Vancity proves (again) they get social media

Darren Barefoot, a well-known Canadian blogger who’s even dropped a few comments on Open Source CU, hooked Vancity up with some constructive criticism on darrenbarefoot.com.

In case you’re wondering how things got started, Darren’s post is called I Wanted to Like Vancity, But Now I Loathe Them.

Darren writes:

You know, Vancity does a lot of great things. ChangeEverything is cool, as is their new climate change mortgage, and they have a ton of admirable local initiatives.

It was because of that good reputation, both as a bank and a community member, that we switched our business accounts from the Royal Bank to Vancity last year. The Royal Bank had given us incompetent, impersonal service, so it was a pleasure to take our money elsewhere (they likewise continue to treat us poorly for our personal accounts).

You know what? Vancity is no better. They’re possibly even worse.

I already described the serious error they made last August, as well as their confusing mail piece (a trivial complaint, but reflective of their customer service).

Since then, Vancity has made two more mistakes on basic activities within our account. I’m not manufacturing imaginary missteps. I have emails from my account manager admitting they made errors in issuing incorrect cheques and cashing cheques from the wrong account.

I don’t care how frickin’ green or community-oriented this credit union is. I don’t pay banking fees for ineptitude.

I’m out of patience and goodwill. That’s three errors in six months, in our first year with a new bank. If we performed like this at Capulet, all of our clients would fire us.

If I wasn’t leaving the country in four weeks, I’d put the immediate boot to Vancity. Instead, I’ll leave that onerous task for our return.

On a related matter, why aren’t these community-minded people monitoring the Web? This is my third post dissing their organization, and nobody from Vancity has responded, publicly or privately.

Yikes! Then the comments start:

  • “I’ve been wanting to assuage my bleeding-heart side for a while and switch from TD Canada Trust to Vancity — but reading about your experiences has caused me to stay put for now.”
  • “As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never had any such problems with Vancity in our long years of dealing with them, so I have to wonder if your problems are specific to your branch”
  • “Thanks, you saved me a bit of trouble. I’ve been looking at banks to open a business account and Vancity was high on my list to check out.”

Ahh, but here’s what Vancity did that Vystar didn’t.

Vancity responded.

From Sara Holland, Vancity Public Affairs and Corporate Communications:

Blogging is a real challenge for us folks over here in Banking World. On the one hand it’s really helpful to hear directly from our customers about their service challenges (and about their positive experiences — thanks for the testimonial, Derek!). On the other hand we’re really limited in how much we can respond to any specific experience in a public space like a blog, because government regulations and our own policies impose very strict limits on what we can say about anybody’s financial relationship with Vancity.

All for good reason, but it makes blogging about an issue like this one (which in some ways we’d love to do!) very tough. It’s the tension between the transparency and authenticity that lie at the heart of blogging, and the critical need to offer the level of privacy protection that members expect and deserve. Please bear with us; we’re still trying to figure out how to interact with our members in the blogging world. And that’s meant it’s taken us longer than it should have to figure out how to respond to comments like yours.

That said… we do want you (and other BC bloggers) to know that YES we are watching and listening. We’re big fans of Technorati and when Vancity pops up on someone’s blog, that blog post makes its way through to our internal communications team. But our policy is to respond behind-the-scenes, for example by asking the Branch Manager to follow up.

We take service issues very seriously. I know your Branch Manager dealt directly with you regarding the original service issue. The bottom line is we’ve made mistakes with your account and that’s not okay. And we really appreciate that our community values and investments have given you a reason to be patient while we worked on your concerns. We’re determined to improve our service to you and make you love us. We will be in touch.

So I asked Darren what the response meant. He wrote back,

To me, the most interesting thing was that they had read my previous complaints about their organization, but had failed to recognize that they’d done so. As I said, listening is one thing, but telling people you’re listening is another…. Did the comment make a difference? Not really, as I had to more or less demand that they respond publically. If they’d shown up uninvited and spontaneously left a comment, that would have been more effective.

