Royal Bank of Scotland’s payments problem

By Mike Davies | 16 July 2015

RBS recently experienced a banking glitch meaning that 600,000 delayed banking payments did not show up in customer accounts. The outage affected customers across all four of its brands: NatWest, RBS, Ulster Bank and Coutts. This isn’t the first time RBS has fallen foul of technical problems; it’s actually the fifth time in three years. The IT glitch continues to have repercussions with customers now claiming they can’t switch their accounts away from RBS as a result.

Spokespeople for the bank urged concerned customers to get in touch via their local branch or through a call centre, but it was Twitter that was bombarded with angry tweets from customers:

@KrisScally1: 2 days in a row that money has not went into my account @RBS_Help  should give everyone affected a good will gesture #skint

@NickiDaldry: @RBS_Help can't wait to tell my kids when they get home from school, we can't spend any money at the school fair because We've not been paid

Communication channels

In the age of digital communications and social media, are bank communicating with customers in the right way? Oddly enough, the numerous banking outages have helped RBS improve the way it communicates to customers. The first outage in 2012 showed that enraged customers are more than happy to voice their opinions across multiple channels whether it is social media, online or in-person at their local branch. Social media channels, in particular, can prove detrimental to a bank’s reputation as the opinions expressed are public and shareable, meaning more people view criticisms of an organisation.

The first glitch for RBS saw a barrage of opinions expressed. Now, the banking group recognises that it needs to swiftly communicate issues to customers to mitigate critical views. Financial services organisations can’t stop customer complaints in their tracks by announcing they have an issue, but it does show customers that they care and are working as hard as possible to fix it.

Customers will have a particular preference as to how they talk to their bank, whether it is a complaint, a query or when they’re seeking a new service. You can see that RBS’ Twitter customer service account has almost 10,000 followers, nearly as many as its press account which actually communicated the official response regarding this recent outage. It shows that customers are taking to Twitter to engage with their banks. However this is still a low number when compared to overall account numbers in the UK for RBS. Not all customers will take to Twitter - some still prefer other communication channels.

Customer choice

This is the critical aspect that banks need to get right: communicating to customers through the means they prefer, at the right time and through the right platform. For some this could be through a printed letter sent to their home, others might prefer an email and others would value a direct response via Twitter. This shouldn’t purely be a consideration at a time of crisis either - banks should aim to communicate with customers on a personal level in all interactions.

Banks struggle as they are lumbered with legacy IT systems that, as shown by the recent RBS outage, are temperamental and susceptible to costly failures. The 2012 IT failure resulted in a £56m fine from the regulator; repercussions from the regulator for this glitch remain to be seen. Banks face a struggle to update their core infrastructures but this shouldn’t be replicated in their customer communications.

Banks have the opportunity to make the most of the data they have on customers to communicate with them effectively. Whilst an IT glitch will put staff on action stations to monitor an influx of customer complaints, the rest of customer communication can be a smooth operation. At a time when the likes of RBS are under intense scrutiny, customer service needs to be exemplary. Speak to customers on an individual level via personalised communications and they’ll feel like their concerns are being heard, helping banks to ride the storm if irate customers turn their attentions on them.

By Mike Davies, Regional VP Sales EMEA North, GMC Software Technology

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