that spending on ORM shouldn’t be considered as an expense but as an investment.

As per industry estimates, brands pay anywhere between Rs 1 crore and Rs 30 crore annually on their ORM exercises, depending on the size of their business. Additionally, the technology costs for both social listening tools and automated technologies, in order to enable better data collection, bucketing, and quicker turnaround times, range from about Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh, monthly.

Digital marketing experts agree today’s consumers don’t want an apology but real solutions for their brand-related problems. Karthik Nagarajan, chief content officer, Wavemaker India and head – branded content, GroupM India, says, tech, AI or chatbots “have not evolved to a point where human intervention is redundant. I think their role is to bring down the operational stress and be able to address 80 percent of the issues which are from probably a handful of use cases. For the remaining 20 percent, a customised, nuanced human reaction is critical.”

New ways to maintain brand image

Top digital marketing agency executives that Storyboard18 spoke to indicate that brands also want to know what social media influencers are saying about them and be a part of conversations wherever relevant. Agencies are also tasked with tracking reviews and comments that brands receive on ecommerce platforms both owned and third-party, app stores, customer complaint forums, and sites like Quora.

Pratik Gupta, co-founder, Zoo Media and FoxyMoron, says, a few years ago ORM briefs had key performance indicators (KPIs) which included mostly TATs (Turn Around Times), but today there are a lot more KPIs involved, such as brand love and brand interaction, and not just automated responses.

“Since the online journey for a consumer also includes a lot of research, the reputation for the brand at the point of decision making is a massive concern for brands. Hence, keeping negative sentiments in control is a focal point,” adds Gupta.

He believes the secret sauce to quickly dousing a fire in the ORM world is to first acknowledge and then solve. Apart from just complaints and queries, consumers today also interact with brands on an ongoing basis. “To create fun, structured, and persona-based replies as the brand, goes a long way in building the love for the brand,” Gupta concludes. Because when things go wrong, saying you’re sorry just doesn’t cut it anymore.