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Can social customer service lead to loving your bank?

15 Feb 2012

  • Social Media Week 2012: Social Customer Service Panel Debate

    Social customer service panel for banking, hosted by first direct for social media week 2012.  A thought-provoking discussion on how using social media to service customers can lead to a closer relationship between banks and their customers.  Panellists included Natalie Cowan, Head of Brand at first direct ; JP Rangaswami, Chief Scientist at Salesforce...

The first direct Future of Banking: Social Customer Service event brought together key figures from the Financial Services and social business industries on Valentine's day to discuss the changing face of customer service in a socially-enabled world. At HSBC HQ, perhaps not the most romantic of Valentine's settings, 6 panellists, chaired by Liz Lumley of Finextra, covered customer trust, relationships, engagement and even love.

The debate began with customer appetite for a social relationship with their bank- as Zopa's Giles Andrews succinctly put it 'the evidence that people want social customer service is that they use it'. Zopa's transparent approach to customer service is fundamental to their business, evidenced through Zopa Talk; a forum where customers support customers. Zopa's approach to answering customer queries on public channels is the more open, the better - showing the organisation has nothing to hide.

Open, Adult Conversations

first direct 's Natalie Cowan and HSBC's Lauren Anthony reiterated openness and humanity as key factors in social customer service - if the problem is simple enough to be solved in the open, and the customer services person has the right information to do it, then they should be empowered to solve the problem there and then on the customer's chosen channel, communicating 'adult-to-adult' to establish trust. To empower individuals across the organisation to deliver great customer service involves breaking down some of the traditional siloes in corporate structure (see "the rise of the social customer", the report on which the debate is based).

Fairness for all Customers

Annie Shaw (@CashQuestions) asked if delivering customer service so quickly through social channels marginalises customers who don't use those channels - for instance older people who don't use Twitter. JP Rangaswami, Chief Scientist at Salesforce replied that learning to empower the teams inside an organisation means they can effectively service across any channel. Lauren confirmed that this is HSBC's vision - to create seamless multi-channel customer service across the organisation. No-one should be denied quality of service, and channels should be balanced according to customer needs.

No Surprises Approach

Questions of customer data protection and privacy came into play, fielded by Bridget Treacy of Huntons - the panel agreed that being approached by a brand in a conversation in a public space can be quite 'creepy', but Bridget's rule of thumb on how to approach this as a brand was 'no surprises' for the customer - they need to feel trust that their data is being protected and their privacy being upheld - they should not be surprised by their bank's actions in the social space.

Customer-centric Approach

JP's future vision of social business is that customers will give their data as an emblem of trust in the relationship, and that enterprises must respect this, learning more about each customer's preferences, engaging them over time in dialogue which deepens the connection. His long-term vision is that eventually, truly customer-centric services will be available, where multiple providers will work together to produce a unified dashboard (for example - all investments) for the customer.

Return on Investment

When asked the inevitable ROI (Return on Investment) question on using social media to deliver customer service - JP framed his answer with 'what is the ROI of a water cooler? Or restrooms? ' - companies make these investments without working out a direct return. Often it is a small group of early adopters within an enterprise who increase productivity by using new technologies to solve problems, then that practice is rolled out across the organisation.

What about Love?

The final audience question, and right on theme for Valentine's day, belonged to Kirsty Weston from Emankina - "Can the banking industry use social media to help regain consumer love?" Natalie responded that first direct , with their reputation for great conversations with customers (social media being an extension of traditional phone conversations) regularly interact with customers who 'love' their bank. The panel agreed that it's only a few brands that garner this affection - it's a combination of trust and brand engagement. first direct empowers their biggest asset, their customers, to create and innovate through new products and services. When customers feel the bank is listening and responding to their needs, social connection can turn into love.

Further Reading

For further information on the debate, why not check out the footage from the event, take a look at the twitter stream, or read the full report, commissioned by first direct , into the rise of the social customer.

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first direct, the UK bank that has won plaudits for its engagement in social media, has taken another step towards becoming the UK's leading 'social bank' with the launch of a new Facebook page, facebook.com/firstdirect.


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We've always loved to chat, which is lucky being a telephone bank!  But we wanted to give our customers the opportunity to talk back and let us know how they really feel about us. With this in mind we recently launched our new acquisition campaign - "Live".  It works by taking everything that's said about us online, from over 8 million forums...


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