Fair enough. I agree, the response should’ve come on his earlier posts. But I think their response is more significant than they’re getting credit for in the comment thread of his post.

Every time I speak to a credit union about blogosphere criticism (or praise for that matter), I say that I’m of the opinion they should respond. Isn’t that a social media rule?!

I think Vancity did the right thing to respond this time on Darren’s blog. Darren might not stay with Vancity, but they explained that (a) they listen to the blogosphere, (b) they didn’t know how to respond (blogging is tough) and they’re sorry for the delay, (c) his customer service complaints are valid, and (d) they want another chance to prove it by improving.

And when I say “they”, I love that a real person (Sara) at Vancity responded.

Taking your lumps on a blog and responding is better than not participating in the conversation, right?

Comments

I think Vancity did a good job at responding to Darren. What’s amazing to me is that Darren is able to leverage his virtual soapbox for power. Do you really think his intensions are to enlighten others about Vancity so they do not make the same mistake as him? If he believes in the fundamentals behind Vancity, he should communicate with them directly to help them improve their operations. Instead he cries from the mountain tops about how he was never told about particular fees (for a service his bookkeeper eventually pointed out he actually did not need) and how a campaign they did was poorly implemented. Darren’s blog posts about Vancity appear to be all about Darren.

So a couple people responded to Darren saying they would no longer pursue doing business with Vancity because of his experiences, but how many real people are letting this guy’s bitching influence them? If many, I suggest everyone setting up a virtual soapbox so they can use it as a threat to manipulate businesses - and people for that matter - to get want they want! Where does it stop?

Since anyone can easily set up a blog, over time how is any business supposed to respond to every single blog post relating to their business? Seems to me like companies need to do a good job at extending effective and open communication channels between themselves and individuals and groups of individuals.

Thoughts?


Respond! Interact!

Take your lumps - and take your kind words too… It shows you’re listening to all types of feedback.

And - as for how hard it is to monitor blogs, etc. for when they reference your CU: It isn’t so hard to do at the moment… Google Alerts and other tools make it easy to see who is saying what about your organization. And - even if you aren’t participating in the conversations, you should probably be watching/listening.

Now - will it get harder as time passes. Maybe. But I think we cross that bridge when we get there.


First off, why wouldn’t my blog posts be all about me? After all the URL is darrenbarefoot.com. Does that blog give me power when I need things (such as better service) from companies. Absolutely. After all, no two customers are created equal, particularly when it comes to banks.

I wonder, what makes credit unions free from criticism? Under what circumstances would you, freemarket, advocate free and public criticism of companies?

Of course everybody should set up a virtual soapbox, if they want one. They should sing the praises of companies they love (as I often do, such as http://tinyurl.com/35nqvc or http://tinyurl.com/3dmdsl) and criticize companies that let them down.

You asked: “how is any business supposed to respond to every single blog post relating to their business?”

You can be certain that they get far more email messages and phone calls than blog posts. A search in Google’s Blog Search for ‘Vancity credit union’ turns up less than 200 for the last six months. A search in Technorati confirms that number.

They should respond to every single blog post like they should respond to every single email and phone call. The additional burden is relatively small, and vitally important. The emails and phone calls are one-to-one communications. My blog post is about 1-to-10,000.


Thanks to everyone for their thoughts on how companies should deal with ‘blogicisms’. It’s something we’ve been grappling with here at Vancity. Have we handled it the best way so far? Probably not, but we’re determined to fix that. In the past, we’ve chosen not to respond, thinking it would be better to engage in the real world vs. a public forum due to our limitations around member privacy. Perhaps that was a bad call, because it made it appear that we weren’t monitoring blogs (believe me, we do - all day long) and that we didn’t care about Darren’s service issues (we did and we do).

