Facebook Ok PleaseAny relatively smaller brand seeking brand recognition, in one of the largest emerging economies, can learn from Finnair. At the time of writing this post, the video of a Bollywood dance performance from the Finnair cabin crew is at more than 4 million hits.

You can color me skeptical on the implied cabin crew grassroot initiative. Nonetheless, this video now viral on social media, has probably earned Finnair more publicity and goodwill in India, than any billion dollar commercial ever could.

With Facebook touting India as one of their largest markets in the near future, there are obvious benefits to hitching on to the Indian social media marketing bandwagon.  However, it is not clear that businesses in India are ready (like many businesses elsewhere).

Most social media efforts I noticed, during my recent visit to India, were heavily influenced by traditional outbound marketing methods, rather than relationship building strategies.

Companies seem to be using social media as uni-directional promotional tools with little thought to other opportunities. An example was my experience with cleartrip.com and Jet Airways.

Social vs. ‘Policy’

I admit, it wasn’t my shining moment when I booked a round trip from Chennai to Mumbai, instead of the other way around. However, I did phone cleartrip.com within 10 minutes of the erroneous booking.

Rather than rectifying the issue, I was told that the only way around the problem was to cancel. I had to pay a penalty too – half the fare of the round-trip!

Reason? Airline (Jet Airways) ‘policy’! The ‘policy manual’ was apparently, pretty much carved in reinforced concrete.

My tweet pleas to @cleartrip and @jetairways were met with similar responses. On the forums too, cleartrip.com staff were clearly playing by the dreaded ‘policy manual’. Emails to Jet airways were apparently forwarded to the ‘concerned’ department (thanks Web Manager, Mr Chandra Swamy, a glimmer of hope…you deserve a raise).

Ultimately someone, somewhere, decided to play fair. My protests across these channels seemed to have the desired effect. I received a refund (minus nominal penalties) from cleartrip.com, after about 3 days. The cleartrip.com team deserved praise (duly tweeted) for finally tearing down that ‘policy’ wall.

However, the damage was done. Multiple opportunities to retain my business, by phone and via social media, were squandered. I re-booked my trip via makemytrip.com, careful to avoid Jet Airways.

Social media marketing myopia

There is no rule that prohibits a twitter team from assisting a customer. If anything, the real-time benefits of social media allow departments to work together and react quicker to customer service and brand perception issues. A pass the buck to the other department game is dangerous when negative sentiment in a tweet, video, facebook update or blog post can go as viral as any Bollywood dance performance.

Social in a marketing only approach is pretty much doomed. The speed and transparency inherent in social media has made it ever more important for interdepartmental cooperation. This fact is still lost on many businesses.

Businesses have to be able to look beyond the ‘Like my page and do my contest’ approach to social media. There seems to be room for leadership, and rewards, for those who can turn things around.

Anyways, my opinions have probably been biased by my singular negative experience. Any examples of Indian businesses that are using social media effectively, across multiple customer touch points?



  1. Hi Jacob,

    I am one of Cleartrip’s founders and I’ve read your post with some interest. My personal thoughts on your experience are probably “biased”, like yours, due to my position.

    To summarise the incident:

    * You made a mistake while booking a ticket. An unfortunate mistake, but nevertheless a mistake which came with costs attached — the airline’s cancellation fees, lost payment gateway fees etc.
    * After some back and forth with Cleartrip and the airline, Cleartrip agreed to let you cancel the booking and waived the fees for you. In effect, Cleartrip shouldered the financial costs for a mistake that was no fault of theirs.
    * As a reward to Cleartrip for shouldering the costs of your mistake, you took your business elsewhere.

    What should a company, like Cleartrip, take away from this?

    * That “playing fair” when there’s social media involved implies that customers have zero accountability for their own actions?
    * That even after “playing fair”, a customer will take his business elsewhere, so, why bother?

    At Cleartrip, we try very, very hard to do right by our customers. We hope that customers will recognise that and reward it. If customers respond with entitlement instead, because we live in a world with Twitter and Facebook, then what does it teach a company to do?

    Aside: Cleartrip have never used social media as a marketing podium alone — we actively serve customers through it every day.

    These are my personal thoughts and should not be construed as anything otherwise.

    1. Hi Hursh,
      Thank you for your time and detailed reply. I do agree that it WAS an error that I did make during the booking. You are of course entitled to your opinions as I am to mine.

      As regards what your company should ‘take away’ from this? Since you asked for my opinion.
      1) As mentioned I called within 10 minutes of making the error. I was not told that you would look into the issue. I was explicitly told that the ‘airline policy’ dictated that I had to cancel my booking. Pay the fees. Obviously unwarranted from where I stand, especially when it was said the fees are ‘refundable’ with minimal cancellation fees, if cancellation is before 24-36hrs before the flight. Did you mention *playing fair* in your reply to me?
      If you look at your forums, you will see that my flight was booked for the 11th of Jan and my phone call to your team on the 6th of Jan.
      My question to you: would you pony up more money to a company if you were in this situation? Would you pay the disproportionate cancellation fee and then book again with the same company? Honestly?

      2) I had to meet a client and could not wait indefinitely for an answer that would or would not come. If your Customer service team by phone, forums OR by twitter (see the conversation on timeline), had at any point assured me that they were looking into the matter, I *may* have reconsidered taking my business elsewhere. Infact, this blog post would have probably given you credit for it.

      3) Until your reply to this post, I had no idea if it was my protests to cleartrip.com OR my letters to Jet Airways that actually produced the desired outcome. No one in your organization notified me that *anything* was being done about my complaints. All the impressions I received clearly pointed *otherwise*. When your team finally notified me (via forums, on the 8th, when they could do so by twitter where they expressed helplessness too), I did commend them publicly (see my twitter timeline as well as your forums)

      I suspect better training for your staff would resolve all these issues, but leave it to you to decide for yourself where the problem lay and, I hope, help your customers get the most out of the cleartrip.com experience, in the future.

      Though your reply tends to paint cleartrip.com as a ‘victim’, the fact that you did reply here helps me decide that I will give your company another chance. I will also let all the folks (many of them your clients), who have read my original post, know that it was cleartrip.com that resolved the issue for me. Thank you for doing so.

Comments are closed.