By Gloria Lombardi

The decision to go social, not only proved to pay off dividends to Barclaycard when communicating with its clients, it also changed completely the working culture and internal communications of the organisation.

It all started with the willingness and commitment of the bank to use social media as the new and main channel for engaging with customers.

“We wanted to interact with all our customers, understand if they were feeling comfortable, allow them to contact us for discussing any issue, any enquiries. The only way was to be where our customers were, on social media”, says Senior Manager Web Relations Richard Atkinson.

In early 2011, Atkinson was selected to help build a plan on how to grow the company’s social service. Two years on, Richard and his team have handled over 55,000 social media mentions.

Their community of customers now questions everything through Facebook, Twitter and Google+ everyday, and the team make sure to deal with every question immediately.

“We reply to every customer on every enquiry on all of these channels.”

The communications begin on social media. If customers want to speak specifically about a private issue, the team would bring each of their customer’s enquiries into a private environment, via email. This is not the regular email system, but a process built by the team entirely linked to the social service.

Atkinson describes the process: “A customer comes to our social media page with a question they would like us to answer. We will discuss that if possible on the social media channel. However, if the customer wants to discuss specifically about their account for example, or they want to change their address, or get a new copy of their statements, or something like that…then, we cannot obviously discuss that on social media since it is too confidential.

So we have a specific email channel directed to our social media…we direct our customer to that specific email channel. Then the team member dealing with that client on social media will pick up the person on the email channel, in a private environment. Then he would use the phone and resolve the issue, or use email if the problem allows to be dealt appropriately in that way.

This means that each person of our team who speaks on social has the ability to continue the conversation with a particular customer on a private channel. We continue to manage the issue by ourselves, rather than sending it to a normal email system and let someone else pick up that problem. Customers are not sent all over the place, but stay with the same person who had approached them from the very beginning.”

Atkinson gives the example of a customer who, last year, was stranded abroad with his wallet being stolen. He tweeted asking for help because he did not know what to do. The team member who saw the tweet contacted the client immediately. He gave him a call and arranged for a new card to be sent abroad to the place the client was in, so that the client could continue to enjoy his holiday and get home safely afterward.


Internally, Barclaycard put an appropriate and clear social media policy into place. This covers different areas including:

1. How employees should use their own social media when communicating about the business;

2. Guidelines to every specific team or area of the business on how they should use social media while working.

For example, Richard’s team has a specific social media policy on how to deal with clients, how to advise them online. The same applies for HR, Marketing, etc. Each department has a set of rules depending on their role and business of work.

Engaging leadership before customers

When asked about one of the most important things Barclaycard has learned from this social media journey, Atkinson indicated with no hesitation: “how relevant it is to engage first with the senior leadership team.”

“You need those people to buy into your social media plan before it can become part of the business. If they don’t understand the real reasons behind the need of adopting the plan, you are not going to be successful and you are not going to make your business social.”

The best way Atkinson found to engage with senior stakeholders was to make the business case through ‘depicting scenarios’.

He first presented the leadership team an example of dealing with customer service without using social media: a customer starts complaining about an issue on Facebook. In this scenario, something very bad has happened to the customer that caused them to go to the customer service. They talk with their friends about the bad experience they had. The leadership was shown what would happen if Barclaycard did not have social media: that customer would continue complaining with friends and even worse some other people – like journalists or someone very influential in society – may be involved in such sort of conversations, putting the bank’s reputation at risk. Other people would also start talking about their bad experience with Barclaycard and may start to think of closing their accounts with the bank. Others who might have thought of opening an account in the future may decide not to do that anymore.

Then, Atkinson gave the leadership team a second example where Barclaycard was able to interact with the customer who made the first complaint on social media: this time the bank engages immediately with the customer to find out what it happened, a person of the team is able to deal with that particular issue very quickly, and the bank would apologise and clear the situation. In this scenario the customer would feel involved and helped. His initial complaint would evolve into a discussion with friends about the way Barclaycard was able to solve his problem, with people working at the bank being friendly and approachable in their interactions. In this scenario the bank is able to turn a customer into an advocate, and his friends may consider to go with Barclaycard in the future.

By picturing those two different settings, and showing what may happen if the company did not have social media Atkinson was able to help senior managers understand the value of a new way of communicating, while ensuring them of the benefits to the business from using these tools.

“This was the main obstacle for us: our executives were sceptical and worried about using social media.

Afterward you realise that it is just about educating them that you are not doing something wrong, but actually helping the business deliver more value.”

With pride Atkinson claims that Barclaycard’s executives now absolutely support and are on social media. They all have a presence on those channels, and they themselves are encouraging all the areas of the business to use social media for working.

“They support our people to talk about our new products on social media. For example, we have now a new service coming out, and we are encouraged to go on social media and interact with our customers, look for their feed-back there.”

“Leaders have understood that our clients are transparent on those channels. They would tell you immediately if they like what we do, they would give you their opinion with no hesitation. On those channels they are very honest about how they feel. Therefore, our people can get real indications and insights into what our customers genuinely think about the product that we launch.”

Every one of Barclaycard’s leadership team has now a plasma TV in their offices with a social media stream and all the information on what is happening on the company’s social media.

“Everyday they get insights on social media, what customers are saying on social media and how the bank is dealing with them.”

Compliance and legal

The second issue Atkinson and his people had deal with appropriately was around legal and compliance.

“Since we are a financial service company, this is something that really mattered to the business. We are a bank, and banks are heavily regulated. That is why is rare, even today, that a bank is very active on social media. We were the first.”

When Atkinson’s team first launched the plan, they wanted to sit down with their regulators, have a conversation with them face-to-face and understand what they could do in terms of their social media governance.

Atkinson stressed more than once that they were very keen on ensuring that everything was planned and implemented correctly. This determination to get things done and properly, plus the commitment to plan all the various stages and dialogues with the legal team, finally paid off.

“We were really dedicated to get this right. Our legal team initially were not happy for us to do it. However, by having a conversation, sitting down at a table with them, providing them with insights and some research that we had done before, we were able to ensure the regulators that we were doing the right thing for the business.”

Making social a way of doing business

Today, every Barclaycard’s employee has social media as part of their role. Social is the new culture of the company.

“Social media has become part of the way we do business, we have many Barclaycard people’s roles specifically around social media. The marketing team has social media roles, the whole team in customer service which I lead, and nearly everyone one in our campaigns and policies are involved in social media,” comments Atkinson.

“The honest part of the whole thing”, continues Atkinson, “is that you can like social media or not, you can choose to use it or ignore it…

However, from our experience, the quickest you can get all your team involved with social media the better, because all the key conversations are now happening on those channels. If you do not engage on social media then you might miss your biggest opportunity to turn situations to your favour.”

With an entrepreneurial spirit, Atkinson ends by saying that he wants to see Barclaycard even more proactive on social media. “At present we are using social media in a very reactive way. If people come to our channels and ask any questions, we are ready to deal actively with any of their issues and are always prepared to listen to them. However, we are still waiting for them to come to us.

“So the next step for our employees is to start to engage proactively with our clients, say by going to them, to their own blogs for examples and start having a conversation with them on their own channels.”


This article originally appeared on simply-communicate