I should tell you that this has sparked quite the discussion within the Vancity communications team. Blogs offer an interesting new dimension to customer feedback management and reputational management and we really want to get it right. To tackle this issue head on, I’m organizing a session with my corporate communications team to tackle this issue head on.


Sure you have the right to bitch about stuff in your blog, but what is your objective? If Vancity reflects many of your core values, would it not be more effective to work directly with them and communicate through their channels to effectuate change? Vancity is a big credit union with tons of movable parts that can and do fail. How about putting things in perspective and evaluating these particular shortcomings relative to their overall service?

Constructive criticism is always valuable to any person or organization and should be freely provided. However, bitching is bitching and serves no purpose other than to possibly make the person bitching feel better. Do you want to bitch to feel better or do you want to be part of making an effective, progressive and sincere credit union better?

There will come a time when responding to all blog posts will not be viable and ultimately will only reinforce with folks that they can indeed manipulate what they want through non-constructive feedback.

If a credit union provides communiation channels to facilitate individual and group discussion, how arrogant is it for an individual to expect companies to respond in their personal blogs? Are the recent studies calling Gen-Ys being all about “ME” accurate? I hope not.


Let’s be clear: the only thing I want from Vancity is error-free service. I don’t care if they’re “an effective, progressive and sincere credit union”, and I’ve never said that I did. They’re my bank, and all I expect from my bank is that they provide me good service. I wrote about them because they didn’t.

I chose Vancity because I’d had a number of positive recommendations and admired their initiatives. I’m glad other people are passionate advocates for them. I’m a passionate advocate for other causes, organizations and companies, just not Vancity.

My blog is many things to me and the people who read it. One of those things is a place to write and read about good and bad customer experiences. I like writing them, and apparently people like reading them. I get to express my opinion and engage in discussion with my readers. Sometimes (as in this case) I also get to talk with the companies I’m writing about as a result, which is a nice fringe benefit.

If you want to characterize that as ‘bitching’, you’re welcome to. I’m sorry if it doesn’t meet your apparently narrow set of criteria for online writing.

“There will come a time when responding to all blog posts will not be viable and ultimately will only reinforce with folks that they can indeed manipulate what they want through non-constructive feedback.”

This is patently inaccurate for all but the largest of companies. The explosive growth spurt of blogs is over, and slowly levelling off. There are currently about 60 million English language blogs, two-thirds of which are defunct. So, that leaves 20 million active blogs. We might some day get to, what, 5 times that, but that would still only add up to about 1000 posts every 6 months for Vancity. I’m sure Vancity gets 1000 phone calls and emails every week, so they can handle the burden.

Even if a company can’t reply to every email, phone call and blog post regarding it, the blog posts must be the highest priority. They’re amplified and persistent, and touch tens or hundred or thousands or millions of potential customers instead of just one.

Blogging is a new communication medium, and it sounds like you’re having a hard time getting your head around that fact. I’m sorry that you’ve concluded that I’m arrogant based on this scant evidence, but that’s your prerogative.

I’m 33, so I’m not sure why you bring up Generation-Y.


I have been following this whole thread avidly. In fact, I happened to bump into Darren downtown the morning this all began (btw: he didn’t mention it to me).

I can say that this experience, dating back to Darren’s original post about joining Vancity is something we’ve been aware of. As he has posted about his experiences, it has become an issue of discussion internally as to how to respond.

In the end, I can’t comment on what happened with Darren’s account, I’ll leave that to him and his branch, but it has influenced us as to how we respond to blog posts.

We truly focus on good customer service and being a part of the community we serve. It’s what makes me excited to work here - we make huge efforts to walk the walk. Which is why so many people here are upset by Darren’s experiences. Sure we want to deal with the public relations issues, but we also do want to provide good service and ensure that the Darrens of the world get what they need from their relationship with us.

I have been enjoying this discussion, both online and in our offices, and thanks a lot for that.


