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How Airtel handled a crisis situation and came out on top

Amid accusations of bigotry and calls for a boycott, Airtel stuck to the facts, followed due process and didn’t let itself be baited by a public outcry

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Recently, Airtel found itself in the middle of a social media backlash when it was accused of giving into a customer’s bigoted request. The incident unfolded when an Airtel customer took to Twitter to voice her problem. A customer care executive named Shoaib first addressed her concern. The customer replied to this saying she wanted a Hindu representative to handle her case. Incidentally, the next executive to take up the customer’s issue was named Gaganjot.

Although it was the result of an automated process, it did not go down well with Twitterati, who assumed Airtel had bowed down to the customer’s bigoted demand. People blamed the telecom brand for not chastising the customer for spreading hate and called for a boycott of the brand.

But amidst the outcry on social media and fledgeling accusations, Airtel seemed to do everything right to come out on top of the crisis.

Firstly, the brand did not let itself be baited by the public outcry: Despite calls for boycotting the brand, Airtel took its time to gather facts and respond with more information.

In the official statement released on social media, Airtel explained how, in the interest of providing the best service, the first available service executive always responds to a customer’s query. The detailed statement released by Airtel reiterated this fact and dispelled any suggestion that the brand stood for discrimination on any grounds.

A more critical takeaway in all this is how Airtel stood by its employees, particularly Shoaib and Gaganjot. First, when they responded to the irate customer on the day of the controversy, and later when they issued an official statement on the matter. This had largely quelled all outrage accusing them of not being supportive of their employees.

Expectedly, their official response was met with a few disconnected opinions as well, which dismissed the explanation entirely. Perhaps the boldest move to tackle the controversy was to take these disjointed opinions head-on and allow themselves to be audited because the brand strongly believed that the facts of the case were indisputable.

Another positive outcome of the situation, which would have otherwise gone unnoticed, is how Airtel responded to all genuinely concerned customers, even if it meant responding in Hindi so that no information was lost in translation. Today, when even smaller towns in the country have increased internet penetration, it is crucial for a brand to reach out to the last-mile user and Airtel ensured that it kept everyone in the loop.

There’s a lot to learn from Airtel’s management of such a crisis. Cases of customers denying services from people belonging to other faiths are not new. A similar incident occurred with an Indian taxi aggregator brand in April earlier this year. For brands, it has become challenging to handle such situations in an effective manner. In the case of Airtel, their extensive experience and honest approach helped to come out on top.

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