Seeking Relief Online

Online forums are a good way to get your grievances heard, but solutions may yet take some doing
Dipak Mondal/Money Today        Print Edition: May 2013

How do you get even with a rude bank executive, a bank which has sold you a wrong insurance policy or a provider of internet connection that is irritatingly slow?

1/4th of
India's online consumers are aware of brands and companies having social media presence

Before lodging complaint with the company or the consumer court, you can vent your anger by posting a caustic comment on your Facebook/Twitter account or dozens of active online consumer forums. This way you can take your message to a big audience, and guess what, get heard too.

Whether you post your grievance on social media, online forums or blogs sites, it's now highly likely that the companies concerned will track your comments. The reason is simple. A satisfied customer will spread positive words about its products/services, influencing others, while an unhappy customer can damage its brand by criticising it publicly.

According to a study by AC Nielsen and AbsolutData, social media in India is growing at 100% every year, and is likely to have 45 million users by the end of 2012-13. It says nearly 40 million Indians use online reviews to tell others about their purchase decisions. Further, 67% Indians who are on the web read online reviews before big purchases.

23% of
India's Facebook users are fans of a brand/company's Facebook page

"Most companies are aware of the need to engage with customers and prospects online so that feedback, complaints, criticisms and negative perceptions can be responded to. To not engage through social media is no more an option," says Gunjan Ghai, vice president, marketing and e-commerce, Tata AIG General Insurance.

No wonder, when a frequent visitor to the Bajaj Allianz Life Insurance website said on the company's Facebook account that the pension calculator on the website was giving wrong figures, the head of marketing, Rituraj Bhattacharya, himself engaged him to explain why it was not.

This is not a one-off case. Companies - rom sectors as diverse as financial, consumer goods and telecom - track online feedback on their products/services, responding promptly when required.

Online forums
enjoy a high intensity of experience sharing and consumer conversation. 10 million Indians (12% of India's Internet users) contribute to online forums

HOW THEY TRACK
Most companies either have inhouse teams or hire agencies such as Interface Business Solutions and Interactive Avenues to monitor online content. This includes tracking of their Facebook pages, Twitter handles, blogs and online complaint forums.

The tracking, analysis and management of online content falls under digital media marketing and is commonly termed as Online Reputation Management or ORM. The process uses tools such as Pinstorm, Radian6, Locobuzz, Simplify 360 to pick up 'keywords' associated with the company or the brand concerned and track online conversations/postings that mention them.

"These conversations are analysed internally and, based on the tonality, managed with timely responses. Finer details such as human intelligence to ensure accuracy, sentiment analysis and setting up a process flow for responses are exclusive to each organisation," says Sanjay Tripathy, executive vice president and head, marketing, product and direct channel, HDFC Life.

1/3rd use
online review to help them make purchase decisions

HOW THEY REACT
After analysing the complaints, companies move to resolve the 'genuine' grievances.

"After receiving the query or complaint, we ask for details of the investor in case they have not been already provided. Then the query is assigned a service ticket number for internal tracking to ensure response within a time frame," says Himanshu Pandya, senior vice president and head, product and communication, ICICI Prudential AMC.

He says the aim is to resolve the issue at the first point of contact, but if it is not possible, it is forwarded to the relevant department.

"We at Tata AIG have an elaborate escalation matrix to ensure that all complaints are responded to within four hours of the initial post," says Gunjan Ghai of Tata AIG General Insurance.

50 million
Indians (67% of India's internet population) associate positively with brands/companies that have social media presence

"A follow-up call is initiated and an email summarising the discussion is sent. If the resolution is expected to take time, a deadline is conveyed to the customer. We understand that customers probably go online as the last resort; hence, a separate email-id has been created for faster resolution of complaints," he says.

While finding a solution may take time, an assurance that the company is working on the problem is given to the customer at the earliest.

"If we notice that there are unhappy customers, we reach out to them and try to resolve their issues. This has been positively endorsed by many customers whose problems have been resolved," says N S Kannan, executive director and chief financial officer, ICICI Bank.

Quote

Most companies are aware of the need to engage with customers online so that feedback, complaints and criticisms can be responded to.

Gunjan Ghai

V-P, marketing TATA AIG General Insurance

Kannan tells us how a customer, who had a corporate account with ICICI Bank from 2004 to 2006, required statements for tax purposes. She tweeted on their handle in March, 2013. The bank requested for her contact details so that it could get in touch with her. Then, a customer service representative called her up and provided her with the statements.

CELEBRITY CRITICISM
Negative postings on Twitter by celebrities with large followers may cause more embarrassment for companies. These require more serious handling.

In case of adverse Twitter comments by celebrities, companies usually react immediately.

"In such situations, the tweet is replied to as early as possible. The customer is told to send a private message with contact details so that the conversation can be taken offline. Also, a response with resolution is put out to the customer so that the followers are aware that the complaint/tweet/post has been acknowledged and the issue is being taken care of," says Kartik Jain, head, marketing, HDFC Bank.


GOT THE ATTENTION, BUT...
Your online outburst may attract a company's attention but not ensure the desired result. If the issue is related to servicing, miscommunication or clarification, the complaint will most likely be resolved. But in the financial sector, the most common complaints are mis-selling and insurance claim rejection. These are unlikely to be resolved even if the customer goes all out against the company.

Indore-based Shardendu Sharma, who retired from a government job, was sold the same Max Life Insurance policies thrice by executives of Axis Bank. He did not realise this while signing the documents. When he got the policy documents and realised his mistake, he sought a refund of the premium for two policies. Later, he posted his complaint on an online grievance forum. The insurance company wrote back saying its representative would get in touch with him within 48 hours.

According to Sharma, the representative did get in touch with him, but only to inform him that it was not the company's fault.

When we enquired, Max Life Insurance said that according to the rules, Sharma got a welcome call for each policy in which he was explained the product and its benefits. "We cannot believe he was not aware of what insurance policies he had received. The policies were dispatched in July and August and he came to us in December, much after the free-look period (15 days)," said the company. A customer has the option of surrendering the policy during the free-look period.

Max Life said some customers who realise they do not want the policy after purchasing it blame the company through social media and online forums, knowing that this creates a lot of public sentiment against the company.

In another case, New Delhibased Krishna Bahadur was missold an insurance policy by being told that he could pay premium for three years and then withdraw the money. But he realised it was a long-term plan and that if he withdrew the money after three years he would get only Rs 10,000 as against the payment of Rs 36,000 premium. He posted his story on a consumer complaint website. He got a call from a company representative, but the issue could not be resolved.

Rituraj Bhattacharya of Bajaj Allianz says 90% complaints through online channels relate to clarifications about products. "Such complaints, and those related to lapses in service, are resolved, but issues (to which policyholders may not even have legal recourse) such as buying plans without knowing the charges or premium-paying terms cannot be resolved easily if the free-look period is over."

These issues have to be resolved in a more formal way by lodging complaints in consumer courts.

AFTER ALL THE CURSING...
Criticising a company for poor products and services may not solve your problem but you can be sure that it is watching closely any unkind words you many have posted online. It will probably calm you down by promising action but that may not yield the desired result.

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