September 14, 2010

At some point Tuesday the status message on Chase's online banking site went from "scheduled system maintenance" to "temporarily unavailable." One way or another, Chase is working to resolve what a spokesman called a "technical issue" that's left online banking customers without service since sometime Monday evening.

In today's environment of instant information from the web and social media, messaging is as important as ever, says Celent senior analyst Jacob Jegher, or else run the risk of causing unnecessary customer confusion, dissatisfaction or just plain angry chatter on sites like Twitter or Facebook.

"Even if this is so severe that Chase doesn’t know when it’s going to be back up, there does need to be some communication," Jegher adds.

It could also be a chance for a bank to proactively set expectations using its own website, along with simple messaging across social media as to when customers might see a resolution and how they can access their accounts in the meantime.

"This is the perfect example of, when in crisis, how a bank can harness social media to communicate with its customers," Jegher adds. "I think the backlash would be less severe. When you’re talking about something that’s been going on for an extended period of time – I think in the online world that would be any thing greater than an hour – you need to have constant updates."

In a blog entry for Celent, Jegher points out the number of people complaining about their inability to access Chase's online banking services. While most of Monday the message on Chase's site was that scheduled maintenance was taking place, there was no clear answer as to how customers could access account information in the meantime (i.e. Chase's 1-800 number, a visit to a Chase ATM or branch and even SMS banking).

"Clearly there’s a lot more they can do here, and that’s just not happening," Jegher says. "That’s what my concern is."

It's not necessarily safe to assume the general public is going to turn to a 1-800 number when the website isn't working, or that they are in a location where they can access a physical branch. Some level of messaging beyond stating the obvious fact that online banking services are not available might be better than no messaging whatsoever.

"You don't have to divulge everything," Jegher adds.

Of course, social media messaging isn't always a clear answer, especially if the general tone of a bank's Twitter feed is casual and conversational, Jegher says. A problem that is causing widespread customer grief can't be handled casually. But at the same time, using social media doesn't mean having to interact with everyone who mentions a financial institution in a negative light.

Simply, in a time of perceived crisis or a channel outage, the customer wants some answers, or at least directions, Jegher says.

"A simple message is enough," he adds. "At least something, updated regularly.