* Firms using Twitter, Facebook, to enhance customer service
* Online feedback helps guide business and product decisions
* Shift to electronic communication expected to grow
By John McCrank
NEW YORK, April 5 When Tom LaScola received an
unsolicited message on Twitter from TD Ameritrade about
the problems he was having setting up an online brokerage
account, he was pleasantly surprised.
LaScola, 23, a marketing consultant and avid social media
user, sent a tweet out to his more than 5,000 Twitter followers
about the headache he was getting from setting up a new TD
Within minutes he received a tweet from the company, which
was not one of his followers, offering an apology for his
troubles and a direct phone number for him to call for help. He
called, and his problems were quickly resolved.
"They're being proactive," LaScola said. "They have a lot of
customers, and a lot of people are using social media, so it's
nice to know that they are trying to keep up."
Other financial service companies with a large online
presence, such as Charles Schwab Corp and Fidelity
Investments, are also tapping social media to reach out to
clients and to compete for new assets.
One Twitter user recently posted that she was evaluating
trading platforms and wanted to know how TD Ameritrade, E*Trade
, and Schwab fees compare. Both TD Ameritrade and Schwab
responded quickly with messages directing her to information on
their respective websites.
TWEET TO CHUCK
Twitter, the micro-blogging site founded in 2006, boasts
more than 140 million active users in the Twitterverse, many of
them young, tech-savvy professionals like LaScola, who online
brokerages want to attract.
"We want to be where our customers are and we want to be
approachable to them," said Jennifer Davis, a Schwab
spokeswoman. "So, if people are using social media to express
their feelings about our brand, we're listening."
Commercially available software allows firms to scour
Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other sites in real time for any
mention of their names or for key industry trends.
When someone mentions a Schwab service issue online it
generally takes the company about 15 minutes to respond, Davis
said. She sa id he r team regularly meets to discuss the feedback,
which helps in forming business and product decisions.
Fidelity said it does the same. When the iPad 2 came out,
the company received a flood of requests via Facebook and
Twitter to make its mobile check deposit app available for the
device. It noticed many similar comments on Apple Inc's
"So we made it a pretty high priority," said Richard Blunck,
Fidelity's head of Web distribution.
FROM THOUSANDS TO MILLIONS
Of Fidelity's more than 20 million customers, around 45,000
follow the company on Twitter, and about 50,000 on Facebook.
"Our expectation is that over time, we'll be interacting
with not tens of thousands, but millions of people on these
channels," Blunck said.
TD Ameritrade also expects a continued shift to electronic
communication, said Stuart Rubinstein, head of the firm's client
service team responsible for monitoring social media.
He said that when the firm first responds to a comment via
social media, the person on the other end is often surprised.
But after that, quick responses are expected.
LaScola, after signing up for a TD Ameritrade account, had
an issue with an options trading app. He said he went back to
Twitter and had an answer to his question within 10 minutes.
"With smaller issues, to have a path to get information with
some immediacy through social media is pretty good," he said.
"It's never a good process to call in somewhere with an issue."