World over, financial institutions have been at the receiving end of a lot of negativity and suspicion. Corporate greed has resulted in large scale protest movements in developed countries. Financial institutions have always portrayed a stuffy image of men in pin-striped suits with humorless personalities. The recent financial meltdowns have, however, underscored the need for a sea change in the attitudes of banks and other financial institutions.
Financial companies have been traditionally wary of the nature of the Web. Indian financial companies are no exception. This leaves the digital user to wonder why banks don’t ‘get’ social media. India is a country with multiple communities, cultures and conversations. So, why aren’t brands taking out time to get to know the consumer and communicate with them? Why do financial institutions only promote their products on their pages? When was the last time anyone got an SMS from their bank asking them to like/follow them on Facebook/Twitter? Why isn’t Youtube being used by corporations for information dissemination?
In this article, I try to explore some simple ideas that financial institutions can adopt to understand and/or potentially leverage the power of social networks.
Proactive versus reactive
Example of a Reactive Interaction : I tweet about bad service in a bank. The bank responds with a tweet.
Example of a Proactive Interaction : The bank asks its users/followers for suggestions on service improvement for a particular branch.
Most banks would balk at the idea of having to deal with their large set of customers and management of queries. However, they should realize that there are enough and more examples of service brands that manage a large number of followers and create a community around them.
How about an account for conversations alone? Shakespeare famously said, ‘ What’s in a name’, but names matter. Banks need to stop looking at old fashioned terminologies as ‘names’ for conversations. I doubt if customers want to have a friendly chat with a Twitter account that has clearly positioned itself as a point of contact for complaint resolution.
Some International examples who are proactively interacting with their customers are brands like @airbnb and @simplify. The first is a service brand that matches people looking for vacation rentals with willing hosts and the second is a bank in Portland. Both treat their Twitter accounts like a community manager. Take the example of Indian service brands like @yogurtbay and @gostana. They don’t use their accounts as a complaint addressing tool but as a means to understand customers. So it’s not just a brand building tool but also a window to conduct research.
If a brand can generate conversation, create a story and delight people – that’s a ‘viral’ story in the making! Why should a bank tweet about product creation alone? It could tweet about the ecosystem around the branch. There are so many branches that Indian banks have. I am sure each branch has a success story or a story of fulfillment that they can talk about.
According to Aditya Sengupta(@sengupta), an avid Twitter user,
‘It is essential for a bank to be proactive in nature. If a customer is really livid, they are going to blast the entity on the internet; most businesses simply try to move it offline (and often fail miserably, particularly with the really pissed off customers). Not only is it a good idea to address these issues online because of these customers, it is a good idea to deal with every issue online since it actively shows other followers that you are actually doing something about this’
If you notice, banks usually attempt to take the complaint offline by requesting the customer’s phone number by DM.
When @sumants, a digital marketing professional, tweeted about ICICI Bank credit card charges, they responded with an impersonal “thanks, we’ve forwarded your feedback” message and started the waiting game.
When asked what would be an ideal response, @sumants replied : ‘I haven’t received a response as yet. A reply explaining why I faced the issue, along with the next steps would be good. A phone follow-up is ideal.’
If you go through the Twitter streams of Indian Private banks, it reads like a customer service account — which is probably what they want to do with the medium. However, @icicibank_care could probably explore hiring, mapping customer trends with this particular account. In reality, we would love to know if banks have derived consumer insights using social media. Is product failure being measured with the number of negative tweets? Are banks taking parody accounts or hate accounts seriously? (Just try googling for ‘I hate ICICI Bank’). Social Media should not be restricted to just Facebook and Twitter. In ICICI’s case, they have a considerable number of negative reviews on Mouthshut.com.
In the case of HDFC Bank’s Twitter presence, @hdfc_bank and @hdfcbank_offers are two separate accounts seemingly created for two purposes. However, the bio suggests that @hdfcbank_offers is the official Twitter account of HDFC Bank. They might want to rethink the content for the bios or clarify the purpose for either account.
Blogcamps and Tweetups
A tweetup or a blogcamp organized around a relevant topic like ‘The Eurozone Crisis’ or on ‘Tax Planning’ would work well to build an offline connect with the janta. The bank could probably rope in an influential blogger or an employee of the bank to discuss economics or important financial news. When the bank moves out of its domain of brick and mortar services and seeks to simplify matters of importance, it sends out a positive message.
Top management on Twitter
Customers who have access to CEOs on social networks are happy to see that the company’s top management is not afraid to speak in a public forum. It’s heartening to see @anandmahindra retweet complaints related to his products. Addressing a problem in a public forum is recognition of the problem in itself. It is also a proclamation that the brand is not above the public. Organizations that talk to their users/followers without any bias (people who are not necessarily customers of the brand) come across as more approachable.
Blogging about the industry
A blog that talks about the basics of banking adds value to a customer’s financial reading. For example, when the RBI announces a rate hike, its impact on banks and customers can be depicted in an illustrated format.
Most educational material is in video format today and if the future of the university is going to be online, then banks might want to bridge the gap from being just safe-keepers of money to safe-keepers of knowledge.
Design of the website
If you visit the websites of most banks you are bombarded with product offers. It’s like a cluttered marketplace with lots of graphs, numbers and fine print. The website is never designed so that a user can spend more time on it.
‘Any website should be excellent in navigation. It must tell the user three things at all times :: where you came from, where you are, where you can go.
Banks must expect users to commit errors. Therefore the site must keep prompting them with useful nudges ,warnings and suggestions when they perform tasks. The site must also give room for error with provisions to rectify or at least suggest the next course of action on error. No fool-proof system must under-estimate the capacity of a fool to outsmart it’
Additional reading as suggested by @krishnamusings : The Sugata Mitra Project which explains how curiosity can lead to self-learning in the absence of a teacher.
There will be a time in the digital revolution where financial products will be co-created with the help of customers. There is a strict regulatory framework that prevents the public from being involved in decision-making.
When the lines between technology, community and culture blur, there will be products that could be created with the help of the customer.
It is understandable for financial institutions to be cautious in their social approach, but some simple measures in the digital space can ensure a better experience for customers. When you are trusted with something as important as a person’s entire life savings, it’s imperative that financial institutions reach out to customers and create communities.
Note : @sumants just confirmed on Twitter that the matter was resolved by ICICI Bank after a few days.