Joining the conversation

As their customers embrace the likes of Facebook and Twitter, many FS companies are finally embracing social CRM. Glynn Davis reports

Challenger bank Atom is not only building a mobile-first operation, but it also has a social media-first attitude towards how it communicates and engages with its customers as opposed to relying on traditional marketing channels. Mark Mullen, chief executive at Atom Bank, says: “The most logical route for us is to use social media for our marketing and communications. We’ll be a social media-first company for communicating rather than using 96-sheet poster advertising!”

He admits that a major advantage of being a young operator in the sector is that Atom does not have the problem of “trying to retrofit social media” into its business, which can be an issue for established financial services firms. “We’ve got greater legitimacy using social media because it is all about culture and values and the banking industry has a big problem with culture, values and brand reputation,” he says, adding that this makes it easier for Atom to engage in conversation with customers on social media platforms.

As a social media first company he says the bank will benefit from its communications being kept simple because he reckons it will help it when building its products. For starters they will have to be describable in short-form on social media – a mere 140 characters on Twitter.

“It will force you to build simple products. The problems of the banks have been because their products have not been well designed. They would do well to build them simpler and then service them down social media channels,” he suggests.

Although now an established player first direct still maintains a challenger stance and so it too is embracing social media – to the extent that Karen Walker, customer services director at first direct, notes: “Companies have stated that they’ve done social media, whereas we want to be a social business.” To date this has involved building a team of social responders – where customers comment and first direct responds – and a listening team that uses Radian6 and its dashboards to collate conversations that helps highlight any issues that arise.

“Social media offers us the opportunity to engage with our customers, build relationships and create advocacy. We can share our brand and what we stand for and let everyone know about new and exciting things quickly and easily, involving our customers at every step. It’s a great way of finding out what our customers are thinking and we use that feedback to shape our future products and services,” explains Walker.

However, the difficulty of social media platforms is that the company has to “sometimes take a conversation offline”. This may be because a question is a little too complex or simply because the company wants to talk to the customer in private. “When this happens we always let the person know why we need to talk in private. But it’s not ideal as they originally chose this route [to communicate].”

Walker also acknowledges that for undertaking any “transactional” activity there is not yet a secure method for first direct to do it over social media. This is being addressed and she reveals it is a major part of the company’s social business strategy that will be implemented over the following year. Paul Johns, chief marketing officer at Conversocial, agrees it is important not to have to move customers off their preferred channel of communication, which he says is increasingly the social media platforms – because it is quick and convenient. “Companies should stick to these channels to resolve issues as it is more dynamic and visual. More people will then come to the channel with genuine questions.”

But Johns adds that it is imperative the right people are assigned the tasks of communicating with customers. Although marketing have traditionally owned social media he says questions should ideally be answered by trained contact centre employees who are effectively the equivalent of sales people in the company.

Conversocial has helped the likes of Barclaycard to set up dedicated teams to deal with what have been increasing volumes of people using social media to communicate. Johns says that only a couple of years ago a mere 5-10 per cent of call-centre volumes were from social media-based queries but now it is more like 25 per cent. As well as the volumes increasing there is also a strong ROI case because he suggests well trained agents can deal with up to five customers at the same time on social media compared with only one-at-a-time on the phone.

This is made possible by automating social media posts, based on rules, topic tags, language and prioritisation, whereby they are diverted to specific agents. Conversocial also has a Clipboard tool that agents can use for FAQs, which again helps them speed up their ability to respond. A new development from the company is its Crowds product (that is initially being used by Google Pay), which helps financial services firms build-up unpaid advocates of their products. These individuals answer the questions from other customers over social media and their reward is to build their brand equity based on the scores they are assigned by the financial services firm.

Although banks have not necessarily been the front-runners in adopting social media many have been invested in ‘listening’ type technologies and Johns says “they now have no choice but to be [more] involved in the conversation”. Robin Collyer, marketing and decisioning specialist at Pegasystems, agrees and suggests that although there remains a great amount of uncertainty around how financial services firms should best deal with social media the reality is that they are all aware that they need to take into account what is being said about them (and their products) in the marketplace.

“The core of Pegasystems’ decisioning brain is to take into account all the things understandable about a customer – including social media channels. They need to listen and monitor sentiment,” he says, adding that social media is a good way to highlight transparency. A lot of money goes into restoring the trust of the banks and better transparency would be a proxy for this. Listen furiously and adapt your products to this and also reduce the goal to sell and instead look to get higher up Trip Advisor-type scores,” says Collyer.

The focus is certainly on listening rather than promotion, he observes, adding that: “For most financial services companies it’s not a sales channel. You can’t send picture of a mortgage [on Instagram].”

While this is true for now, the way social media is developing and the likes of Atom Bank are looking to rock the boat, who knows how soon such activities will be a possibility. But before the industry becomes too hyped up by the promised opportunities, Collyer warns that companies have to be very careful not to be tempted to over-focus on these channels – especially as they are typically used by the well off demographics.

“A third of them are affluent, or emerging affluent, so clearly they are a key group but there is a danger of over-focusing on this grouping. Companies have to recognise it as just another communications medium – one that’s very personal,” he suggests, in a cautionary tone that the rest of the industry will no doubt take great comfort from in these times of revolution in the sector.

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