How Fear of Social Media will Kill Big Business

Keith Timimi, Chairman, Qais Consulting
Keith Timimi
Chairman, Qais Consulting

We get to meet a lot of great business people, and one of them is Keith Timimi, a Singapore entrepreneur, founder of Qais Consulting and part of the 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.

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.

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 FacebookKeith 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.

“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.”

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.

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Kind regards

Andrea Edwards

Managing Director


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11 thoughts on “How Fear of Social Media will Kill Big Business”

  1. Well done Andrea! I believe you, and Keith, are bang on spot with the issues that big brands are facing using social media. Hope that SIA can take on-board the practical constructive feedback !

  2. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  3. Debra Bordignon

    Hi, do you think SIA are scared of social media, or do they have a roadmap for their online channel that involved a first step of site re-vamp (which is not good I agree), to be followed perhaps by embracing more interaction / collaboration and social media? Just a thought. I imagine they did some analysis of their customer segments and built their intent around that….or on the other hand, did they just get sucked in by a pitch about web site bling and thought that was ‘innovation?’

    1. Hi Debra, thanks for taking the time to read and feedback. It’s a great question, but I’m going to dig deeper to get the best answer for you. Will revert when I hear back.


    2. Hi Debra, I asked Keith his opinion of your question and he said that until the big guys at SIA make a decision to embrace social media, then it won’t be embraced. It’s a very hierachial culture, as is typical in Asia, but so far, no indication that a road map is in place to embrace social media. The lack of top level response to the Facebook page is an indication of this. It’s certainly well overdue a response from someone senior who can reassure customers, so I suppose we’re all wondering why and when they’ll do something about it. Someones got to take the bull by the horns here right? Will be curious to see if or how it’s handled.


  4. I must say I’m surprised at SIA, not least since love/hate neighbour Malaysian Airlines has been establishing itself as an outright social media leader. Their MHBuddy Facebook app is a beautiful tool, allowing people to plan and share travel details with their social network. Malaysian Airlines also seem to be very active in social media talking with their customers. Singapore has been bested here, and very publicly too – MA is held up as a great case study around the world.

    1. Hey darls, thanks for reading and commenting. I agree, I was surprised too but there you go – proof is in the pudding. There’s some really interesting stuff going on (or not going on) in this space out here that’s for sure. BUT you’ve reminded me to check out your blog – it rushed by on Facebook the other day and haven’t had a chance to go back and find it. Cheers, Andrea

  5. As of Dec 13th, Tony’s got 135,796 followers… and I’m one of them now.
    Interestingly, he’s only following 35 people.

    I can see he’s into F1 (Team Lotus) and English football (QPR’s his team, I guess.)

    What about his opposite number(s) at SIA? Any of them on Twitter?

    SIA was my first experience of an amazing customer service experience on an airline… back in 1991, during Gulf War 1, we were rerouted over Iranian (!) airspace between London and Sydney.

    I do hope they haven’t lost their mojo…

  6. Pingback: Digital Success in Asia Faces Unique Challenges | SAJE… Communication

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