June 25, 2012, 7:05 AM — Dealing with customer service via phone rarely wins companies high marks. All too often, calling that 800-number on the back of your bank card means navigating an endless, automated screening system only to be routed to an agent in an overseas call center with minimal ability to help.
So why not just skip this seemingly fruitless effort and turn to social media where you can tweet your grievances and move on? Young people in particular are doing this in increasing numbers--often receiving instant feedback, though not usually from the vendor in question. According to a survey by Our Social Times, a social media marketing consultancy, 60% of companies don't respond to customers via social media, even when asked a direct question.
Frank Eliason, senior vice president of social media at Citibank, the $19.4 billion financial services company that serves more than 100 million customers in 40 countries, saw as much room for improvement in how banks use social media as he did challenges. Too many banks offer cookie cutter customer service, he says: "When we looked at banks and social, they all looked alike. The whole challenge was differentiating the service we provide to customers."
Customer service is a crucial aspect of any business, but can be an especially delicate matter for financial services companies because of the sensitive and private information they manage and the regulations around how they do that.
Banks are already often the victims of phishing attacks and due to the open nature of social media sites, the risks there increase ten-fold. Instilling trust in customers that their accounts will be safe when they are discussed via a social network is not easy. All too often news breaks that another bank was caught up in an internet-based security breach like the September 2011 report that the Bank of Melbourne's Twitter account was hacked and phishing links were sent to account holders via direct message.
To be able to safely interact on Twitter, the first thing Eliason considered was security. He knew sending account information over Twitter could pose a massive risk for Citi and the customer. "The regulatory stuff presents challenges. Even if you send your account information via direct message, banks can't do that, it's considered private information."