‘This is shameful and I will advise the media’: Tales from the Twitterverse

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“IS THERE A TEST OR SWAB TO FIND OUT IF I HAVE A RECOVERY REBATE, because right now, my bank is showing no signs or symptoms of having this alleged stimulus check,” read a tweet addressed to USAA in April.

“This is shameful and I will advise the media,” began another tweet from a customer whose insurance premiums had been raised.

As the pandemic continues to sow anxiety among bank customers, social media representatives at USAA and other financial institutions have become busier, fielding questions about stimulus checks, financial assistance programs, mortgage forbearance and more. Between posts expressing gratitude and gushing praise, they have also had to placate frustrated customers who take to Twitter or Facebook to complain about the status of their Paycheck Protection Program loan applications or about waiting on hold for hours on the phone.

Response times over social media are not necessarily better than other channels these days.

While in the past, customers who raised issues over social media could get their problem addressed quickly given the high profile, financial institutions have not maintained the same pace during the pandemic, said Steven Ramirez, CEO of Beyond the Arc, which helps companies with their social media strategies.

“The typical strategy is to say, ‘We would love to help, please [direct message] us and we will ask for more details,’” Ramirez said. “What I have seen is people say ‘Hey, I DM'ed you two days ago and I still haven’t received any response.’”

Financial institutions have dealt with higher volumes across their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts by bulking up their social media service teams, implementing new tools to speed up responses and posting hints about how customers can complete certain tasks themselves online.

At the same time, even banks with a well-oiled social media strategy may be missing a valuable opportunity to connect more deeply with customers, if they limit their outreach to the overall brand’s social media accounts rather than encouraging individual advisers and employees to share content with their followers.

“Social media and all digital engagement have quickly shifted from nice-to-have to a must-have part of the omnichannel repertoire in a few short weeks,” said Clara Shih, CEO and founder of Hearsay Systems, a company that helps advisers and agents with digital communications.

How banks are replying to posts and tweets

USAA, a largely digital financial services company, normally sees 10,000 to 15,000 posts directed to its Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts each month. In March, the number ticked up to 17,000. In April, it was just over 20,000.

To cover the higher volume, USAA bolstered its crew of social service representatives, from about 15 representatives who split their time between online chat and social media to 17 who are largely dedicated to social media.

Their goal: bring the interaction into a private channel as soon as possible, whether it is a direct message through the social media platform, phone call or online chat through USAA itself.

“It’s a very desirable position within USAA to be on the social team,” said Phil Leininger, senior vice president of omnichannel sales and service at USAA. “You’re the face in a public sphere.”

Still, social media is not the fastest way to get in touch with a USAA representative — or the most common.

A member can expect an answer to a direct query through social channels within 30 minutes, compared with three minutes by phone or online chat. (Retweets or shared posts may not get a response at all.) Before the pandemic, a busy month meant up to 15,000 social media posts directed at USAA from customers, compared with about two million phone calls and almost 100 million digital interactions.

But, “the social team is usually the tip of the spear,” Leininger said. “It’s a very small but important percentage of our interactions. Not all interactions are created equal. Often, those that come in the social channel are indicative of larger problems or larger praises.”

For Truist Financial, social media is one part of a multipronged approach to handle higher call volumes. Other tactics include a call-back feature on a cloud-based platform and a chatbot to address mortgage payment relief. Customers of Truist's predecessor banks, BB&T and SunTrust, are encouraged to turn to their heritage brands over social media while the merged institution ramps up its Truist-branded content.

Since early March, the Truist, BB&T and SunTrust social media pages combined have seen four times the normal volume at times, with spikes in comments and inquiries concerning mortgage and loan payments, stimulus checks and the paycheck program.

As a result, Truist started cross-training employees in early April, including those in support areas and marketing. Now, it has more than tripled the number of representatives responding to clients. Truist declined to give exact figures.

JPMorgan Chase said it has also reallocated some staff to handle a 213% increase in customer service inquiries over social media over the last two months, largely through Facebook and Twitter. JPMorgan, too, declined to give exact figures.

To handle popular queries more efficiently, the bank enlisted Sprinklr, an enterprise software company, to build an automated tool for its Facebook Messenger service in April that answers the most frequently asked questions. It took less than two weeks to develop.

Facebook users who open up Messenger can choose from a list of topics, including “Branch,” “Checking/debit card,” “Mortgage,” and “Stimulus & SBA PPP.” They can continue to click through a narrower set of options that best match their query before arriving at a message that summarizes their next steps, or places them in line to speak with a human agent.

Humanizing the response

Leininger acknowledged that USAA’s social media responses have been criticized for being boilerplate. One way the institution hopes to improve its personalization is to encourage members to provide their social media handles as part of their account details. In the event they interact with USAA over social media, automation could quicken the authentication process and allow the representative to have a fuller view of the member, rather than treating it as an isolated case.

Right now, handles are a voluntary piece of information that about 5% of USAA’s members have supplied.

Besides personalizing interactions, banks can stand out by spreading their reach on social media through their employees.

“What is really differentiating the excellent bankers from the average is the human touch,” Shih said. “No institution can convey empathy. Empathy is not a decision to waive fees or an automated message.”

Instead, individual employees — such as branch managers, loan officers and wealth advisers — can convey empathy by sharing a “frequent, consistent drip of updates,” she said. That can include sharing their contact information, the latest economic outlooks or community resources.

On Facebook, Hearsay found that a social media post is 40 times more likely to draw a response if it comes from an individual adviser or banker than if the bank posted that same message. This is because an individual's posts are more likely to show up in someone’s newsfeed, and consumers are more likely to click on a post by an adviser than a corporate brand.

Doug Wilber, CEO of Gremlin Social, a social media management platform for banks, agreed.

“The banks that we’re seeing have the most success recognize that banking is a very personal business where customers are looking for a trusted advisor,” Wilber said. “The degree to which they can humanize their brands and empower their employees to be sharing content is really important right now.”

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