Meeting Customers on their handles and timelines

A simple quiz. When you write a cheque and make a small mistake in the payee’s name or amount – in figures or words, will you a) tear it up or b)correct and countersign it? If your answer is b) you are not alone. I did a spot poll on facebook before writing this column only to discover that twenty five percent of the respondents, most of them successful professionals and active on the social media, were not aware of the Reserve Bank of India ban on alterations in cheques. Almost fifty per cent were not informed about this important RBI circular by their banks. And forty per cent revealed that they get more promotional stuff rather than communication relevant to their banking transactions.

Now this is where high public interface organisations like banks can reach out to customers. The social media can be such a Godsend especially when the nuisance value of routine marketing mails ensures that they go right into spam folders, and the important guidelines get lost in the deluge.

The query I started this piece with, need not be hypothetical. It can be a very real scenario for many customers who availed loans before mid 2010. If you had, for a loan, issued bulk post dated cheques, some with minor corrections countersigned before the RBI directive came into force, will they be dishonoured? (When you write multiple cheques, the chances of making mistakes are not remote, right?) So will the customer be slapped with a fee when the cheques are returned? Such legitimate doubts will never arise in the first place if only banks believe in the power of twitter and facebook over their round robin mails and posters stuck at their counters.

Predictably, private banks have a much more robust presence on the social media than their nationalised counterparts. I was happy to see State Bank of India’s handle on twitter. A footnote says it’s a beta test twitter account. The nation’s largest bank @SBIconnex however, last tweeted in January this year! A sizeable chunk of its 2055 tweets to its 5926 followers are marketing offers. The few important tweets like a caution on disclosing user IDs and passwords to persons claiming to be from the bank sadly have grammatical errors like “Please do not response to any email...” The other big nationalised bank – IOB also shows up on the micro blogging site but although it has the bank logo, I wonder if it is the official handle. It hasn’t tweeted so far, follows no one and has 82 followers. IOB’s website only mentions a facebook presence, which incidentally was started only in June this year and at first brush seems replete with press release material and the Chairman’s Quote of the day. Now your facebook page should be interactive, not a one way street dotted with pictures of your organisation.

Contrast this with private banks. ICICIBank_Care has 14,768 tweets, follows 6018 people (presumably customers) and has 9439 followers. There is regular interaction and acknowledgement of customer grievances with requests to send Direct Messages with specific details. I do hope customers realise that a Direct Message is safer than tweeting their account numbers. HDFC has two separate handles – an official HDFC_Bank for finance tips and offers and one for complaints @HDFCBank_Cares to “listen, talk and resolve”. The 21,000 tweets and 9,000 plus followers are indicative of a regular interface. Ditto with @StanChart which promises escalation of complaints and has close to 21,000 followers.

It’s about time banks realised that robotic replies, online complaint forms and website icons for grievances are passé. Customers may not visit their sites, even if they showcase fancy numbers of visitors. Banks need to meet them on their handles and timelines. And learn to ping, tweet and DM.

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