It matters little whether you’re a shoe retailer or an online bank, if your brand operates a social channel, consumers will want to talk to you on it.

As I discovered in last week’s investigation into how 20 top UK retailers handle social customer service, the most successful brands are the ones that are not only quick to respond, but also genuinely helpful and clearly written with personality.

This is all well and good in retail, where perhaps it’s more acceptable to adopt a more relaxed, fun tone of voice, but how difficult is it for a financial services brand to not only maintain an efficient customer service channel that fully complies with banking regulations that’s also human?

Today I talked to senior communications manager Amanda Brown at First Direct to gain some insight into how the online and telephone based bank handles customers on social. 

Afterwards check out my own investigation into how 16 retail banks handle social customer care.

Can you tell us what you feel are the benefits of providing social customer service? 

One of the key benefits has to be that it offers customers a quick and easy way to have their questions and issues answered. On most occasions a query can be answered with no need to call or log onto internet banking to send a secure message. The majority of tweets received are answered in less than 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. 

Do you think customer care should extend across all social channels? 

Personally no because an organization would need to ensure that they can explore a conversation with a person within a social space, not all sites such as snap chat would permit this. 

Do you think customer service teams need specific training on how to deliver customer care on social? Do you think the same team should handle all enquiries regardless of channel? 

Training is vital for anyone handling queries via social media not only to ensure consistency in the service being provided but also consistency in brand tone so a customer know they're talking to first direct whether they're calling us on the phone or contacting the bank in social channels. 

It's essential that responding teams are passionate about giving customers a great experience every time they contact you however, there are different skills associated with responding in different channels so our teams currently don't handle calls and digital channels at the same time. 

At first direct do you have an optimum time for responding? Is there a certain tone of voice, or adherence to personalisation that your team is required to adopt? 

We always put quality over quantity and promote this across the team and so don't have a target to respond to a tweet. We do however expect that every tweet to be handled on average within 15 minutes and on most occasions the average response time is 10 minutes. 

The responding team all adhere to our brand guidelines, this ensures that the team responds and represents the brand for what we stand for. Just like a telephone call we love to build rapport with our customers and show our human side. 

How do you handle more sensitive enquiries (such as ones where account details and security info is needed)? Do you find that customers mind being moved to a different channel for this?

When we have to speak to a customer about more sensitive topics we take them offline and ask them to send us via email their name and postcode so that we can locate them on our systems and call them back. Our Bio on twitter states that we will never ask for any bank details and may only ask for name and postcode, this manages expectations from the outset. 

We do find that the majority of customers understand why we need to take them offline and are happy to be called by us. We find this is well received mainly because we explain our reasons for doing so. 

We make it clear that the same person who has tweeted them is the same person who will call them back, we ensure that it is clear we are taking ownership for the query through to resolution which helps the transition from twitter to telephone.   

Do you have any best practice tips for other companies wishing to improve their social customer service?

We have found that a quick response with a genuine human approach to help and service is the best way to help. We have built a strong service reputation, which means pulling out all of the stops to help our customers.

Training is key; we spend lots of time with our team ensuring they are confident to handle any queries. We have seen great results from training provided. Investing this time pays dividends to the service our customers receive.

Taking ownership is also good practice, if we receive a query that we are not able to easily resolve we will assign this to one person who will see this through to resolution.

Here at first direct we have a “no machines” approach, social customer service is no different. We do not copy and paste any content for our tweets and we make sure that all of our replies are bespoke to a customer query. Treating every tweet with a human touch, genuine warmth and showing that we care is key to the success of our resolution.  

For more insight, find out what social customer service is really worth in statistics.

Our Festival of Marketing event in November is a two day celebration of the modern marketing industry, featuring speakers from brands including LEGO, Tesco, Barclays, FT.com and more.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 29 September, 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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