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Dipika Pallikal incident brings lack of empathy by brands to the fore

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Dipika Pallikal incident brings lack of empathy by brands to the fore

The much-debated incident of Arjuna award winner Dipika Pallikal suing Axis bank on account of loss of reputation and humiliation suffered by her, has been doing the rounds the last few days. The incident took place in 2011 in Rotterdam wherein her debit card transaction did not go through, although there were adequate funds in her account.

Against the backdrop of this episode, exchange4media explores how it has affected Axis Bank’s reputation.

This incident evoked some comments from Pallikal’s fellow players, on India and her creditworthiness. What followed was Pallikal paying with an alternate card and a series of  unpleasant experiences with the bank, which did not credit her account with Rs 100,000 cheque she had deposited, and returned the cheque (stating ‘not drawn on us’) later, citing technical error for the same.

Following which Pallikal filed a case in the consumer court. In its affidavit filed in the court, Axis Bank stated: “The very fact that the complainant is not able to take the slightest disturbance would prove that she lacks the requisite mental toughness of a world champion.” The brand attributed the card failure to an act of God.

This stand of the bank to blame a seemingly able sports player for not being resilient and competent enough to handle a card failure is what has evoked surprised responses from customers. 

In such a scenario, whilst Axis Bank can spend huge budgets on campaigns such as ‘Badhti Ka Naam Zindagi’, positioning itself as one that helps a consumer at every stage of his life, it is highly plausible that incidents like this tarnish the much-worked for reputation of the bank in a consumer’s mind.

“Issues such as this ruin reputations. Axis Bank is in the news for the wrong reasons due to this Dipika Pallikal issue. The issue seems to be one of non-performance as far as the bank is concerned. I do believe the bank needs to make the best efforts to solve the matter amicably and explain to the complainant the reasons for mal-performance! Unfortunately, instead of solving problems, our banks are typically very defensive in most cases. This comes through in case after case. That is an attitude that needs to change,” opined Harish Bijoor, Brand Expert and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults.

The question now is no more about one failed transaction; it is about service recovery, which, in this case, the bank has been clearly unsuccessful in doing.

“The incident does indeed affect the bank’s reputation, not only because of the fact that Dipika is a player of repute, but the same would have applied to any other customer. Admittedly, the problem could have been technical; however, the card was from Axis Bank and the problem occurred, which resulted in embarrassment for her and the country at large. The bank should not have taken such an aggressive stand, more so because her mother tried to get in touch with the bank in India. The bank could have approached the problem far more generously and resolved the issue,” stated Sandipan Ghosh, Assistant Vice President, Marketing, Ruchi Soya Industries.

The incident raises the fundamental question of empathy by a bank towards its account holders. The bank cannot take refuge in the statistical average of success of earlier transactions, having failed in one crucial transaction. In this case, the account was linked to a debit card, which is her own savings. In essence, it is the easiest way to access one’s personal savings; so it also comes with some level of emotional connect.

“Service brands have to live up to the promise they have made to the customer. It is called service recovery. How you make it work in your favour and make the customer happy is the challenge, but it is not impossible. In fact, talking to the customer and addressing the issue resolves half the problem. The key is to use dissatisfaction and turn it to customer delight,” observed Mayank Shah, Group Product Manager, Parle Products.

After all, it is an era of managing consumer relationship, where consumer is the king and brands do everything in their power to win over that one customer.

Why would Axis Bank want to risk losing a customer like Dipika Pallikal remains a mystery. Social media has added fuel to the fire and this incident has been under discussion by millions of people, resulting in consumers questioning the Axis Bank imagery in their minds. People are passing judgements that are clearly not in the bank’s favour.

As Bijoor concluded, “Most judgements are unfair. But that is the reality of all branding and de-branding. The perception is sadly more important than the truth. Therefore, such instances and incidents are best amicably explained and sorted to the satisfaction of the aggrieved consumer, rather than allowing it to escalate. Consumers can afford to have egos. Not banks! Not brands!”


Kranti Gada joined the family business at Shemaroo in 2006 after a successful stint of over two years in marketing at Pepsi Co. She has been associated with the company for 12 years.

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