Given the ease of posting grievances for the world to see online via Twitter, Facebook, blogs or even video on YouTube, the challenge facing credit unions is what to do?
The short answer is to do what credit unions do best-take a more personal, friendly approach rather than having it all unfold in public.
"Regarding online criticism, perhaps the credit union can develop a general statement to post that encourages the unhappy, disgruntled members to meet with the credit union's member service team in person or over the phone to handle their specific situation..." said LT Public Relations President Casey Boggs. "[A] company that responds to each critic will likely come across defensive or worse, weak."
"Well at risk of stating the obvious don't tick members off so they feel they have to take their grievances public," adds ICONiQ-Intelligent Branding President Jeffry Pilcher. "Sometimes it is hard to tell if they just have an axe to grind, are prone to ranting or if they have a legitimate complaint. My guess is it is probably 50/50-half feel they don't know what else to do and others are doing it to try to get even. Reach out to have the conversation privately and you may be able to repair it offline. Leave a public comment that you'd like to discuss it further and it will look like you're taking the higher ground."
Pilcher said there is an opportunity to create a member service win by taking the time to meet in person and talk one-on-one.
"Yes, the Internet creates new challenges from a PR perspective, but the personal touch still matters. What would you do back in the day if someone was walking in front of your credit union with a sandwich board? You'd probably walk out and urge him to have a cup of coffee and talk about it," said Pilcher. "That someone from the credit union is willing to take time to personally handle or fix a member's problem still means something to people. So the hope is that you can turn that disgruntled member around, make them happy and they'll spend their time talking about the good things your credit union did rather than blogging about the bad."
It boils down to having a plan in place and being proactive before someone decides to blog about it.
"Even if you don't want to be on Twitter or Facebook, you've got to be online monitoring various channels so you know exactly what's being said about your credit union good and bad," said Pilcher. "That is where it all starts and you can only stop something from escalating by being aware. The two core [channels] are Google Alert (www.google.com/alerts) and search.twitter.com. Your searches should include everything from every variation of your credit union name to XYZ CU love or XYZ CU hate/sucks so you know instantly what is being said."
Bellco Credit Union Direct Marketing Specialist Peter Hodges has found that his use of RSS feeds, Tweetdeck and routine maintenance has helped mend fences and reinforce the credit union's reputation in the community.
He said that managing all of the information coming across Twitter is one of the hardest parts of using the site. For him Tweetdeck is the easiest and most powerful of the programs available because it allows you to build targeted lists of other Twitter users and search terms making it easier to keep track of what's important.
"We've only had about three negative comments floating out there so we've basically responded publicly by saying, 'We hear what you are saying, let us do research and get back to you offline,'" said Hodges. "It is a case-by-case judgment call. Is there is a real problem or just an act of venting? Either way we've found it is better to address it sooner rather than later to prevent it from getting uglier. The proactive acknowledgement almost starts the process of getting back in good graces. Hundreds see us dealing with the complaint and see us as an organization that is engaged, transparent, authentic and delivers one-on-one communication."
Hodges said the act of replying when it is just a simple comment or complaint can surprise members in a good way. For example a teenager tweeted while waiting in line for a teller that he was in a Bellco branch: "They have a fax machine. Who uses fax machines anymore?" Hodges replied, "Well we also use cool stuff like Twitter too." The teen was so impressed, he tweeted how awesome the credit union was.
"We just see it as an opportunity to authentically engage our members and show them that we care," said Hodges. "A member tweeted about attending a Chris Issak concert and I asked what they thought of it, and we had a quick one-on-one conversation. Now strategically I know that when that person is thinking about getting a loan somewhere, we will be top on their list of considerations, and philosophically, that person feels this is an organization that cares about me personally."
He added that since there is no way to control what people say, it's better to participate in the discussions than be reactionary or pretend it's not happening.
Boggs added that while monitoring all the chatter, it's important to stay calm, appreciate and embrace the feedback-however challenging it may be.
"Social media sites are conversations. Sometimes the conversations are about your particular credit union-sometimes good, sometimes bad. You can either ignore the conversation or actively participate in the conversation. You've got to be willing to listen and truly hear the message, even if it is harsh," said Boggs. "Look for patterns of comments that get to the heart of the issue and learn what areas need improvement. That way you can respond to the criticism in more meaningful ways."
Bellco CU in Action
Our strategy was to have the member follow us back so we could send a direct message and request a preferred contact number and call. We felt discussing his questions about bill pay in 140 characters or less would more than likely lead to more confusion.
We waited for about 30 minutes and he didn't follow us, so we looked him up and had a call center supervisor contact him directly.
I think we were able to resolve things.
- Peter Hodges, direct marketing specialist at Bellco Credit Union
From Twitter on Thursday, August 20, 2009