Social media replacing customer service channels at banks: report

If you're trying to get your bank's attention over a major issue (such as $5 ATM usage fees), social media might be a better way to do it these days. But there are risks, according to a new study.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

Social media is replacing hotlines and long wait times as the new and preferred customer service channel -- especially when dealing with financial institutions, according to a new report from Javelin Strategy & Research.

Based on recent events, if you're trying to get a bank's attention over a major issue, social media is a pretty constructive and actually direct way to do it these days. Just look at the firestorm that erupted when Bank of America tried to instill a new $5 monthly fee for making purchases with a debit card.

But, as with any type of sensitive information being tossed around online, there are significant risks with this route.

Javelin defines the risks as twofold:

  1. "The large majority of Americans have strong misgivings about mixing personal finances and social networks, ranging from 4-to-1 resistance against receiving updates about promotions and discounts to 9-to-1 resistance against reviewing or receiving account balances."
  2. "Banks engaging in social media must confront fundamental issues, such as how to balance responsiveness and regulatory compliance, how to handle private conversations in public places, and how to effectively direct customers to information."

Basically, 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. This is one of the many hurdles in the way for mobile payments as well.

But when it comes to discussing financial records back and forth on Twitter or Facebook, things definitely become more dicey, and it would be interesting to see how both parties would tackle this issue.

Javelin surveyed Twitter, in particular, as researchers defined it as "a lightning rod" when it came to customer service interactions at Bank of America, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo.

After following approximately 6,000 customer service interactions on Twitter these three banks regarding a number of issues (i.e. backlash over debit fees, Occupy Wall Street, etc.), Javelin found that social media still has a long way to go in becoming a viable and reliable customer service option.

Specifically, the most common reason as to why consumers did not receive a response might have been their own faults: they typically misdirected tweets to the wrong bank Twitter handles. (Although, in their defense, it turns out that the Twitter verified account label isn't always so reliable itself.)

Nevertheless, only a fraction of customer service interactions on Twitter were actually resolved, but they were usually responded to with scripted answers.

As someone who has used Twitter for very minor customer service questions, notably with airlines such as Virgin America, JetBlue and Southwest, direct messaging on Twitter sometimes works.

But if you have a really detailed problem but you still don't want to wait on the line, an email could have more potential. The social media alternative to email really would be Facebook at this point in time if the banks staff social media managers who can regularly update their Facebook company pages and respond to emails quickly.

Again, that also depends on the sensitivity of the message, which Facebook might not be secure enough to handle yet.


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