William: Thanks for your comments–I’ll drop you an email. Heh…what was I going to say when I saw you, “Happy birthday! By the way, here’s my customer complaint…”


This is very interesting discussion – but it’s not entirely new. A few years ago, I had a member threaten me that she was going to “go to the press” with her complaint. Sure enough, a few days later, our local news station called, asking why her debit card had been denied (must have been a really slow news day in Seattle).

It was the most frustrating thing – we couldn’t tell the reporters that her debit card had been denied because she had over drawn her account too many times (and I am NOT saying this is the case with you Darren), I’m only saying that, in the world of blogging, corporations do have some disadvantages when it comes to open and honest discussions with millions of people.

Sara – I think your response was brilliant. I’ve booked marked it.

And Darren – yes indeed – you SHOULD mention your blog post when you see someone in real life. You are blogging about real live people. I think it is good blogging protocol, when meeting someone in person, to mention recent blog posts about them, particularly if the posts were critical in tone. It is a lot easier to say uncomfortable things when you are not looking the person in the eye.

Great discussion.


Just to clarify, William and I ran into each other in passing. I didn’t really think it was germane to the blog post.

And, as a general rule, I disagree that I should mention real-world meetings on my blog. I prefer to respect people’s privacy. Otherwise, everybody who meets me in person will be checking what they say and do because I might publicize it.


Whoops, I wasn’t clear. I don’t think you should mention it ON your post. I think you should mention it TO the person, if you see someone you know in real life - as in “hey, I blogged about you yesterday. Just a heads up.”


Wow, good grief. I’m out 1 day and look at all that I’ve missed. I have a hard time not putting my two cents in, so here it goes.

And let me start with this disclaimer: I’m just a peon. I have no idea how our credit union handles this issue. But I do intend to find out. So, nothing I say is representative of what we do by any means. Simply how I see it, and I hope I would see it the same way if the complaints were about us.

With that said, I’m having a hard time understanding why Darren wouldn’t write about himself and his experiences on HIS site. But that’s another story. To each his own. There is freedom of speech and everyone is entitled to voice his opinion, no matter what his agenda. But there is a point here. Customers/members voice complaints in several ways. At one time, it was in person or on the phone. Now, however, it’s e-mails, blogging, etc. The internet has become one more form of communication. Where someone might have once written a letter to the editor and had it published in the newspaper, they are now writing in blogs online. Where’s the difference? Likewise, people have the individual choice to read or not read. And if they choose to read, they have the choice of what to do with that information. Darren does not have the responsibility of what people do with the information. If they hear about his bad experience and choose to stay away from that company, that is their choice. The fact is, word of mouth speaks volumes. Online, friend to friend, or going to the “media.” Point blank, the credit union would not ignore a complaint by phone call (I hope), so why ignore complaints online? If you are going to promote good customer service, you have to meet customers/members where they’re at. It’s our jobs to willingly provide that service. That’s what we are getting paid for. Besides, on a personal note, not even business related, if a person wrote anything about you on a website, would you not respond to clear your name? I would.


Wow - this is a really interesting blog. It really puts a light on the question that I get from a lot of people: why should credit unions blog? Isn’t that dangerous for them? I’ve told them absolutely not - that this is a good thing for them to do. They don’t believe that it helps or is significant, but I think this case makes my point. Thank you!


I completely understand the tangible and intangible benefits derived from social media and think true communities that facilitate open, honest, credible, accountable and 2-way interactions are valuable to all involved. However, most blogs on the other hand are just self-serving virtual soap boxes where anyone can pontificate about anything that interests them as a self-proclaimed expert; their only motive being ego or self advancement.

Companies need to create direct communications channels with customers/members/partners that facilitate different forms and styles of communications with individuals and groups of individuals, but I still think that expecting a company to continually respond to every blog post beyond the large and credible communities is a load.

