Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Crisis? What crisis?

Five lessons from the recent customer crisis at banking giant TSB.


On Sunday an IT problem at Lloyds Banking Group left thousands of customers unable to withdraw cash from ATMs or pay for goods with debit cards.  As the ‘new kid on the block’, TSB was singled out by the media for most of the criticism. It was the latest in a growing trend for banks in the UK to suffer IT issues.

Most organisations will have a crisis management plan in place for such eventualities.  The plan will cover the nuts and bolts of who should do what in the event that something should go wrong.  A key element will undoubtedly be communications management with clear responsibilities for handling customer and media enquiries.  But far too often the plans are focused on the mechanics of what needs to happen and not the philosophy or values that should underpin that activity.

So, what should organisations be thinking about and what should be the lessons for TSB moving forward? 

Recognise and reflect what your customers are feeing, not simply what has happened.  Most organisations know that the starting point is to recognise there is an issue and to apologise for it.  TSB did this, but talked in terms of ’inconvenience’ when the social media networks were full of people expressing their extreme ‘embarrassment’ at having cards refused at checkouts across the country.  Use your customers’ language to show you’ve listened and have really understood what it means for them.

Use everyday language to explain the problem.  TSB talked about ‘server failure’ when pinpointing the issue.  This may well be accurate but how many of their customers actually understood (or cared) what that means?  Also, the preferred internal term might well be 'ATM', but recognise that many Britons use the term 'cashpoint'.

Understand that people have access to the web and social media wherever they are.  Twitter was buzzing with disgruntled customers on Sunday and TSB did well in attempting to manage the comments and to reassure people.  However, TSB seems to have overlooked the fact that many go to the website for information and failed to carry the same messaging there which in turn drove more people to vent their frustration on Twitter.

Be clear about when to use the big guns.  The aptly named TSB chief executive, Peter Pester, set a good example by taking to Twitter to deal with customer tweets and to apologise, sometimes addressing individuals directly.  Good work TSB in avoiding the faceless approach many organisations adopt.

Keep the messaging going post incident and make it easy for customers to continue to contact you.  It may be human nature to breathe a sigh of relief when the immediate crisis has been dealt with but don’t forget that customers have memories.  The TSB website (www.tsb.co.uk) has a link to an apology on the homepage but it’s badly signposted and somewhat lost in a ‘busy’ design.   Once through to the message, customers are encouraged to ‘get in touch’ if they have been ‘impacted’.  Commendable stuff, despite the use of ‘impacted’. But click on the ‘get in touch’ link and you’re taken to the normal ‘contact us’ page with no less than 12 options, not one of them relating to the incident.  If you really want your customers to ‘get in touch’ with you about this TSB, make it easy by providing a dedicated email address and telephone number.