Social media has finally arrived on the Indian banking scene.
More and more people are taking to Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels to get in touch with their banks to ask about loans, lodge complaints and even explore business opportunities as the nationwide lockdown to curb the coronavirus enters Day 50.
While the change has been going on for a while, the nationwide shutdown has accelerated the shift away from traditional phone and branch banking to digital channels.
“During the initial part of the lockdown period, we saw a 50 percent jump in social media queries compared to February, with Twitter and Facebook being the two most popular channels,” said Puneet Kapoor, president, products, alternate channels and customer experience delivery, Kotak Mahindra Bank.
From questions on loan moratorium, penalty on late payment to KYC issues, banks have seen a big jump in social media interactions over the last couple of months.
The flood of queries did normalise, to an extent, in April but the bank was using all social media channels to continue interacting with customers and push them towards digital banking, Kapoor said.
After the lockdown was announced on March 24, bank branches curtailed services and even phone banking was disrupted initially.
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As more and more service providers started going online to work from home, some of the teething issues have been resolved but consumers seem to have stuck to the new channels.
“Going forward, the relevance of phone banking is bound to reduce. All early trends show that,” said a senior banker with a private-sector bank on condition of anonymity. “Chatbots, voice bots, social media channels will make interaction with banks a different experience altogether.”
Mumbai-based Fino Payments Bank has seen a six-fold jump in customer interactions via social media channels, with most conversations happening on Facebook.
For Fino, it has made a significant difference because the bulk of its customers is in small towns and villages. The fact that they have taken to social media shows that these services are relevant beyond cities.
“As a brand, we placed great emphasis on reverting to their queries, problems, requests for service via social media channels. That has paid dividends during the lockdown,” said Anand Bhatia, chief marketing officer, Fino Payments Bank.
Fino has received a large number of requests from merchants who want to be its business correspondents or banking agents. It also got multiple requests on Facebook for banking passes from merchants to enable them to carry on operations during the lockdown.
Even ICICI Bank, one of the biggest lenders in the private sector in the country, said it saw a four-time increase in responses to customers on social media in April, compared to the year-ago period, with a bulk of queries coming in via Twitter and Facebook.
Private banks corner almost 30 percent of the deposits in the banking sector, Reserve Bank of India's 2019 data shows. They have deposits of Rs 37.7 lakh crore compared to total deposits of Rs 128 lakh crore.
A new beginning
Banks have been talking about chatbots and voice bots for a long time but there were many challenges.
First, artificial intelligence (AI) engines were not powerful enough to solve complex issues faced by customers.
Second, most customers preferred to walk in to a branch or call up their relationship managers. Can the viral outbreak change that? Perhaps yes.
Kotak has seen a marked shift towards ‘Do It Yourself’ services that enable customers to carry out a host of banking activities without any assistance. It offers banking services through WhatsApp, voice bots, mobile banking and app banking.
“Currently, there is a migration from phone-banking channels to social media channels across the industry. Complaints on social media are handled quickly, which helps customers have a better experience. I believe this trend will continue,” said Bhatia of Fino.
Bankers say they have reaped the benefits of disciplined tagging of social media posts for the last one year across categories like complaints, leads credit card, EMI and others.
This has helped as back-end AI engines have become smarter with time and effective data collection.
Complaints are passed on to the right team automatically, thereby cutting the response time.
“A dedicated inter-departmental social media team monitors, responds and helps resolve customer queries. We have introduced many innovations, including one-click direct message service in collaboration with Twitter,” an ICICI Bank spokesperson said.
Simple issues are resolved instantly and complicated ones are passed on to bank officials who get on a call with customers.
The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted the economy but has also thrown up opportunities to reboot. It offers Indian banks a chance to be better at handling customers’ queries. And, early signs look promising.