Digital Banking Summit | June 2-4, 2014 | Los Angeles

When Customers Seek Help on Twitter, Banks Fall Short

Banks have been experimenting with customer service on social media platforms like Twitter since at least 2009 — the better part of three years. So how are they doing? Can social media replace traditional customer service channels at banks? What challenges face financial institutions using sites like Twitter for customer service? Are consumers willing to conduct banking activities through tweets?

These are among the many questions Javelin Strategy & Research tried to tackle in their report, “Banking and Social Media: Easy to Say, Hard to Do.”

In their research, Javelin analyzed nearly 5,500 tweets sent by three of America’s biggest banks — BofA, Wells Fargo and Citi — involving replies to customers who had contacted them on Twitter. (Chase was excluded from the study because they are not active on Twitter.) Javelin specifically broke down how many customer service issues were resolved entirely with tweets vs. how many were diverted to other channels, like email or call centers.

“Social media is not a replacement for call center or in-branch interaction.”
– Mark Schwanhausser,
Sr. Analyst/Javelin

The research found that none of the big banks did an exceptionally good job of resolving complaints on Twitter.

Citi did the best job responding to customers via Twitter. They provided direct answers and successfully resolved customers issues using just tweets alone 36% of the time. Wells Fargo and Bank of America lagged far behind, with 11% and 3% resolution rates respectively.

That doesn’t necessarily mean customers’ complaints weren’t ultimately addressed elsewhere, but they were not resolved via Twitter — the customer’s chosen means of communication. Or perhaps it means big banks struggle to help customers period, regardless of channel.

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Twitter Becomes a Lightning Rod

Javelin’s study included three separate research components: (1) the analysis of 5,489 public tweets, (2) an examination of 300 full Twitter conversations, and (3) an online survey of 5,000 customers. The research was conducted over a seven-week stretch from September 20 to November 10, 2011.

This period happened to coincide with Occupy Wall Street protests, the huge backlash over BofA’s $5 debit card fees, and Bank Transfer Day. What Javelin found was that Twitter became a lightning rod for angry customers, with tweet volumes jumping threefold at big banks’ customer service accounts.

A separate study by The Financial Brand revealed that two-thirds of all banks and credit unions are already on Twitter or plan to launch their account soon.

Customers Blow Off Steam, Banks Respond With Canned Tweets

Customers turn to Twitter to vent, usually when something has gone wrong. Optirate’s Serge Milman says this is like a customer hopping on Twitter to send the bank an SOS.

“Social media is best for blowing off steam,” noted one journalist at US News. “People like to complain online for a reason: it’s an effective way to quickly announce to many people why you are frustrated with a company.”

“Large banks have a long history of poor customer service, regardless of channel.”
– James L Belcher

That’s why Twitter has become a popular customer service option. People who have already encountered poor service in another channel feel that Twitter is there only hope to get a response. It’s nearly impossible to reach a real human being at big banks, but on Twitter customers feel there’s at least some chance of interacting with a live person.

And how do banks respond? With canned tweets. Javelin’s research showed that the majority of Twitter replies big banks sent to customers were scripted messages. Even though banks’ Twitter service reps address only a fraction of issues raised on Twitter, they generate repetitive answers. Usually, the bank uses service jujitsu to shifts the burden of next steps back onto customers.

That’s why David McMillin at Bankrate.com believes Twitter will be “far too impersonal to act as a customer service department for some account holders.”

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An Annoying Extra Step

The Javelin report recommends that — whenever possible — banks should try to answer customer questions directly on Twitter. And experts tend to agree. The general guideline: answer customers’ questions within the channel that the conversation was initiated, whether that be Twitter, email or phone.

And yet that’s not how most big banks handle customer tweets.

“Resolving most issues via Twitter is essentially impossible.”
– Serge Milman, CEO/Optirate

Kimarie Matthews, a VP in Wells Fargo’s Internet Services Group, says to get customers the answers they need on Twitter “sometimes means connecting a customer with someone from Wells Fargo who is not on Twitter. And in some instances, to protect the privacy of the customer, an issue is taken offline.”

BofA spokeswoman Tara Burke said her bank’s approach was similar to Wells Fargo’s. “After initial contact we take the issue off-line to protect the privacy of the customer,” she said.

Sairam Krishnan, an authority on social CRM, says “Twitter should be a tool to save the customer’s time, to aid his convenience, and not as yet another step to conventional customer service.”

Indeed customers are bound to get frustrated if redirected to a service channel they’ve already tried. But maybe consumer expectations are unrealistic? After all, is it really even possible to handle sensitive banking matters on a third-party social platform?

“Anybody who understands the complexity of banking and the associated privacy rules will recognize the resolving most issues via Twitter is essentially impossible,” says Serge Milman, CEO of Optirate.

A Viable Service Channel?

According to Javelin’s research, the large majority of Americans have strong misgivings about mixing personal finances and social networks. Only one in six said they would be willing to receive updates about bank promotions and discounts. Far fewer than that — less than one in ten — said they would be willing to check their account balance through a social channel.

“Social media is not a replacement for call center or in-branch interaction,” says Mark Schwanhausser, who authored the Javelin research report.

Schwanhausser, Javelin’s Senior Analyst specializing in financial delivery channels, says social media is but one service option among many for customers needing assistance. “It’s not for all people now,” he adds. “And I don’t think it ever will be.”

Schwanhausser says that as financial institutions begin to participate in social media channels, “they need to be prepared to allocate sufficient resources to address and resolve consumer issues.”

