Guest Blog Post: Can social customer service lead to loving your bank? The first direct Future of Banking debate

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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. Giles also commented that his customers and staff are often happier using social channels like Twitter for simple issues, due to the short-form question and answer format.

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. JP Rangaswami, Chief Scientist at Salesforce agreed, and furthered the argument for using social channels to solve issues: customers can often feel “tied in” and frustrated when they’re waiting on the phone for a customer services representative – whereas on an asynchronous platform like Twitter, customers are free to do other things while their issue is being dealt with by their bank.

Breaking Down Silos 

Natalie outlined first direct’s approach to training their staff to solve customer issues – their goal is to ensure that the customer has only one person handling their query, rather than frustrating callers by passing them through multiple agents with no information sharing. Empowering individuals across the organisation to deliver great customer service like this involves breaking down some of the traditional siloes in corporate structure and information sharing practices, a key theme in the report produced by Social Business consultancy It’s Open on behalf of first direct (see “the rise of the social customer”, the report on which the debate is based).

Fairness for all Customers

There were some great questions from the audience – Annie Shaw (@CashQuestions) asked if delivering customer service quickly through social channels marginalises customers who don’t use those channels – for instance older people who don’t use Twitter.  JP replied that empowering the teams inside an organisation with access to the information to solve the customers’ issues 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 investment into service channels should be balanced according to customer demand.

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.

JP outlined that the right to be forgotten will lead to more and more complex data sharing questions and legislation as social business progresses – citing examples of photosharing  when the image includes more than one person – currently the rights around tagging don’t fully protect that individuals right to remain anonymous.

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, 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 (see first direct lab as an example of this open approach). 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 edited footage from the event, hear the full audio of the debate, take a look at the twitter stream, or read the full report, commissioned by first direct, into the rise of the social customer.

Written by Amanda Brown, Head of PR at first direct.


Digital Communications Assistant , Chinwag


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