Is this Gautrain-Pantless Brigade (I’ll just call the pranksters the “Pantless Brigade if that is ok with you) thing a curious case study. The whole thing makes Bombela look very much like bullies in my eyes and yet I wonder whether the company really gives a hoot what we have to say about its decision to try charge the prank’s participants with indecent exposure and then fining them for dressing improperly on the train. We’ve been talking about Bombela’s lack of a sense of humour and expressing concern, outrage and, in some instances, gratitude but all this talk on Twitter and elsewhere assumes that Bombela cares what we think about its actions and policies.
I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit and it seems to come down to our expectations that companies engage with us when we reach out to them using social media. While many companies do engage with customers on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere, many choose not to. That frustrates me but it also strikes me how arrogant it is of me to expect that a company engage with me just because I choose to engage with it online. There are compelling reasons for companies to engage with customers using social media but many companies just don’t see the value and refuse or don’t bother.
I had an unpleasant experience at The Zone in Rosebank the other day when I took a photograph of a bridge between the new and old sections of The Zone. Rather than writing another rant about malls and photographs, I posted something on The Zone’s Facebook page in the hope of engaging with the mall through that Page and I am yet to receive a response. It frustrates me but what is my recourse if The Zone refuses to engage with me? Not much really. I will still go to The Zone because there are shops there I frequent.
Bombela hasn’t responded to criticism on Twitter about its actions. In fact, it hasn’t had its Twitter account updated since 15 December. If Bombela was really interested in engaging with its customers/passengers it would have responded to the Twitter criticism with more than a cold insistence on its rules being enforced which we have seen in newspaper articles on the topic. I even have my doubts whether it is legally entitled to take the actions it took against the Pantless Brigade but it ultimately does what it pleases because challenging Bombela on issues like this takes resources which most people don’t have available to them, at least until Bombela does something so egregious that it becomes a serious threat to people’s rights and worthy of committing serious resources addressing.
Bottom line here is that if a company doesn’t engage with us in the way we prefer, we have the option to take our business elsewhere. The question is whether we will? Will Bombela’s critics boycott the Gautrain because of this incident? How much will passengers tolerate bully security and management? Probably quite a bit and people will be hauled over the coals over rules infractions in the future. There will be outrage, criticism and then everyone goes back to normal. Bombela will continue doing what it feels is appropriate.
The more I think about it the more I think that choosing to engage with customers sincerely will yield benefits for the companies that do so and the rest of the companies will simply carry on regardless because it doesn’t matter to them what we think as long as we keep buying tickets to rise the train.