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A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day! – Key Lessons & Recommendations From Co-op Bank’s Social Media Crisis On Twitter.

The Co-operative Bank of Kenya, also known fondly as ‘Co-op Bank’ is one of Kenya’s largest banks. Thanks to their early forays in agency and digital banking, Co-op Bank has around 8 million customers making them easily one of the big boys of banking in Kenya, right up there with behemoths like KCB and Equity Bank. It should therefore come as no surprise that when a bank of Co-op Bank’s size sneezes, every one of their customers catches a cold as was the case last week on Twitter. Co-op Bank’s social media crisis story from earlier this week goes something like this:

The Tweet That Started Co-op Bank’s Social Media Crisis
  • Co-op Bank posts an innocuous Twitter post as is normally the case on the 2nd March 2022. Do note that Co-op Bank is massive on Twitter with over 500,000 followers. Watu wako na Co-op Bank!
  • A customer responds and asks Co-op Bank on their Twitter account why they are charging him Kes. 42.00 for making an M-Pesa deposit to his bank account. This is a Twitter user with less than 11 followers at the time.
  • Co-op Bank responds, somewhat innocently, that the charges are what they charge for M-Pesa deposits as well as the excise duty that they pay to the Kenya Revenue Authority.
  • This response catches the customer by surprise since he had no idea that Co-op Bank officially charges the Kes. 42.00 for M-Pesa deposits to customer bank accounts as this has never been communicated officially.
  • As expected, Kenyans on Twitter, or KOT to be more precise blow up from this revelation at scale and their customers rail against the Co-op Bank machine (remember, they have millions of customers) that is nicking their hard-earned shillings without communicating the same, to them, with impunity, and it starts trending accordingly.
  • Seeing that its proverbial house of cards is on blazing fire with KOT going at it hammer and tongs, Co-op Bank capitulates and issues a social media post during the course of the day that it is rescinding the punitive M-Pesa deposit charges and will refund all their customers.
  • However, the damage is done. Co-op Bank is now perceived as an unethical and profit-mongering bank that knowingly took advantage of its trusting and loyal customers.
  • Even Co-op Bank’s competitors get in on the trend and gleefully respond to their customers who celebrate them for being transparent and trustworthy. This will NOT go unpunished it seems!
  • The end!

Well. It’s not that simple. There is no real end to what happened to Co-op Bank and they will continue to operate for the foreseeable future – unlike Chase Bank in Kenya which went out of business a few years ago when the majority of customers raided the bank for their deposits following a scandal exacerbated by a social media crisis (true story!).

Co-op Bank’s Tweet When The Social Media Crisis Escalated

That being said, the Co-op Bank brand has been damaged and the sentiment is not good at all, kwa ground. Co-op Bank will eventually recover from this social media crisis but there are definitely lessons to be learned from what happened and recommendations for all on how to handle a social media crisis. The first step though would be to better appreciate what a social media crisis is from the ground up. Here is a decent definition:

A social media crisis is an event that can have a negative effect on a brand’s, company’s, or individual’s reputation.

It can be something that occurs offline and is then brought to social media channels, or it can begin on social media channels, and then spread.

Examples of social media crises can be embarrassing photos, inappropriate postings by employees or ex-employees, or voiced opinions that can reflect negatively on an organization

Now that we understand what a social media crisis is, here are my thoughts on what happened, what they could have done differently, and how Co-op Bank can recover from this social media crisis:

Always Be Communicating (ABC).

If you are a bank, remember that money is one of the most sensitive topics for people from all walks of life. People work hard for their money so if you plan to charge them for anything where their money is concerned it stands to reason that you need, no, you must overcommunicate that position. It seems in this instance, whether knowingly or unknowingly, a customer with a handful of Twitter followers threw a fit and quite literally ate the Co-op Bank elephant one tweet at a time with the full force of KOT behind him. If Co-op Bank had done this more effectively from the get-go the social media crisis could have been averted altogether or at the very least they could have opted not to have the M-Pesa charges at all. This one move would have saved Co-op Bank a world of pain.

Acknowledge The Mistake.

The second thing is that by the time Co-op Bank realized it was in the middle of a full-blown social media crisis and it started trending for all the wrong reasons on Twitter, it quite quickly moved to resolve the issue by offering to refund customers for the M-Pesa deposit charges and at the same would eliminate the charges altogether. The speed with this happened suggests that Co-op Bank knew it had made a grave mistake, to begin with, that could invariably cost it lots of customers and their long-term business. The biggest mistake Co-op Bank in this instance is that they did not acknowledge that they had made a mistake and make an apology – they completely dodged the bullet! This failure to officially take liability for the mistake and apologize makes Co-op Bank seem culpable and arrogant. It makes them seem like they don’t care. This could really bite them in the behind in the future. Mark my words.

Apologize. Or Don’t Apologize At All.

In terms of the next steps, Co-op Bank MUST offer an apology to their customers for their snafu. This apology should come from no less than Co-op Bank’s CEO. This ideally should be a video and press release that will go far and wide. If the charges happened erroneously due to some kind of internal screw up they need to communicate that as well but the CEO still needs to take responsibility. This one move will communicate Co-op Bank’s humility and willingness to learn from its mistakes. The modern customer loves a brand that can apologize and then take measures to ensure that the mistake is not repeated in the future.

Demonstrate The Way Forward.

One thing that I must commend Co-op Bank for is that they did somewhat sneakily remove the punitive M-Pesa deposit charges almost immediately after the issue started trending on Twitter. Hongera Co-op Bank! But, your customers are still upset! Co-op Bank, in addition to accepting its mistake, must reassure customers that they are taking measures to ensure that it does not happen again and that they are taking the required next steps to put in place an action plan to review their business processes in-line with customer needs and expectations. Communicating this step would go a long way to allaying the fears and concerns of customers, not to mention their current doubts about Co-op Bank’s ethics as a bank.

Even Co-op Bank’s Competitors Had A Field Day!

Back To The Future!

The last step for Co-op Bank to take is to focus on the recovery of its brand. There is a very real prospect that they have already lost a good number of customers and will continue to do so as a result of the social media crisis. Therefore, in going beyond reassurance and action plans, brand recovery will entail Co-op Bank actually implementing and continuing to communicate the measures it is putting in place to make it a better bank for existing and prospective customers. This means what could be considered to be radical changes in areas such as its organizational structures, processes, roles, and customer-facing functions. The idea is that Co-op Bank must walk in lockstep with its customers in meeting and exceeding their expectations by adopting the next practices that serve their best interests. If Co-op Bank can follow through in this regard they could even gain more customers as a result!

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