Reality Check: If you’re going to be on Twitter, you’d better anticipate customer complaints and be ready to handle them… because those complaints are going to come whether you want Twitter to be a service channel or not.

Rachel King writing for ZDNet said, “There are plenty of people who are afraid of looking at any kind of financial data online, whether it be on a desktop browser or a mobile app — regardless of how safe it has actually been determined to be.”

Indeed one anonymous bank customer said, “I would never in a billion years send a tweet or post on Facebook to a bank trying to resolve an issue I may be having with my account.”

That’s why some folks are deeply pessimistic about Twitter’s role for financial institutions. “Large banks have a long history of poor customer service, regardless of channel,” said James L Belcher. “They’ll continue to provide poor customer service through whatever types of communication emerge after Twitter.”

James Van Dyke, President/Javelin, is undeterred. “Social media is the next frontier for the ‘financial institution + consumer’ relationship.”

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Comments

  1. “That doesn’t necessarily mean customers’ complaints weren’t ultimately addressed elsewhere, but they were not resolved via Twitter — the customer’s chosen means of communication. Or perhaps it means big banks struggle to help customers period, regardless of channel.”

    See, I think that’s an important point. Maybe someone was just steaming on Twitter and a rep from the banks in question contacted them to resolve it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the customer was SEEKING an answer, and if they were, they probably didn’t know Twitter was a way to get satisfaction.

    Twitter’s a heckuva thing. I love it, it’s great. But it’s not where my problem solving typically starts. And it wasn’t built as a customer service tool or a chat device or a secure bank-problem-management platform. It was built so that Party A could talk and Party B, if interested, could listen. We’ve added a lot of mystery and magic to it, but that’s not necessarily the best thing.

    If banks can’t solve every problem through Twitter, that’s a good thing. It means that those banks have a strong enough understanding of the medium to know that:

    A) It’s not secure – DMs and @ messages don’t necessarily inspire trust because they’re not inherently secure or safeguarded. And it’s not worth risking a customers account info, because if a customer doesn’t know any better (and I’m betting many don’t), they’d put their account numbers out there for the world to see.

    B) It’s not stable – Twitter has fewer and fewer “fail whales” these days, but that still doesn’t mean the service is going to work all the time. Twitter doesn’t make many guarantees because, hey, you don’t pay anything to use it.

    C) It’s not made for clarity – Think email is tough to figure? If someone’s not a great writer and has a hard time expressing his or her self, how easy will it be to figure out everything they need OR how upset they actually are about the situation? Sometimes a phone call solves everything just by gauging the tone of the person.

    I think trying to solve customer complaints solely via Twitter is like trying to build a house using only a shovel. You can get a lot done, but eventually you’re going to need another tool.

  2. Agree with Jimmy’s comments above.
    Social media tenets dictate that ideally you answer a customer query within the platform it’s made. However, when you’re dealing with sensitive customer information, that’s not always possible. It might be more interesting to look at how many queries raised on Twitter were resolved and the level of customer satisfaction as opposed to those initiated via email or phone for example.
    It’s not an indication a financial brand isn’t using social media effectively – if they’re monitoring and capturing customer questions and resolving them whilst maintaining the customer’s trust and keeping their data secure, job done.

  3. First Direct (a UK bank belonging to HSBC) recently launched a Twitter customer service account. According to some analysis I carried out http://jonathan-wright.com/first-direct-bank-leads-the-way-with-customer-service-via-twitter/ it looks like they are making a better job of it than the banks cited in the Javelin report by directly resolving most of the queries raised. They do have the advantage of being smaller, therefore making it easier to train the Twitter agents on the banks range of products & services.

  4. Twitter is not a platform for effective customer support. You can’t provide a great experience in 140 characters.

    However, what you can do is discover the unsatisfied customer and move the dialogue offline as soon as possible to enhance their experience with your brand.

  5. I second with Jimmy’s comments above too. Personally I have managed my bank’s twitter account and there were many instances where we were not able to solve their problems directly due to security and sensitive data. All is not gloomy because as what your article says, the customer is reaching out to a human, and this is precisely what we do, getting someone to reach out to them.

    By providing this channel, there is a significant impact on lower call loads, service quality level up and cost savings acheived.

  6. @Bruce – How does Twitter service reduce call volumes if customers end up talking to a service rep anyway? Doesn’t it just double the number of reps required to handle a customer — one to find them on Twitter and tell them where to go, another to actually answer their questions?

  7. If Citi could resolve 36% of the issues on twitter, wouldn’t that have an impact on call volumes? Our statistics are quite close to that too. Providing a direct answer (sometimes in a form of a URL link)on Twitter can be significantly less time consuming for both the customer and service rep.

  8. 36% take 1 rep on 1 channel
    64% take 2+ reps and/or 2 channels

  9. thanks for the excellent article. I would disagree with some of the comments being made. Twitter is an excellent channel to deal with customer complaints, issues and questions. Yes, its only 140 characters but its real time, easy to drive people to an article, or blog post, or website with a longer explanation.

    But the biggest thing is that by dealing with customers well on Twitter they can possibly create brand advocates. 5 years ago if people had a bad experience they could tell 5 people, now they can tell 5 million people very easily..Get it right though and the rewards could be great.

    We launched engagementIndex approx 8 weeks ago. it is the 1st customer care score for businesses on Twitter.. So far we have publicly looked at UK Banks, Supermarkets, Train and mobile operators and Utility Companies… You can see all the data on our website.

    thanks

    Mark Shaw
    @engagementIndex

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