One of my favorite reads is Bankervision, and author James Gardner had the audacity to go public with a Twitter-is-a-stunt-for-banks stance, releasing a firestorm in a teacup as Twitter defenders and bank bashers both rose to the challenge of commenting.
Some of the points made are interesting, though, so let me see if I can distill the main arguments.
- Banks that hang with the cool kids want to be first on everything. They like getting attention from social media mavens and marketing gurus
- Unpaid media is a compelling value proposition, but you have to be first to get any benefit
- Twitter is not economic for reaching thousands of customers with relevant messaging, because you'd need a roomful of people tweeting to do it
- It's a lot like virtual worlds -- looked important, but off the radar at the moment
- To invest real development time, banks need to see a real money business case
- Twitter experiences a lot of user churn - a lot of people go dormant after a few weeks
- Bank innovators should focus on mobile
- Twitter is more about listening than talking, if you are an institution. Case in point here.
- Twitter may not have reached critical mass, but it's way too soon to write it off
- Twitter is part of social media, and if you are going to be relevant to your customers, you need to find a way to be relevant in social media
- Twitter opens a channel to pass on good stuff, and limit the damage from bad stuff (Remember the Domino's viral video situation)
- Twitter has more utility when you add a bunch of other tools like Tweetdeck, Twhirl, Twitscoop, Monittor, etc
- Bankers just don't get it
- Virtual worlds that require a huge software download and big investment of time are not comparable to razor-thin Twitter apps that take almost no time and are totally mobile
Okay, I think you get the picture.
Among the more interesting remarks made on both sides is the challenge of scaling up such a system to communicate with customers.
Let's consider customer wants
The part that I think is getting short shrift here is the underlying desire, need or want. [I know, I do go on about that, don't I?]
Yes, banks and others need to monitor Twitter. But if that ever became a primary communication channel, something is seriously wrong. I do think that the banks running a help line on Twitter are probably doing a good thing. I monitor a few of these, and I don't see them getting that much traffic, and what they are doing is redirecting the enquiries, for the most part.
Long before the internet, a disgruntled customer could call their local newspaper columnist or local TV consumer reporter with their gripe. And the company would get right on the problem and fix it. This did not mean it was a primary communication channel.
Since that time, banks have made many changes. They have standards of customer service, much better quality control and quality tracking, faster decision turn-around, and many other service improvements at banks. And ombudspeople as a last resort.
Social media have a democratizing effect: it means small voices can more easily be heard. They help balance out the power imbalance of one customer versus a big institution.
The scaling thing is still a big issue
Regardless of what the communication channel is, people want more access to institutions. They want it fast, and they want it convenient. They don't want to be on hold for half an hour. Call centres were certainly scaled up to provide more convenient access. And a few institutions do a good job with e-mail, which has got to be a demanding operation, and fraught with potential problems.
Twitter seems to offer possibilities for alerts
Relatively few banks offer customers feed services for things like rates. This would appear to be a good application for Twitter. What about campaigns and promotions, announcements of new locations, all that sort of stuff.
Or maybe an automated system should tweet me about the status of my application.
Lots of other innovations are possible using these new channels.
[Note that what I am suggesting here would also work well or better on mobile. And probably be more secure]
Most consumers expect banks to innovate first in helping them stay on top of transactions and money. They expect a lot less in the 'cool' department than they do of brands like Virgin Atlantic or Pepsi.
We are all trying to figure this stuff out, for ourselves and our clients. Thanks James for putting on a nice show over there.