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RBS' Facebook failure: What it should have done differently

6th Dec 2013
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RBS boss admitted the bank "has to do better" amid two days of disruption, but  for many customers the icing on the cake was the launch of the new ‘extended’ RBS TV ad on Facebook which prompted a flurry of responses from even more unhappy customers.

An estimated 750,000 RBS, NatWest and Ulster Bank customers were unable to use their credit and debit cards for three hours on Monday and many reported problems on Tuesday with some saying funds had vanished from their accounts leaving them over drawn.

The RBS group said that it would compensate those left out of pocket including any fees customers incurred as a result of this computer failure.

"Last night's systems failure was unacceptable. Yesterday was a busy shopping day and far too many of our customers were let down, unable to make purchases and withdraw cash," said RBS chief executive Ross McEwan, who took up the position at the bank in October.

"I'm sorry for the inconvenience we caused our customers. We know we have to do better.”

However all of this hyperbole did not make up for the astonishing Facebook gaff which occurred at the same time that RBS customers were having a meltdown in supermarkets, paralysed at petrol stations and unable to pay for goods on ‘Cyber Monday’.

In what can only be described as one of the worst social customer service faux pas of the year, RBS chose Monday to reveal to their Facebook ‘fans’ their new ‘exclusive extended version of our latest TV ad’

Needless to say the tirade of response was not in congratulations for their latest advertising campaign but disbelief that they were highlighting their new ‘cash back ad’ when customers across the UK couldn’t access their own cash already in their accounts!

Never mind your new fangled television adverts - get your IT systems sorted out. I can't pay for groceries by debit card, or savings account card. Cannot withdraw cash from cash machines either..... Fortunately I decided *not* to fill the car up with petrol before doing my grocery shopping. Embarrassing enough having cards declined with a trolley full of shopping....” said one unhappy RBS customer and from one of many RBS customers ready to leave the bank as doors opened from 8am today:

Well this is the only place I can write... You obviously haven’t fixed your systems completely as transactions are showing as there, but the funds have not been cleared into the account. I have been considering changing banks for a while now, and I am sure I will not be the only one this week making moves to do this. You will have to work very hard to keep a lot of your customers..... or is this what you WANT?”

RBS and NatWest should have taken to social media channels as soon as the crisis happened to allay fears and ensure what action was to be taken rather than promote their latest sales tool to recruit new customers.

If a crisis hits your business here are some top tips on how to react to your customers across social media:

1. In a crisis, social customer service is the responsibility of the entire business

In a crisis ensure you have more than your PR and Marketing team trained on your social media strategy and tone of voice. In an all hands on deck situation a collaborative approach is needed to successfully keep your messages strong and consistent and know when to take the conversations offline.

2. ‘Listen’ for mentions of your brand to be ready for all eventualities

Have tools ready to enable your business to ‘listen’ to where your brand is being mentioned.  Identify the tweets and posts and react quickly and positively to prevent an even wider audience seeing your crisis unveil.

3. Speed is of the essence

In years gone by a business could be forgiven for taking the time to draft and send an eloquent letter or email and it was ok if it took a day to return a phone call... as long as the outcome was a good one.  However, with the advent of social media, speed is nearly as important as the content. To leave a negative tweet or post with no reply can prompt the unhappy customer to share and re tweet which leaves your business open to the possibility of ‘viral’ negative publicity.  Often all that is needed is a quick and personal acknowledgement to put a stop to any further posts and ensure the customer is a happy one.

5. Remember the importance of customer loyalty

Customer loyalty is not driven simply by customer satisfaction.  A huge part of making customers stay truly loyal is not just meeting expectations nicely (although that does help!), but exceeding those expectations.  Empower your employees at the front line to make quick decisions, especially in relation to resolving problems and complaints. 

Maybe if RBS’s Ross McEwan had these social media tips then this week’s customer service disaster could have been turned around instead of turning into a disaster in such a quick and public way that only social media can achieve.

Carolyn Blunt is managing director of Real Results Training Consultancy and co-author of Delivering Effective Social Customer Service, available on Amazon. For more information visit: or email [email protected] or tweet @carolynblunt

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