An interesting post on Pluggd, this morning – Of Flipkart Vs. Homeshop18 Tweet Controversy and A Question: Do brands own their employeeâ€™s tweet? – read it first, before going into my post. The crux – it seems a Flipkart employee had purchased a book from Homeshop18, cancelled it and when it was delivered, questioned and abused Homeshop18 on its Twitter feed.
Without going into the names in question (the Flipkart employee and most importantly, the employee who handles the HomeShop18 Twitter handle, who remains anonymous here – it would seem unfair to name them in public since both the actions may be impulsive and not fully intended, for reasons I explain below), the first thing I was left wondering is this – when or how did Twitter users come to know that it was a Flipkart employee who was disgruntled and abused Homeshop18â€¦enough to start chatting about it on Pluggdâ€™s forum!
Interestingly, it turns out that it was Homeshop18 that exposed the employment status of the Flipkart employee, though the said employee had Flipkart right on his Twitter bio.
The exact tweet template where Homeshop18 brought Flipkart into the picture was,
“@<customer twitter handle> …<logical response to customer’s annoyance>…& we can see from the order details that you are xyz @flipkart .com”
This is an interesting turn, at least in my opinion. So,
Line of thought #1
Flipkart or not, that person is a customer for Homeshop18. If Homeshop18 starts looking into the employment histories of its customers (a mere Google or LinkedIn search would do!), then they could name the employers of many other rivals, online or offline (say, Dialabook or Crossword or Landmark) by calling out their Twitter handles, when things don’t go well. In this case, there was no search required – the Flipkart employee had his identity quite open – on his Twitter bio. But, the point is, Homeshop18 identified him, at least going by their tweet, through his email ID (and not the Twitter bio), where, again, he had not made any overt attempts to conceal it.
Line of thought #2
Flipkart employee could be intentionally maligning Homeshop18, so it perhaps made sense to nip things in the bud by exposing him. I have often been asked by clients how we would deal with rival brand employees landing up on their Facebook pages (that we manage) and cause trouble. This is one way, which, incidentally, I don’t subscribe to. More on this, towards the end of this post.
What happened then?
Since Flipkart was @mentioned specifically, they tweeted an apology to Homeshop18′s Twitter feed and asked their employee to apologize too â€“ unnecessary, in my opinion and as Pluggd points out too – that’s the main point of their write-up. Homeshop18 accepted the apology and offered to help the Flipkart employee as they have always claimed. In fact, they had been handling the case really well, by isolating the sentiment (abuse) from the crux (the order was placed on Day 1, was dispatched by Homeshop18 on Day 2 and was cancelled by the customer on Day 3 – resultant chaos was the issue) and explaining how they can help and what information they need from the customer. It was a fantastic display of customer handling, under pressure.
Where it went wrong, at least in my view, was this entirely unnecessary instance of tagging the customer’s employer.
I’d like to bring another blog post of mine here, in context – Can companies use employees as its online cheerleaders? – and this pertains to yet another e-commerce player, Myntra. In the referred blog post’s case, the person was not acting as a customer (resulting in a transaction), but as a normal blog commenter (resulting in an opinion). I’d assume that when an opinion is involved, a disclosure may be a bit more appropriate to place that opinion in context. The disclosure may not be needed, at least in my opinion, when a transaction is involved.
To explain that, let me extrapolate the incidence to an offline example. Assume that a Reliance Digital employee goes to Croma to buy a gadget. If he’s merely buying something there, I’d think that there is no need for him to tell Croma salespeople that he’s an employee of Reliance Digital. But if he has an opinion on the way he is being handled/treated there, I’d consider it important enough to tell them his employment status first and then offer the opinion – that adds context (whatever it may be) to his opinion.
Coming back to our main plot, here are the brass-tacks.
- Abuse by Flipkart employee was inappropriate.
- Homeshop18 handled the issue extraordinarily well till they decided to namedrop their intelligence.
- Flipkart was quick to apologize â€“ quite unnecessarily â€“ and making the employee apologize as well
- Homeshop18 accepted the apology swiftly and offered to continue to help the customer
There is another angle to this as well.
Homeshop18 was on a pedestal, here. They had everything right – perfectly valid reason that it can explain to an irate customer, a great set of tweets that did the explaining and a piece of information that it could use to bolster its stand (the fact that the customer was a Flipkart employee).
Personally, had I been handling the Homeshop18 Twitter handle, I would not reveal the Flipkart connection of the irate customer, over and above the practical reasons explained above. The other reason would simply be…grace. They were on the right side of everything and namedropping a rival almost amounts to dragging the rival into a street brawl. From then on, the issue gets colored into a Homeshop18 vs. Flipkart, but in essence, it was and should have always been a Homeshop18 vs. an irate customer. If at all, it may have been other Homeshop18 Twitter followers who may have pointed out that the irate customer in question is a Flipkart employee. Even if they did, the best response, from a customer service and PR point of view would be, ‘It doesn’t matter. He’s our customer first and we treat all our customers in a fair manner – this customer is no different and we will strive to solve his issue and make him happy’.
But again, this is just my personal take, considering the customer’s abuse (completely unwarranted) was not generic and was very specific to a transaction. If it was generic, that was the question I referred to earlier in this post – generic, unwarranted attacks by rival brand employees on a client-owned property – in my opinion, they do not deserve any response.
Facts always speak louder than counter attacks and rhetoric. And, a customer is a customer, no matter how much or what you know about him/her. There’s technically no end to digging information about a customer and using it to our benefit – we do that all the time in a positive sense, to delight customers, while making that information digging as less creepy as possible. It is when using it in a negative sense that brands may need to exercise caution.