Last month first direct launched its @firstdirecthelp Twitter feed, to provide customer service support through the site.

Though it’s early days for the bank famous for its innovative use of social media (specifically first direct live and the first direct Labs) – we take a closer look at the things it’s doing right.

To provide some context, first direct recently released a study into the new challenges brands now face in terms of providing customer service. Within, it highlighted that over 44% of adults now use the web to share grievances about products, with customers expecting to interact with companies online and get a speedy response. 

The study also flags @ASOS_heretohelp and @BTcare as shining examples of best practice, which the bank seems to have drawn from to run @firstdirecthelp. 

The timing of the decision to open a specific customer service channel on Twitter supports our own coverage of the topic, with Yomego MD Steve Richards explaining why ‘social customer service’ will come of age in 2012 just last month. And on the same day, Sitel research said that more than 15% of 1,000 adults within the UK aged 16-24 prefer to interact with customer service on social media than any other method.

Combine this with the fact that as Generation Y grows up, turning to social will become the norm – and comScore reporting that ‘Millennials’ (those born between 1981 and 2000) now control $170bn in the US alone - it’s time for brands to take note.

You can read more about first direct’s study within last month’s guest post from first direct’s head of brand and communications Natalie Cowan, on the rise of the social consumer.

The ‘why?’

first direct PR manager Amanda Brown told us that the bank has historically attracted early adopters who are naturally technologically savvy. Having started the journey of meeting customers when, where and how they want to – social media was an area it needed to develop.

Our PR stream had provided an opportunity to keep a look out for customers needing support but realised it needed its own dedicated resource, which it now has.”

She added that since the bank was the UK’s first direct banking system, it needs to work hard at communicating with customers in a different way.  

As new communications channels have developed such as the internet and text messaging, we’ve adapted those communications to make sure we keep the essence of how we talk to our customers to keep that differentiation, it’s what we’re famous for. As we’ve been developing fdhelp the same principles have applied.”


First direct is very clear within its biography what the feed is for.  The only thing we’d additionally like to see is a big ‘follow us’ button on the bank’s website. There’s a Facebook button there (see below), and so there should be a link to the @firstdirecthelp feed.  Even though first direct told us that it hasn’t promoted the feed as of yet with any PR support as it wanted it to grow organically, it’s no good having the channel there if nobody knows about it.  



Each tweet has initials of the person responsible, the only thing we’d have to add is that it’s not clear what these represent. There’s no link to a team page, or inclusion of a who’s who in the feed’s biography

Being proactive

The feed doesn’t just respond to queries, it’s monitoring Twitter for people with complaints/issues and is reaching out to them proactively.

The bank says that it doesn’t answer every tweet, as some people aren’t necessarily asking for help, just voicing an opinion, or even just saying hello. But of those that genuinely are looking for help, it aims to answer 100% of the queries. 


Personable, reasonable and fair. Language used isn’t overtly formal, but it’s professional – and doesn’t contain even the slightest hint of ‘we know best’.

Taking things ‘off Twitter’

When it gets to a point, 140 characters isn’t enough to discuss technical details, private information – or dealing with an upset customer. The suggestion to have a customer email the team via is used wisely, and regularly to ensure that the feed isn’t dominated by one person’s troubles.



The feed contains a mixture of advice, links to product pages and basic customer help – with more humorous anecdotes and a few jokes with customers. This conversational aspect is key to helping people trust the feed, and use it as a way to interact with the bank.


Though a customer wouldn’t know this, the team running the site are the same team that run first direct’s internet banking queries –  and monitor and respond on its Facebook page. Since these people have already learned how to create relationship with customers in the digital space, there’s adding consistency in messaging – as well as a confident voice that’s certainly apparent.


The feed is upfront and truthful about its operations, often stating that it has no plans to change certain aspects of its T&Cs or the structure of its statements. It’s so easy for people to now research these things, and find out if the brad is telling the truth – this is a vital aspect of running a successful customer service feed.