Darren, expecting 100% execution every time is not reasonable and I am quite sure you and your company never achieve perfection either. Big whoopee you think their rewards program was poorly implemented. How did that really impact your business with them? Regarding the special notifications for wires, did you ask them if there was a fee…I agree they should have told you….but? And ultimately what damage was done since this whole thing allowed your bookkeeper to apparently streamline your processes?

I suggest you consider the Karma you create before bitching about another company or you may find yourself reading a customer’s blog trashing you and your company.


freemarket,

…“most blogs, on the other hand, are just self-serving virtual soap boxes where anyone can pontificate about anything that interests them as a self-proclaimed expert; their only motive being ego or self advancement.”

You say that like it’s a BAD thing. It’s what we’re ALL doing here – you included! And it feels good. There’s something about the act of writing that cleanses the soul.

You cannot even compare a blog “complaint” to a written, email or phone call complaint. Blogs give people permission to join in a conversation. And that conversation becomes a focus group of sorts and has far more learning than a “fix my problem” letter.

Major snaps to Vancity for joining the conversation. Makes me want to join – in spite of Darren’s experience. It shows they care. Can’t say that for all credit unions.

Rock on Darren. Bad service pisses me off too. And if credit unions in the US can learn from your example, I thank you.


Freemarket:

Denise refuted your original point better than I could. I find it ironic that somebody with a handle like ‘freemarket’ seems to favour a less communicative environment, where consumers voices can’t be heard as easily.

I’ve demonstrated with verifiable facts that it will be a trivial burden to respond to blog posts for the foreseeable future. If you have any evidence to back up your claim that “expecting a company to continually respond to every blog post beyond the large and credible communities is a load”, let’s hear it. Otherwise, concede the point to me and move on.

Vancity made three errors in their first six months of business with us, including a major misstep (which we took careful pains to explain and clarify beforehand) when we signed up. All three of them inconvenienced us signficantly, and probably wasted a total of three hours of our time. If you think that’s an acceptable error rate and scope, you’re entitled. I don’t, and plenty of people agree with me.

How about quoting me instead of rephrasing my words? Can you indicate exactly where I say that my bookkeeper streamlined my processes?

Nearly all of my clients have blogs, and they’re all welcome to trash my company if they find our performance poor.


I must say that as an employee of the recipient of Darren’s criticism, I also believe he has every right to use his blog as a forum for his opinion. We live in a consumer culture and retail experiences are a huge source of excitement and frustration. It’s been a wake up call for us, one we wish hadn’t happened for the reasons it did.

In the end, for me, it’s not a discussion of whether Darren should use his blog for the purposes he does, that seems self-evident. The thing for me is that he does and we either get on board or get left behind. I only wish we’d publicly joined the conversation the other times he blogged about us instead of letting everyone else shape a conversation about us without our input.

All you have to do is Google ‘Vancity customer service’ to see the power of the medium. One blogger can influence a lot of people, and to me blogs represent third party unsolicited criticism or detractions. For community and business reasons, we’d prefer the former.

Thanks all for the great discussion. Wm


This is a fantastic discussion. What impresses me the most is that CU’s are approaching this in a transparent and positive way.

I know that VanCity will be an (even) better place for this discussion. As I said earlier, somewhere, I am impressed that Sara who is I believe from Corp Comms, is involved. To my knowledge thats an industry (Bank or CU) first on a blog.

One observation … every name ought to have a link back to identify them.


I have got to say that Denise’s comments make some good points. I do love your passion and writing style. CU need rebels like you!

Darren, my last post was lame, I agree. I lost my focus in my rush and skimed some of your issues. I would probably be pissed too.

My main point is that I beleive if a customer, member, whatever whats to proactiely deal with a company, they would generally be better served by using a channel directly with the company. If a company does not afford an online community to their consumers to surface such issues, then it makes sense to use their own. Otherwise it seems to me to be self promotion rather than really trying to effectuate change.

Just my opinion.