first direct – The Future of Customer Service – research report


Research report commissioned by the online-bank first direct on the "Future of Customer Service"


Financial services, Online banking


Social media enterprise solutions

First direct2

The pioneering online bank first direct commissioned a research report from It’s Open on the Future of Customer Service.

The key findings of the report, written by Dr. Andrew Currah, are reproduced here, along with interviews with the author and Natalie Cowen, Head of brand and communications at first direct (see slide presentation at the bottom of post).


Dr Andrew Currah interview
Natalie Cowen interview

Key report findings

  • The social customer expects to engage online and not sit in a call centre queue
  • Social companies are empowering their staff to interact with customers online
  • Social customers can help companies increase their profits

The modern social customer has little time or respect for traditional company structures and expects to interact with brands on their own terms on through their favoured platforms, according to new research published today.

According to the new report, “The Future of Customer Service”, commissioned by one of the pioneers in the social arena for financial services, first direct, and authored by social media consultancy ItsOpen, 2011 was the tipping point where social media entered the main stream. Today’s customer expects to be heard and respected by companies when they post about them online; they expect to be able to interact with companies via their smartphones and tablet computers; and most of all they expect a swift response.

In essence, the social customer expects to interact with a company through a channel he or she chooses. Successful social companies need to be able to engage in their customers’ conversations online.  The model of expecting someone to sit and listen to hold music on the phone while they wait to speak to your customer services team is starting to look outdated.

The rise of the social customer has prompted the growth of the social company – the company that listens to its customers, interacts with them and asks them to contribute to and collaborate in future developments. The pioneer social companies are already seeing that the social customer is helping them to improve the bottom line.

Arguably the pioneers of true modern day customer service following their launch 22 years ago, first direct, have started on the road to embracing the social customer.

Natalie Cowen, Head of brand and communications at first direct, said:

“We started to recognise some time ago that the tide was turning and a customer service revolution was taking place this time in social media.  Our early response was to introduce Talking Point and became the first bank to give customers their chance to say, live and unedited, how they felt about the bank.

‘This was swiftly followed with the launch of the firstdirect Lab, another first in the financial world and where crowd sourcing enables customers and prospects alike the opportunity to craft and tweak the banks products and services. More recently our launch of firstdirecthelp@twitter truly sets us on the path of customer service in the social environment.

‘Whilst it has been a long and often difficult journey to get to where we are, it’s fantastic to see the personality of first direct, and the essence of our service success, coming to life in the digital space.”

Justin Hunt, Founder of ItsOpen, said:

“This report confirms what we have been hearing anecdotally over the last few months; the days of holding for ages to talk to a call centre adviser who can’t make a decision are about to be left behind. Customers now expect to be interacting and collaborating online with the brands they choose to do business with.

“2012 looks set to be the year of the social customer. It is up to companies to catch up, engage with these valuable brand advocates and make the most of the opportunities offered by social media. Companies are finally moving on from 20th century models of customer service”

Dr Andrew Currah, the report’s author, said:

“There are some hurdles that companies need to overcome before they can start to make the most of the new breed of social customer. Company executives must embrace the potential of digital communication – social media isn’t just something their children engage with.

“When social media permeates an organisation and moves beyond the ‘silos’ that many companies put it in, it allows the social company to deliver high quality customer service and compelling products based on the insights its customers provide. Simply leaving social media to the PR or marketing department will never allow a company to engage in online customer conversations, react to issues and eventually turn customer relations channels into revenue earners in the way that the pioneer social companies already do.

“Zappos, O2 and Tesco and first direct are blazing a trail. They are companies that understand the shift that social media has brought about and have redesigned their corporate structures to allow their customers to interact and engage through the channels that suit them.”

Importantly, the report also highlights the ways that newly social companies are reaping the financial benefits:

  • Customers who are ‘served’ online are far less likely to make use of expensive telephone-based customer service channels.
  • Companies that have opened up fully to social media have made customer data available to all relevant internal agents – making the resolution of customer enquiries less labour intensive and increasing opportunities for cross selling.
  • By fostering their own online communities, companies are able to encourage their customers to resolve each other’s queries – eventually allowing the forward thinking company to reduce its own customer service presence.
Future Of Customer Service: The Rise Of The Social Customer report