Social Customer Service in Banking: An Interview with Bian Salins of TSB

In the run-up to Social Customer Service Summit, which takes place in London on 13th/14th April, we asked Bian Salins, Head of Social, Digital at TSB Bank – who will Host one of our round-tables – for her views on the state of social customer service.

Omni-channel customer service

1. Recent reports suggest that customers aren’t very keen to use social for customer service. Do you think the rise of social customer service has been overblown?

Bian: I don’t think social customer service has been overblown – it’s just grown up. When I first began in social back in 2008, customers had found a new outlet to vent their frustration with existing levels of service and customer experience on traditional channels, like voice.

Brands flocked to set up small teams to ‘acknowledge’ customers’ rants and this set a precedent. Consumers soon began to buy into the concept that they can ‘skip the queues’ and get quicker resolutions via social. Soon, by 2010/11, social customer service had peaked and early adopters and practitoners like myself began helping businesses to think about scaling social as a channel as part of the service mix.

Scaling brought new complications with it – skills, resourcing, training, knowledge, technology, integration, multi-site /contact centre working etc. Whilst most brands struggled or were late to the party, it also produced results which made it a viable channel – but not without its own customer experience challenges, i.e. specialist knowledge, quick resolution for complex issues and operational complexity.

We are now at a stage where social platforms and consumer behaviour is evolving.  Messaging is the new guise for interacting and being more private is showing itself to be the new light at the end of the tunnel. So my thoughts are really that social customer service reached its peak, has grown up in line with other channel experiences and now needs to evolve.


2. The theme for the Summit this year is ‘Integrating social into your omni-channel customer service strategy”. To what extent do you think this is happening within brands?

Bian: “Omni”: isn’t that a chant all consumers cling to and brands love to shout about? The reality is that omni-channel customer service is still a struggle for most brands. The main challenge lies within the fact that most brands have channels like social as an add-on rather than a central part of the service mix and strategy.

But then, it’s not just the brands that are culpable. Large technology providers have also added social into their offerings (mainly because they’ve acquired a social startup) and few have integrated it into the core platform, as they should have done. Even the likes of Salesforce have only just integrated their social offering into their core platform – and think about how long that took them!

Integrated offerings then pose another issue for brands, which is that most large corporates have legacy systems and, if they did want to move to an omni-channel experience, then they have to uproot the legacy systems to replace it with newer platforms and the business case becomes about digital transformation. A case for digital transformation is a difficult one to make unless it comes as a directive from the top.

Omni-channel will always be a challenge, but it’s a goal worth chasing!


3. You’ve recently moved from the media into banking. What have been the primary differences you’ve noticed in relation to social or digital service?

Bian: Well, it’s still early days, but my first realisation is simply the fact that where I once thought I was a veteran in the space – I know feel like the new kid in town all over again.

My own personal point of view is that social and digital service is always going to be a slower burn for regulated industries, like banking. These industries have a duty of care to their customers and are simultaneously challenged with the need to service them in the way they want to be served and where they want to be served.

I think consumers have different expectations of regulated industries. They still want the best service but not necessarily in the way I’ve seen it work in the industries I’ve worked in previously. If the experience is good they’re quite happy to self-serve and if the service quality is good, they’re just as happy to use a digital service desk as they are a real service desk. This may change over time, but these are early observations from my experience so far.


4. We’ll be discussing lots of interesting topics at SCSS16. Which are you most looking forward to?

Bian: I’m mainly looking forward to hearing about the rise of IM and Facebook’s Business Messenger, as well as Twitter’s new service offering and how the audience perceives it as helping/disrupting their existing and future strategies.


There are still places available at the Summit on 13th April and workshop on 14th April.  Register today to meet her and around 100 social CS practitioners from leading brands.