Go Social – Or Die

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This interview is part of a series of discussions with Singapore-based thought leaders on the art of communication, carried out by Andrea Edwards, CEO of SAJE, a content, communication and events agency. You can see the full series at the SAJEideas blog.

This interview is part of a series of discussions with Singapore-based thought leaders on the art of communication, carried out by Andrea Edwards, CEO of SAJE, a content, communication and events agency. You can see the full series at the SAJEideas blog.

We get to meet a lot of great business people, and one of them is Keith Timimi, a Singapore entrepreneur, the founder of Qais Consulting and part of the EconomyWatch.com team, and so we sat down this week and discussed various things, but a couple caught my attention. Here are my conclusions of Keith’s unique perspective on building a successful business, with social media, a core part of any effective communication strategy.

Businesses today are living in fear of social media. There is a tremendous fear of failure, and that is leading to inaction. What many business leaders don’t realise is that inaction is also a choice, and those companies not embracing social media are getting hammered. 

There are a lot of companies we could talk about, but let’s take Singapore Airlines (SIA) as an example – a company close to Keith’s heart. This is the airline that established itself as the best in the world at customer service and the first to embrace new technologies. For example, SIA were the first to put individual TV screens for every seat in economy class and the first to order the A380.

Yet where are they with social media – nowhere. What had been SIA’s unrelenting focus to deliver the best customer service seems to be gone, and they risk being left behind, as well as being put in the “dowdy, un-funky” category. Not the SIA of yore.

SIA recently launched its new Website and it has been an unmitigated disaster. The Website looks “better” but the functionality is a debacle. Due to these issues, the SIA call centres have been swamped and because customers are unable to get through, where do they go? 

They go social. The only problem is, the SIA Facebook Page is not “owned” by SIA, it is owned by fans who set up the page and has over 97,000 members. 

As such, there is no senior SIA spokesperson, and what was a fan page has become a place for people to vent. The problem is no one is responding to or addressing their concerns. You have to check out the complaints…

So the SIA Facebook page is now a place for disgruntled customers, and because SIA don’t have a policy for dealing with these situations, they are getting pulled to pieces.

Take a look at some of the comments on the Facebook Page yesterday – Thursday 16th June 2011:

SIA customers pummel Facebook

Keith is a bit baffled that SIA launched the new Website in the first place – “didn’t they test it before taking it to market? Is customer satisfaction, usability and customer support online so unimportant?”

And apparently he is not the only one, as thousands of fans have been asking the same question.

Keith comments on customer satisfaction because that is what Qais Consulting focused on in their pitch to SIA. He said they were essentially thrown out of the room because their pitch wasn’t “innovative” enough. Qais presented a detailed process that centred around a series of small incremental changes SIA could make that would improve the process of researching, booking and checking in to flights.

It was not Innovation with a capital I, but a process of lots of small changes, like greying out dates on the calendar for dates on which flights were not available before the user entered their details for a price and availability search.

[quote]“We knew from experience that by testing and combining thousands of usability improvements, both customer satisfaction and revenues would go up. A change of 0.5% in a conversion rate can mean hundreds of millions of dollars to the top line. But instead of taking that approach, it seems that SIA went for some vague notion of innovation, did not test the results – and that has now cost them hundreds of millions of dollars.”[/quote]

As a result of their focus on innovation for innovations’ sake, SIA are suffering. They have taken their eye off customer satisfaction, they have taken their eye off true technology innovation (which is about building intuitive capability), and as a result, they are being exposed as an organisation that cannot deal with tough situations and deal with them quickly. If they were open to social media, had developed guidelines and policies, communicated with all of the disgruntled customers when they started ranting on Facebook, they might be in a different situation now.

Another airline in the region that is embracing social media is Air Asia. The CEO of Air Asia, Tony Fernandes, turned this once government-owned airline around and it is now one of the most successful budget airlines in the region – it’s a great business and customer success story. The other thing is Tony is social, very social. He has 77,000 followers on his personal Twitter page @tonyfernandes, sits with delegates and tweets in conferences, spars with equals and his ethos has carried down throughout the company. His policy is serve the customer, and to him, being social is part of that service. You can also check out his blog.

How companies deal with social media now – who plays and who holds back – will see companies winning and companies losing in the future. The implications are just starting to be felt, and as social media will define how business is going to be done in the next 20 years, businesses need to change, or they will no longer be around. Consumers now have a real voice AND they have choice. It is time to take that seriously. Governments are finally learning that lesson. There are many governments in the Middle East who would certainly agree with that at the moment.

SIA is a fantastic airline. They were the first to achieve the gold standard for an airline brand. Their customer satisfaction has been unparalleled. Their Website booking facility will remain core to their business success. However, if they continue to put ‘Innovation’ above customer satisfaction, these accolades will fade away.

Social media is a challenge and an opportunity for business. Anyone in business understands the true challenge. But Keith considers one thing very important, and it’s also close to his heart. All creative business thinkers of the future will be engaged in a dialogue with their customers and stakeholders; therefore you cannot rule this community by edict and expect creativity. Edict will kill creativity. Now is the time to change the way we think and work, and all businesses need to get involved in social media somehow.

Keith recommends that companies create social media policies that nurture a social environment focused on creativity, one that enables people to think for themselves, and allows people to express their opinions in a brand-appropriate way.

If you don’t do this, the message is clear – you don’t care about your employees, you don’t care about your customers and you risk not being around in a future where business is done differently.

Keith said so much more, which I may write up for another blog, but that’s a good start. So get on board people, it’s here, it’s happening, it’s the way business will be done, so thanks Keith. I loved the frankness.

About Andrea Edwards PRO INVESTOR

Andrea Edwards has worked in marketing and communications all over the globe for 20 years, and is now focused on her passion – writing. A gifted communicator, strategist, writer and avid blogger, Andrea is Managing Director of SAJE, a digital communications agency, and The Writers Shop – a regional collaboration between the best business writers in Asia Pacific