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How difficult is it for a major company in the financial services industry to maintain an efficient customer service channel that fully complies to banking regulations whilst also operating in the public eye?

Richard Atkinson is the assistant VP of social media and incident management at Barclaycard. Yesterday he was interviewed by Joshua March, CEO of Conversocial during Our Social Times’ Social Customer Service Summit 2014 in which he revealed how Barclaycard has worked through it's regulatory and compliance issues to provide high quality social customer service

These are the main takeaways from their conversation. 


When Richard joined Barclaycard in 2011, he was the first employee to get involved in social customer service. At the time, Barclaycard was receiving around 10 messages per month directly from customers on social. A further 100 people were ‘mentioning’ them in indirect conversations.

That figure has now increased to 100,000 messages directed to Barclaycard per month and 1m mentions in Twitter conversations. It expects these figures to double by next year.

Social media at Barclaycard began as mere PR, now it’s a viable customer service (CS) channel. It began by utilising its existing social channels to move into a more customer-focused area. The PR team at the time were becoming increasingly used to fielding CS questions via social. 

As a credit card company, you can imagine that the volume of letters, messages, complaints and queries directed at Barclaycard is very high. If there’s an open channel, a customer will probably use it. Of course, as soon as Barclaycard Twitter account started answering CS questions, the more came flooding in. It soon became unmanageable.

The PR team’s focus was shifting away from a marketing role to a customer service role, so they realised they needed to get the actual Barclaycard customer service team integrated into the social channels, so they could back to PR.

At the same time, the customer service team were realising the value of using social to interact with customers and were making internal enquiries as to how they might achieve this within Barclaycard. In 2011 a role was set up to bring these two traditionally siloed teams together. 


For a bank to commit to engaging in a public, social space is a massive undertaking with a lot of internal trepidation. It’s a very regulated environment, so there’s a lot more to think about in the planning than perhaps other industries have. Before the new social CS model was rolled out, planning began a whole year in advance with a dedicated team working on it full-time.

At the time Barclaycard’s regulator was the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and there was nothing for social media in terms of existing regulation. There was however a 500 page document on how to deal with complaints via other channels.

To reassure their colleagues in Compliance, Richard and his team decided to review page-by-page every single piece of legislation and compliance requirement for traditional channels and lay them over the top of their social media strategy to essentially tell the compliance team that they’re doing the right thing.

It main requirements that the team had to comply with were mainly based around dissatisfaction. Complaint handling, which can be anything from branding, marketing or quality of customer service. Also data protection was understandably a major issue, in particular dealing with secure information for customers within a public channel.

Another issue that became a high priority is brand reputation. If a bank has a bad brand reputation this can cause much larger compliance issues further down the line. 

Complaint reporting for social media is the same for any other channel. If a customer complains by telephone, that complaint is recorded and published across the financial services sector. This is also true of social channels. If Barclaycard chooses to operate in a channel where customers expect to be serviced, they will also expect for their complaints to be recorded.

When Barclaycard publishes a Twitter handle, it treats it with the same compliance as a published telephone number. 

The FSA didn’t initially engage with Barclaycard in offering advice for social media, instead Richard’s team proposed their strategy to the FSA and discussed their approach. Presenting the FSA with a business case for social customer service.

The kept in constant communication with the FSA right from the start, ensuring that any eventualities would be covered. The basic approach towards compliance was that, if it’s necessary for telephone CS then it’s necessary for social CS.

Official industry wide documentation on social media compliance would be published by The FSA soon after.

Persuading the senior executives

Senior executives at Barclaycard were heavily encouraged to attend a workshop on social media. It simply presented real life social media examples of customer issues regarding Barclaycard to the executives. These were examples of customers directing complaints towards the Barclaycard Twitter account, being ignored and then engaging with other Twitter users about how they’ll never use Barclaycard again. Chilling stuff for any board of executives.

Role-play situations were played out, where issues were addressed in a timely manner and showed how brand reputation can be spared the damage. After this, testing time was allocated to the team, and they were allowed to take the strategy further.

Senior executives also have screens in their offices feeding Twitter conversations in real-time, so they themselves can check and monitor progress. Although rather than showing all of the tweets, Tweetdeck style, Richard’s team uses an API to feed Twitter conversations and their responses into a dashboard to avert any senior level panic that enquiries aren’t being responded to.

Regulated social media 

Banking or credit card companies cannot ask for account information on Twitter or Facebook, not even via private or direct information. So customers have to be directed to a secure email channel. Not inherently social of course, but it does mean that the customer can safely provide information that will give the CS advisor access to their account. 

The one negative about compliance is that customers are required to channel-hop if they wish to discuss secure or sensitive matters. However Barclaycard ensures that the customer has the same CS advisor throughout the experience, no matter how many different channels are used.

Within working hours, Barclaycard’s end-to-end response time is under an hour. Barclaycard’s response time to a tweet is currently an average of 12 minutes. Even if the initial enquiry is via a tweet, the outcome may not necessarily be delivered via the same channel, but it will be delivered human-to-human in a relatively short amount of time. Barclaycard would argue that it doesn’t matter if there is some channel-hopping if the customer is satisfied with the experience and outcome. 

For more on social customer service from the blog, check out David Moth's report on Next and Argos's multichannel customer service.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 14 May, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (1)



I think banks need to either have great social media communication or ignore it altogether. I've been trying to communicate with my bank for the past week via social media and although I had a few responses at first they've stopped replying which just makes them look inadequate.

over 2 years ago

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