K Srinivas, President of Consumer Business from Bharti Airtel shares about the online reputation management system at the  telecom giant and the challenges ahead.

Are you concerned for your brand’s offline image only? Then think again!

It doesn’t matter whether your business is present or not on social media. People are anyways talking about you and the onus lies on you to track them and address rational queries regarding your business. And if you think that by turning a deaf ear to complaints then you could be the next case study for a ORM disaster and join the party with Volkswagen India.

Or better be like Bharti Airtel and treat ORM like an insurance policy. Bharti Airtel Limited, world’s third-largest mobile telecommunications company has been setting new benchmarks in the social world. Along with designing exciting social media campaigns for its fans on various social networks, the brand has made a serious investment in efforts and money in understanding and managing online reputation.

K Srinivas, President, Airtel

K Srinivas

We acknowledge a post/tweet almost instantly. Our acknowledgement time is 10 minutes, shared K Srinivas, President, Consumer Business, Bharti Airtel.

The claim stood true by the brand when some time back I was running from pillar to post to set up an internet connection at my new flat. The power of tweets work faster than calling up the customer care these days and a study done also highlighted that @Airtel_Presence has been the most responsive telecom brand on Twitter.

Airtel has been one of the earliest pioneers in utilizing social media as a form of creating greater connect between brand and customer. Over time the brand has made a presence at arm’s length and has online presence across popular social networking sites – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn,  Google+ and 114 online consumer forums such as Grahak Sewa, National consumer helpline , CORE, Consumer Court and some privately managed 3rd party consumer forums like consumer complaints.in, Indiaconsumerforum.org etc. Additionally, the brand also has a “need help” form on the website, which also allows customers to submit queries/concerns/requests.

“We initiated our presence on prevalent social networking sites and online consumer forums in 2009.  We created a universal ID named “Airtel Presence” and embarked on a journey to manage online customer sentiment”, added Srinivas.

The back end process of ORM

Today ORM and CRM go hand in hand and the objective is beyond the regular thank you or sorry for a response.

Any mention of the Airtel brand, positive or otherwise is the first step for work to begin. The immediate step that follows is to acknowledge it instantly and then try to resolve the grievance of the customer as soon as possible.  This is not all. Srinivas also shared the extensive process which goes behind the scenes over an email conversation with me:

“Once the contact is established with the customer, the back-end team calls the customer to address his query/request. For tweets/posts which are complaints, the team calls the customer, understands the issue in detail, and resolves the complaint to customer’s satisfaction. 85% of our queries/complaints online are resolved the same day, and cases which require more back-end processing time, the team ensures that the customer is kept updated and ensures end-to-end resolution and close-looping with the customer.”

ORM tools, negative content and trolls

This extensive process looks simple on papers but when you have 122 million subscribers then you need specialized tools to monitor such a mammoth data and channel it to the right department. At Airtel there is a specialized team that handles ORM. Srinivas highlights a very crucial fact here that,

“We work with domain experts on our ORM effort and use proprietary tools in addition to analytics data. Such data is used to pick up trends and issues, and monitor sentiment towards the brand and implement course correction where required. The tools help us keep track of the pulse of our customers and prospects. ”

And what happens when there is a negative buzz going on about the brand? ORM is challenged when the times are bad and when you are in a client serving business you are always in a pressure cooker situation.

Srinivas shared that as a policy, “We don’t delete negative posts or try to get such content removed. Airtel believes that removing such content does not resolve the problem/issue. If indeed, there is an error on our part, we apologize to the concerned/affected customers and quickly work towards resolving the issue.

A great message for brands who are wondering how to tackle – apologize and move ahead. Alas! we have stories with unreasonable excuses that have turned into a butt of jokes. Along with this we all know Internet is the residing place for trolls and no matter what you do, they would be waiting to strike. But Airtel believes in doing its work genuinely and not bother much about trolls.

“We have sufficient brand loyalty and online presence to not let these trolls affect our brand image.”

Challenges ahead

However, I’m assured by Srinivas that despite making every one happy being a challenge, they are striving to do so with every passing day.

“There are obvious challenges that exist in cyber space – for example mass impact of a single tweet, one post on Facebook, customer expectation of instant acknowledgement/resolution of the concern etc.. However, we keep a constant track of ‘mentions’ about the brand online, and the social media team instantly gets in touch with the customer and ensures resolution and close-looping.“

Having being fortunate enough to wear two hats – one of a user and the other as a business on social media, I believe that addressing customer queries is a must and then the intent to show that a resolution is on it’s way will give customers a bit of respite. Airtel, as a brand is not only doing well on ORM but also bringing an entire change in the process so that customer service could be taken to the next level.

We continually examine trends in negative mentions and ensure that the customer feedback is incorporated in our products/services/policies/procedures…

Prasant Naidu

Founder and Editor at Lighthouse Insights.

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