Insights Michael Baker

Withdrawal symptoms

Once more, with feeling this week looks at TSB’s withdrawal symptoms and money saving expert, Martin Lewis’s bid to tackle fake ads on Facebook

Keeping the bills paid is tough at the best of times but it was nigh on impossible for many TSB customers this week after the bank’s upgrade to its online banking system went awry last weekend.

Impact? While customers took to social media to vent frustrations, reports emerged of some TSB branch employees exhausted with the strain of managing the volume of customers coming into branches due to the unavailability of online services.  MPs demanded answers and the Information Commissioner’s Office and Financial Conduct Authority look set to carry out investigations.

Response? Although TSB’s chief executive Paul Pester took some criticism for not getting to journalists until Tuesday, he and his communications team gave a textbook crisis media response.  Pester showed sincerity, contrition and empathy when he apologised and as the problems wore on, the bank confirmed that customers wouldn’t be out-of-pocket and upped its current account interest rate from May to say ‘thank-you’ to those who stick with the bank. While an announcement that the bank’s systems were “up and running” was a little premature, there was no questioning TSB’s commitment to engaging with the public and crucially, the bank backed up its warm words with deeds.

What could have been different? The bank put customers front and centre but perhaps the most stinging criticism came from employees who pleaded via the BBC for the bank to “recognise how awful it is in the branches” with some staff sent home exhausted.  TSB was fighting on every front, including against parent company, Spanish bank Sabadell, which put out a press release, now removed, on Monday boasting of the “successful completion” of the IT upgrade.

Crises play out and link up multiple audiences simultaneously more quickly than ever.  Many businesses have changed their models in recent years to shrink branch-based employee numbers in favour of technology-reliant online or telephone services.  TSB did a great job in tough circumstances and their experience offers plenty of pointers to other businesses as to how these changes can also shift risks and pinch-points – for example towards employee communications – in a crisis.

“Enough is enough”

Money saving expert Martin Lewis opened proceedings against Facebook in the court of public opinion and the High Court this week, blasting the platform for turning a blind eye to scammers using his image in their advertising on the social media network.  Lewis’ business, expertise and personality are so intertwined such that his series of interviews, including on Radio 4’s Today programme (1:13:57), landed serious blows as he pointed out that the firm is supposed to be expert in facial recognition but unable to recognise his face on bogus ads so they can be taken down.

Lewis eloquently said that while the chattering classes worry about the rise of fake news, it’s fake adverts that cost vulnerable people money.  And the reality is, selling ad space is the heart of Facebook’s business model, which is why this latest front for Facebook could be the most damaging yet.