Taking Social Media to a Chattier Level

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Citi's Frank Eliason continues to lead bankers in social media. Trustworthy sites and chat tools are the newest wrinkles in his strategy.

Frank Eliason
Citi
Oversees social media initiatives
Latest Breakthrough: Combining chat tools with social media to improve customer engagements.

Frank Eliason, the customer service genius Citi hired from Comcast two years ago, keeps improving and adding new technology layers to the bank's social media initiatives. The latest innovation: chat tools that work with Twitter and other social media and websites, so that customer conversations can go offline.

"I see this growing and video chat becoming a big deal," says Eliason, whose title is senior vice president of social media. "I see new ways to build relationships with this."

Maintaining customer data privacy in social media is a unique challenge for banks, Eliason points out. "You can't just say, hey, direct-message me your account number," he says. "You can't allow certain conversations to happen in social. How do you engage or have direct contact with customers when what you can do is so limited? What many banks do is they don't have any conversation in social media, or they'll say things along the lines of, call this phone number, no account information please." But a customer who likes to tweet does not necessarily want to call his bank on the phone.

When a customer service associate reaches a point in a customer conversation where he needs private information, he will direct the customer to the LivePerson click-to-chat tool Citi recently implemented.

This is particularly useful when a customer is complaining, but it can be used for good conversations, too, Eliason says.

Citi has 30 multi-channel trained associates, meaning they can handle email, social media, chat tools and phone converastions.

Eliason sees uses for the "click-to-chat" feature beyond Twitter. "Conversations are happening all over the place - on Facebook, on our website," he says. The bank is even using the LivePerson tool to add click-to-chat to non-Citi websites for struggling homeowners.

One change Eliason has made at Citi through "social listening" is in what the agents who help homeowners are called. "A fascinating thing about people in need is, if you're struggling with your mortgage, the last person you will call is your mortgage provider," Eliason says. "You don't want to remind them you owe them money. You're scared. That's also not something you're going to put on your Facebook account; you usually don't want your family or friends to know you're struggling."

Eliason noticed that homeowners in trouble were referred to "loss mitigation specialists." "If you're struggling with your mortgage, do you think a loss mitigator is going to help you with that? We changed the name of those associates, they're now homeowner support associates. Then we changed their culture and how they're measured."

In January Citi launched a website called homeownersupport.com. "The concept behind it is to create a place where people can go anonymously - it's a safer place," Eliason says. The click-to-chat tool will be launched here.

So far, about 1,000 customers have used the chat tool. "We were slow to implement it also because we wanted to do it right, make sure we're careful; we don't want people to fall for phishing scams," he says. "We want to make sure the link shows up as citi.us, which is our link shortener on Twitter. We're also following up with customers as they use it - how was that experience, what did they think about it? The feedback we've received through it is phenomenal. They've thought it was cool, something different."

Bankers always ask Eliason about the return on investment for social media. "The ROI is in the information that's out there, that leads to change and process improvement," he says. "The problem in social media today is most people are engaging in Twitter to quiet a customer down. But you can take this information and bring tangible improvements to business. If you're doing this to shut them up, you'll attract more naysayers."

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