ABU DHABI For nearly two months Pakistani expat Kashif Naeem chased the customer care service of a bank in Abu Dhabi to reverse an overcharged credit card payment. When numerous calls and emails proved a futile exercise, he took to Twitter and ranted.

In less than 20 minutes, Naeem got the first response from the bank – a tweet asking him to provide his complaint reference number.

“I got a call from the bank’s customer service team the same day, and the amount was credited to my account within 48 hours. That is the power of social media,” said the graphic designer.

Indian Sindhu Prabhakaran had a similar experience when a tweet worked where conventional customer service platforms failed.

He said: “My telecommunications provider overcharged me on my phone’s data roaming package while I was in India. Calling the customer care did not work. But when I tweeted, the charges were reversed within 20 minutes.”

Both Naeem and Prabhakaran’s cases show how social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are becoming the new complaint box for disgruntled customers in the UAE. And a highly effective one at that with customers getting instant results as companies and service providers with thousands of followers on Facebook or Twitter dread negative publicity.

As Anishkaa S. Gehani, managing director of Yardstick Marketing Management that handles social media for many high profile corporates, says, “Social media gaffes and complaints are like open wounds – left alone, they are sure to fester and cause long-term problems.”

“So we don’t let it happen. Our motto is - address the issue immediately, keep the rants from increasing and blowing over, and keep our responses kind and professional,” said Gehani.

She said companies cannot afford to ignore a social media complaint as word of mouth has been, since the time advertising came into play, the oldest and most effective way to advertise the virtues of a company – and also its flaws.

30-minute response time

Agreeing with her is Ashwin Gedam, vice president of marketing for XPRESS Money, a global money transfer company with 170,000 agent locations across the world. He said as a policy the company responds to all comments within 30 minutes and works towards resolving the issue in two-three hours with the help of the customer support team.

Elaborating on how social media complaints are great feedback for companies, Mahmoud Khalil, digital and social media manager for Quest Arabiya, the newly launched Arabic television channel said, “It is a great way to engage with our audience and it gives us a better understanding of what they want to watch on the channel. Since we launched, we have been using social media as a listening tool that connects us with our audience and helps us in forming our programming grids based on comments that we receive about different shows.” The channel has more than 265,000 followers on their Facebook page.

With the UAE witnessing phenomenal growth in social media users in the recent years, more and more companies with huge customer bases are relying on it for customer care issues. They either have an internal team or an external service provider who alerts the related department every time a complaint or a negative comment pops up on social media. After the initial response, the issue is followed up through emails and calls.

According to statistics released by Global Media Insight, the UAE has seen 23 per cent growth in active social media accounts since January 2014. There are over 5.4 million active social media accounts in the country, which is more than 56 per cent of the population. The figure is higher than Canada, Germany and South Korea.

On an average, UAE residents spend close to 3.6 hours on social media.

YOUSPEAK: Have you ever resolved an issue through social media?