Be Prepared For Anything: Being Social and Personal @AskCiti Requires a Powerful Social Relationship Infrastructure

by Jeremy Epstein 01 Oct 2013 Social@Scale: Community Manager, Social@Scale: Crisis Management, Social@Scale: Social Media Manager

citibank honeymoon couple

It’s pure Americana: a gorgeous newlywed couple is driving in their red convertible decorated with a “Just Married” sign. They pull over to the side of the road for a kiss — the perfect start for a honeymoon.

This scene was recently posted on the Citibank US Facebook page, inviting customers to check out Citi Popmoney, a convenient service to send money via email. But one Facebook fan had other things on her mind: “Citibank, I need money to buy a house for me in New York. CAN YOU HELP ME??????”

Esther, a Citibank representative, gives the customer the phone number to connect with a mortgage specialist and advises that further questions be shared through a private message to protect her privacy.

It’s a scenario that repeats itself on the Citibank US Facebook page multiple times each day, regardless if the photo is a baseball player sharing a ballpark promotion or a rock star touting presale ticket access for Citi cardmembers.

For Paul Michaud, Senior Vice President of Social Media at Citi, facing these kind of conversational curveballs is just business as usual.

“The customer may not consider the context of our wall post,” he says. “Seeing the Citi name might just remind them that they have a question or complaint. And when they get in touch, our customer service team has to be ready to engage with them.”

“We moderate all of our comments, but for the sake of transparency, we don’t delete any of the negative feedback,” Michaud adds. “The only things we remove are customers’ personal identity information, profanity, completely off-topic material, or spam messages.

Taking a peek at Citi’s Global Consumer Banking business, best known as Citibank, is a case study on how financial institutions can be social at scale — while still engaging with customers on a personal level.

Citibank serves more than 100 million clients in 40 countries, with about half of their total loans, deposits, revenues, and net income coming from the United States. With more than a million of those customers following its multiple accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Citi needed a social relationship infrastructure (SRI) to monitor and respond to the thousands of messages streaming in daily.

According to Michaud, Citi chose Sprinklr to quickly process and prioritize the fire hose of social media comments, and coordinate who in the company should respond. Although Citi has specific channels devoted to specific purposes — i.e. @AskCiti on Twitter is devoted to resolving customer issues on a private line once contact is established — the customer usually makes no such distinctions.

“We tell our customer service team to be prepared for just about anything,” Michaud says. “We might get a public affairs question, a recruiting question from someone applying for a job, or a vendor trying to find the right internal contact. Occasionally, we may even see crisis-related social conversations.”

During Hurricane Sandy, Citi posted updates about branch openings, locations of its mobile branches, donations and opportunities to donate, and information on various fee waivers. Customers responded with comments and questions, as well as providing feedback on Citi’s handling of the crisis.

Whether the social media messages are urgent or routine business, customer service representatives use the Sprinklr SRI to triage the questions to the most appropriate Citi team.

Michaud credits the new system for saving roughly 20 percent of his community manager’s time that was previously devoted to customer service issues.

The community manager had previously been in the role of liaison between customer service and other departments. That saved time is now used to create more original content and engage with consumers.

“We like the fact that the Sprinklr team is very entrepreneurial and responsive to our needs,” says Michaud. “Our main focus now is using it to track our performance. We were using an agency to compile metrics and it was very labor-intensive. Now, we’ve shifted their focus from reporting metrics to delivering actionable business insights to improve our strategy.”

Because all Citi marketing content must be reviewed by the appropriate legal and compliance teams, using an SRI to track the approval of each post is invaluable. The system is also used to catalog and manage the company’s library of licensed images — every photograph posted on social media must be cleared for copyright.

“Customer service is obviously vital for financial services; and if you’re going to have a brand presence on social media and invite conversation, you’d better be prepared to handle every conversation,” Michaud says, stressing that Citi social media channels also attract plenty of compliments to balance out the complaints.

“If you follow our @CitiPrivatePass handle on Twitter, you’ll see lots of customers who are thrilled to get presale or VIP access to concerts, sports, dining, and family events,” he says.

“We try our best to treat all of our customers like rock stars,” he adds.