Friday, November 21, 2008

The problem with banks and social media

I've been doing some thinking recently about the different ways corporations of varying types could use social media as a way to reach out and communicate more openly and effectively with their customers, staff, shareholders, and the community. I've been thinking about it in the context of extending the brand values of the organisation into social media and what it means for different organisations to be 'authentic' in their engagement. And I've been thinking about how to make that social engagement a consistent part of the overall brand experience.

And I keep running into problems with two particular types of organisations: Government; and Banks.

Government & Social Media
There is so much that government - at all levels - can do with social media. The possibility for engagement with the community around policy development, social justice, customer service and law reform is just incredible; and that's without getting into the campaign and electioneering side of things we've seen recently (that's more politics than government, though).

The problem I see with Government using social media revolves around policy. Policies are formal statements of the government department's position on a particular topic. Policies are concrete guidelines, and as such aren't really open for interpretation or discussion. Which makes it hard for front-line departmental staff to communicate openly about issues except by quoting the relevant policy.

So while there's a lot of potential for Government to use social media, they also need to put in place a strategy for handling situations honestly, openly, and with real intent to listen.

Banks & Social Media
We put a lot of faith in our banks. They hold our mortgages; they hold our cash; they transfer money to other companies when we ask them to, to pay off our bills, or donate money, or simply move funds around.

We need to trust our banks; all our financial institutions. And as we've seen recently, that trust is both critical to the smooth operation of our financial markets; and incredibly fragile. Social media, and the increased level of engagement that comes from it, places that trust at risk. At least, that's how it looks when you let all of your front-line employees - any employee - interact with any customer, or potential customer, in an open and transparent manner.

I mean, as much as we like the idea that our bank will be honest and own up to making a mistake; what we'd prefer more is a bank that doesn't make mistakes in the first place. The thing is: I know they sometimes make mistakes. Sometimes systems screw up; people get the process wrong; hit the wrong button; type in the wrong amount; and the wrong amount of money ends up in the wrong account.

What I'd prefer, when that happens, is that they be honest with me. You know - own up to their mistake, and tell me what they're doing to a) make it right; and b) stop it happening again. Seth Godin put it like this:

"I'd replace the expensive sponsorships and buildings with something more valuable, quicker to market and far more efficient: people. Real people, trustworthy people, honest people... people who take their time, look you in the eye, answer the phone and keep their promises. Not as easy to implement as writing a big check for the Super Bowl, but a lot more effective." - Seth Godin


So yes, it's difficult. And yes, there are risks. But if you keep screwin' with your customers: taking their money; making a huge profit; not being honest with them; and not providing good, honest service... they'll join a community bank; or go somewhere else. And you'll have no-one to blame but yourself.

1 comment:

Daniel Szuc said...

Good post. I would be happy if both Govt and banks would improve customer service. Get the basics right first and then perhaps they can start looking at ways to build up an ongoing rapport with their customers/citizens.