What Real Customers Are Saying About Banks

by Jason Falls June 14, 2012   Voices

If you asked the average American if they felt positively or negatively about their bank, how do you think they would answer? Now consider the same question while keeping in mind the country is currently clawing its way out of a recession, the mortgage crisis is still affecting millions of Americans and their bottom lines and the Occupy Wall Street movement hasn’t exactly disappeared?

Would it shock you to know that most Americans would answer that they feel positively about their bank? That’s what my company’s recent research into online conversations about banks revealed. In fact, looking at conversations that feature the top 25 banks according to assets as ranked by the FDIC, only two have less than 60% positive marks. Even major banks, like Citi and PNC, were above 70% positive in online conversations.

Granted, Bank of America, which in many ways instigated the Occupy Wall Street movement with its September 2011 rate hike (quickly rescinded but not before the public conversation could go awry) dominated online conversations in 2011 among the banks and it was one of the two under that 60% positive threshold. But even with BOA’s miserable year in the public eye, its positive to negative ratio was 1:1. Half of the people talking about Bank of America last year were speaking of the company in positive light.

Anecdotal assumptions like, “no one likes their bank,” or “no one likes Bank of America,” can be more easily overturned today thanks to online monitoring and listening platforms. That’s why we spent the last few months researching what consumers were saying about banks and bank products. Among some of the other surprises we found include:

Customers Are Fickle - Several banks we reviewed got high marks for customer service. But, they also got low marks for it. This tells bank marketers that no matter how good you are, someone will always think you’re bad. Having processes and policies to deal with negative feedback is an imperative.

You Don’t Have To Be Big To Make An Impact – After finding the major products and themes consumers of the top 25 banks discussed, we removed any brand bias and searched the web for conversations about the topics. While analyzing conversations about Automated Teller Machines, First Fidelity Bank (Oklahoma) appeared multiple times. Its ATM fee policy thrilled fans enough to elicit online responses. And ones that were found by a national research focus. The insight for marketers here is that thrilling your customers creates buzz and not many of your competitors are doing that.

Advertising Works – The single biggest online conversation impact we found among the larger banks was the amount of positive conversation that focused on the advertising campaigns for Capital One and HSBC. Capital One’s “What’s In Your Wallet” vikings and Jimmy Fallon ads accounted for over 60% of the positive online conversation around the brand. But it’s not just funny TV spots that emerged as effective in driving online buzz. HSBC’s advertising campaign focuses on posters and billboards primarily placed around airports. The “Different Points of View” campaign accounted for 23% of its positive online buzz. Apparently, good ads are worth the investment.

Certainly, looking at online conversations comes with its own limitations and biases. We were not able to ask direct questions of consumers as with traditional market research made of focus groups and surveys. But with our approach comes certain bias elimination, too. Finding online conversations means the consumer isn’t biased to answer one way or another because they know they’re being monitored or interviewed. We mined raw conversations of people speaking freely on their respective social networking site, forum or blog.

This in-the-wild conversational analysis isn’t necessarily better than other forms of consumer insight. But it sure is different and as revealing. It shows us that our assumptions are often wrong, consumers will always surprise you and there are plenty of opportunities to be had for brands in the online space.

Jason Falls is the CEO of Social Media Explorer and author of The Conversation Report: What Consumers Are Saying About Banking, a new market research report from his company. You can find Jason on Twitter @JasonFalls, Facebook or connect with him on his blog, Social Media Explorer.

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