Most banks employ social media first responders, but are they really able to help customers with their problems?
Banking issues? Forget social media or the call centre, head to the branch instead
Earlier this year I fell victim to credit card fraud. It was traumatic enough being targeted by criminals - the fraudsters used my details to go on an Dh18,500 spending spree at a department store in London while I was in Abu Dhabi - but the inefficiencies I encountered afterwards with my bank only served to compound the misery.
The call centre experience left me most frustrated. Every time I contacted the bank to get an update, I had to explain the problems I had encountered all over again. It felt like I was condemned to endlessly replay the same argument. On occasions I was on the phone for close to an hour and always finished the call feeling more exasperated than when it had begun.
I wrote about some of this previously. That story had a nominal happy ending when, unannounced, the fraud team concluded their investigation and returned the Dh18,500 to my credit card at the end of May.
You might think would be the end of the matter, but the experience of the past few weeks has, in some ways, been far worse than the original offence.
The seven weeks that it took to investigate the “disputed transaction” (the words my bank uses for fraud cases) were punctuated by interest charges, VAT and shield payment demands being applied to the original outstanding amount, meaning the debt mushroomed.
I repeatedly contacted the bank to find out what was holding up the return of those charges, but the employees I spoke to appeared unable to help or unwilling to grasp that I was around Dh1,500 out of pocket because bank fees had been added to a fraudulent transaction. They simply stuck to the script that the disputed transaction had been settled.
With my enquiries hitting a road block at the call centre, I took to social media, using both the Facebook and Twitter channels of the bank to explain my case. Several people had told me this was an effective way to short the system and get to the front of the customer service queue.
I private messaged the bank with my details. They replied within minutes, albeit with the digital equivalent of a standard response, apologising for “any inconvenience” and asking me for more information. They called me and promised to help. So far so good. They sent a further message saying that “immediate action” would be taken to resolve my issue and then … nothing.
Further messages went unanswered, save for one phone call insisting that the case had been sorted out while failing to grasp that the bank still owed me money. Meanwhile, the charges kept being piled on.
What had initially appeared to be the magic wand that would make my problems disappear turned out to be nothing more than a blunt and ineffective instrument.
With social media providing no help at all and the call centre busy sending me “dear valued customer, your case has been resolved” text messages, I went back to a very analogue approach: a visit to a branch.
A sit down with a customer services officer brought the matter to a conclusion and all of the outstanding charges have now been returned to me.
But let’s be clear about this, to get those charges back has required the application of constant pressure on the bank. When they were eventually refunded to me, they came back in piecemeal form and it was more than 12 weeks after the initial crime was committed and more than a month after the fraud case was wound up.
Personally, I don’t think that is good enough. Neither has the bank ever offered an apology for any inconvenience its actions have caused, which makes me think it has no sense that any part of the process has been difficult for its customer – which it has been.
The contrast between customer experience in the virtual worlds of call centres and social media and the real life experience of visiting a branch could also not have been more pronounced. At the branch, my case was listened to with a friendly ear and my file was worked on methodically. On the phone, the call centre did their best to prevaricate and prevent a resolution being reached.
And as for the digital channels, it turns out social media responders are just that: very good at responding to you instantly, but their interest soon wanes if there isn’t an obvious quick fix to be made. They apply a sticking plaster to the wound, but no more than that.
Sometimes, an old-fashioned solution is actually the better one.
Nick March is an assistant editor in chief at The National