August 9, 2006

Companies beware! Online community and blogosphere is watching you and your (mis)deeds. Increasingly, the adventures and misadventures of companies are being brought to light through the medium of internet. I feel a great movement of consumer protection is slowly gathering momentum with the potential to make or mar the prospects of many companies. The result could be a public relations nightmare for the guilty company.

Last week I happened to witness the naked public bathing of two companies – first a company which is part of one of the most admired business groups of India, and second a widely respected global company. To put it crystal clear, I am talking about Tata Indicom and British Airways.

A few days back, I received a forwarded mail from a friend with the subject “Beware of Tata Indicom (Suck more, Loot more)”. It consisted of the grievances of a customer who had applied for broadband connection. It consisted of attachment of all the communication made with the company officials in an effort to get an amicable solution. And it contained every bit of details of the nightmare. The mail had even the email ids of the company officials and there was a request at the end to forward it to friends to save many an Indian from the trauma being inflicted by Tata Indicom. Another request was there to put the email ids of company officials in the Cc field every time the mail was forwarded so that they can gauge the extent of damage being done to their reputation. The very next day, another customer at the receiving end of Tata Indicom replied to share his own plight. And I am sure this mail must have been forwarded to thousands of recipients by the forward lovers of email. As aptly put in the mail by someone, JRD Tata, the great visionary and founder of Tata group, must be turning in his grave.

I learned of the second story when I checked Atul’s blog yesterday. There is a great post on racism being perpetuated by some British Airways employees on flights as well as airports. Atul told a tale of an Indian lady and how she was humiliated on both in-bound and out-bound flight on British Airways. If it is true and gathers a critical mass of visibility on the internet and blogosphere, this issue can be a public relation nightmare for British Airways and may cost it big enough in terms of money and reputation.

Frankly speaking, this online lambasting of poor customer service is a good thing. If it gains momentum – I am sure it will – very soon companies will take notice of this phenomenon and strive hard to make their customer responsiveness and service world class. The motivating factor is simple – punishment is more painful than the pleasure of reward so it is better to avoid punishment.

This current trend of going online with all grievances against companies is going to make companies sit and take note. Complacency has no place in this networked world with free and super fast information. Either you are loved or you are hated but you cannot be left untouched. While this silent revolution is a boon for consumers, it is also likely to become a headache for companies. Companies now will have an additional front to manage to keep reputation intact.

Moreover, there is a dark side as well to this online lambasting of companies. It can also take the form of propaganda by people of malicious intent as well as dirty minded competitors. It is very likely that even good companies with excellent service get wrongly targeted and their names besmirched on internet and in blogosphere. How are companies going to ward this off? How are they going to manage the fallout of this kind of malicious propaganda? Companies will have to think of the ways to guard against any kind of false propaganda done against them.

One way out for companies who believe in excellence is to make their customer service transparent and online. This way everyone can see for themselves how good the company is on customer responsiveness and service front. Moreover, transparency and openness will ensure that propaganda of malicious people gets defeated at their own game. It will also act as builder and protector of company’s reputation as a caring company. But for that to happen, the company must first make its service and responsiveness world class and be confident of its abilities to deliver consistently. Otherwise it would be a bigger disaster if it is caught on wrong foot. Well, it is a double edged sword! And of course, it is not for smug companies who stay in the cocoon with their grand illusions of invincibility.

It's high time now for companies to give up their imperialistic attitudes and wake up to the new age realities.


  1. navin harish // September 1, 2006 at 6:16 PM  

    It is surprising to find how many peple have had a very bad experience with Tata Indicom Broadband. I searched the net after my bad experiences and found it to be full of people annoyed by Tata Indicom. Here is what happened with me.
    Customer in King? My a%$#.