As the world moves more towards a sharing economy, perhaps the most shared is that of personal opinions and experiences through social media. Future Banking sits down with Ellie Renshaw, head of external representation at Barclays, to discuss how social media can be embraced as a platform and everything the bank is doing to communicate with, and educate, its customers.
Financial services have had an uneasy relationship with social media to date. Despite social media's unparalleled potential for word-of-mouth marketing, retail banks in particular have all too often failed to exploit it. Barclays is a notable exception, successfully deploying social-media content as an integral part of its multimedia marketing campaigns and supporting it as a service channel.
"When we embraced social media, it was the customer that drove what we did," says Ellie Renshaw, head of external representation at Barclays. "At first, our customers were using it to talk about us. We have recognised that it's a very relevant platform for us to connect with them. It shouldn't be a one-way street."
Barclays now manages inbound messaging at social touch points and is able to support a true bidirectional conversation with customers. As well as boosting engagement, investing in social service is also a worthwhile insurance policy.
The ease with which complaints and frustration can be expressed on social media has made many consumers temporary media stars - to the dismay of the brands concerned. By answering questions quickly and dealing with any negative comments, the brand message stays positive.
"I look at customer advocacy and how you create advocates through excellent problem and complaint resolution," says Renshaw. "We're not moving away from our traditional channels or forcing customers to go in a different direction. It's more about offering choice and flexibility in how customers interact with us."
Feel the presence
With a presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, Barclays has picked a handful of networks and supported them well rather than trying to be present in every social-media space. The first two are the critical ones for the consumer business, with Barclays-owned pages on both of them.
The bank employs social-media monitoring to listen out for relevant activity on these and other networks. To help it understand how to communicate with its target audiences in the right way, it has also worked with specialist social-media agencies, as well as Facebook and Twitter directly.
"This has helped us find the right tone of voice to use and gauge the right speed for replying," says Renshaw. "We get about 6,000 messages a week and 3,500 of those are tweets."
Applying those lessons, Barclays has a dedicated set of support staff at a UK-based contact centre that deals only with social-media enquiries. Agents offer a 24/7 service to the customers that choose to use social media instead of - or in tandem with - the numerous other contact channels the bank offers.
"Specialising lets them become very familiar with using that platform," explains Renshaw. "We have been piloting video chat, and already use messaging to support our online and mobile banking, so our team are really au fait with using technology for support. However, it's usually more about good quality communication skills."
In such a heavily regulated industry, the bank has a comprehensive rulebook to follow. According to Renshaw, the key ones are, "The FCA rules about treating customers and there are also Advertising Standards Authority rules that apply."
Term and conditions
Following a 2014 investigation and industry consultation, the FCA published guidance in March 2015 on the use of social media in financial services. This was more aimed at financial services promotion through social media but still applies to complaint handling. For example, all product terms, conditions and risk warnings need to be made available where appropriate.
"The principles in that guidance can absolutely be applied to problem resolution," explains Renshaw. "It must be clear, fair and not misleading. That's a principle that cuts across everything. It's no different to what we would do in TV or press."
Barclays also has to make sure it complies with the 1998 Data Protection Act and subsequent legislation like the 2003 Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. Avoiding unintended sharing of personal information and maximising data security are priorities.
"We see social media as a channel through which to build relationships and do some simple problem solving," states Renshaw. "Sometimes social media is not the most relevant channel to use."
That means that those asking detailed questions that require passing individual account security will be directed to a more private channel, typically the phone. Though other options are available like online banking messaging, Barclays prefers the telephone because its rates for successful resolution as a channel are so high.
However, about 80% of incoming messages are resolved straight away without needing to switch channel. That might be something as simple as branch opening times or a customer checking that an existing issue has been resolved. A rough rule of measure is if a question can be answered using the bank's existing FAQs then social media is fine.
The new face
As Barclays' marketing department increasingly builds social media into its campaigns, the dedicated agents are also becoming the front-line face of the brand as they deal with the inbound comments and suggestions generated. "This isn't just a medium for us to push out a message, we invite customers to interact with us as well," says Renshaw.
The 'Your Bank, We're Listening' campaign that launched in September 2013 majored on promoting customer engagement. Print, poster and digital ads used images of ears to emphasis its role as a listening bank and asked questions about topics like saving time in branch and mobile banking accessibility. Barclays directed replies to its social-media hub where customers could submit and share their ideas for improving banking services, accessibility and tools.
"That allowed us to pose questions to customers and for them to respond," says Renshaw. "We were able to take that feedback on board really quickly and see whether we needed to make any changes. We have also used our Facebook pages for customer dialogues with senior management. Our chief executive was in a live leadership Q&A that we did."
The eagles are coming
Excellent social-media service support aligns well with other Barclays brand messages around listening and improving online experiences. Digital Eagles is a prime example. This initiative aims to bring customers up to date with technology, coaching them on everything from using Skype or an iPad for the first time to writing computer code.
"Making colleagues and customers digitally savvy is really important to us and this performs a social function," says Renshaw. "We've got 14,000 Digital Eagles across our UK branch network who provide free digital support to customers and non-customers."
Staff leave branches and go out into the wider community to offer direct help to groups of children, adults and older people. Over 63,000 people have now signed up for the 'Digital Driving Licence'. Available via a mobile app or a dedicated website, this offers a detailed, modular guide to topics like online safety, hardware, software and analytics.
The response to this education programme has been largely positive, with volunteer groups, schools and the general public all benefitting. However, some negative posts and tweets suggesting that the bank should instead invest in better branch service highlight another aspect of Barclays' social-media policy - no censorship. "We are 100% transparent," says Renshaw. "We don't delete any comments unless they are abusive. Some firms do cleanse the information that's posted on their site but that's not what we're about."
Earlier this year, Barclays became the first UK bank to support payments to Twitter handles via its Pingit app. Other social innovations have won it numerous awards over the past two years. In 2014, digital agency Stickyeyes placed the bank's social strategy top in its financial services index based on the volume and quality of its social interactions.
"Social media can be used in so many different ways," muses Renshaw. "If you embrace it, support it fully and treat your customers well, it's a very effective channel."