Social Media is Not the Next New Thing

There is nothing revolutionary or exciting about social media. Building customer relationships has been a bank’s job since the onset of the financial services industry. Over the past hundred years, banks have successfully adopted technologies from telegraphs to telephones, in an effort to better serve customers. Social media is just the latest step in this evolutionary path.

However, to successfully build relationships in social media, financial services firms must rethink a few paradigms of customer engagement. First, customers should not be required to come to the bank’s turf for help or information.  While traditional channels will continue to be important, customers want bankers to step outside their stores and join them in conversations on the sidewalks of the social web.

The first step into the fresh air of social media should be listening to customers to understand current conversations. Once topics and needs are understood, a bank can respond to customers, so long as value can be delivered through the engagement. If a customer requires a private environment to discuss their issue, they should be invited to step back inside a traditional channel where secure servicing can be delivered.

Second, social media breaks through the traditional silos of customer communications and mixes all messages, whether they originate from marketing, customer service or corporate communications in to a messy soup, side by side and often colored by customer commentary. Success in this new reality requires tight coordination between internal teams to ensure quick, consistent and coordinated communications.

Financial services firms may initially feel overwhelmed by the risks and options of social media. Success comes when they approach social media as they would any other program by requiring clear alignment to business priorities and customer needs, articulated success metrics and risk management planning. So long as they start with their customer, financial services firms are not breaking new ground by entering social media. They are simply doing what they have always done­—growing their business through strong customer relationships, with a little help from a new technology.

Kimarie Matthews is Vice President of Social Web for Wells Fargo’s Internet Services Group. For more than 10 years, Kimarie has been helping improve the customer experience in financial services by developing customer listening and satisfaction measurement programs that guide the business to better meet customer needs. She is now on the front lines of proactive customer support managing Wells Fargo’s Twitter channels (@ask_wellsfargo and @wachovia) and developing programs that extend Wells Fargo’s ability to support customers by leveraging social technologies.