Jim Bush, EVP of World Service at American Express has raised the bar on customer service within American Express (Amex) and recognizes the vital role social media now plays in servicing card members. At the core of this program, a service ethos called Relationship CareSM, is the active listening to customers in order to build relationships (Gutnam, 2011). Let’s explore why Amex leads the financial services industry in their overall social media marketing efforts and areas where they may make improvements.
Tools used by American Express to listen to Twitter
Amex uses Listening Post from Visible Technologies to actively evaluate information coming from social platforms like Twitter, delivering insight to their customer service and marketing teams. Visible’s platform allows organizations like Amex to scan through volumes of tweets in eleven languages to pick out the most important communications that need immediate responses. Visible is able to assign value to different tweets based upon volume, origination from high traffic domains, and the influence of the author based upon their Klout score. Amex is also able to locate important tweets based upon keywords (e.g. awful, terrible, etc.) and create customizable workflows that queues posts to the appropriate teams to respond (Visible, n.d.).
Actively responding to tweets
As noted by authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, “to profit on listening, you need a plan to act on what you hear” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, p.82). Amex’s plan included the establishment of the AskAmex Twitter account, a Twitter-based customer service unit. At exactly 9:00 AM on August 31, 2009 American Expressed launched their AskAmex account on Twitter. The first post very quickly set the tone that this was not going to be another stuffy communication channel for a Fortune 100 company:
And with that post an entirely new customer service model was launched by Amex. Embracing the principle of Mark Schaefer, author of The Tao of Twitter, that people are sick of being sold to and marketed to, Amex focuses on establishing relationship with card members. Most notably, they communicate in a very informal manner presenting themselves as just another friend of yours in your social world (Schaefer, 2012). Samples of such tweets that appear to be from a friend versus a $30 billion organization include:
How effective has the AskAmex program been? Very. They currently have over 40,000 followers and have sent out over 100,000 tweets. Of course many of these tweets are less about leaving work but helping consumers in need as illustrated with tweets like this:
How feedback drove marketing initiatives
In addition to the AskAmex Twitter program mentioned above, they have also created the following programs that have been marketed to card member and merchants:
At the heart of Amex’s viability is the charging by its card members so removing impediments to charging is incredibly important to the organization. When Twitter listening efforts recognized that many of their card members are active Twitter users, Amex moved quickly to find ways to unite charging and Twitter. The result was the introduction of AmexSync, a new service that makes it as simple as tweeting a hashtag to order products or use discounts. This partnership between Amex and Twitter raises the stakes for all businesses trying to keep up in the financial services industry.
American Express OPEN Programs
With an established Twitter listening program, Amex noted that it had become an important tool for not only card members but also their merchants. While merchants also wanted customer service, they had great demand for using similar social media tools that Amex had deployed. In response to these requests, Amex went on to launch their Small Business Saturday program that promoted the purchasing of goods and services from mom and pop businesses (Swallow, 2012). To support the mom and pop merchants, they provided templates to create social media marketing programs on Twitter and Facebook. Amex also offered merchants the OPEN Marketing Suite that provided tools to help merchants manage their online presence (YourBuzz), measure the effectiveness of their marketing programs (AdManager), and an online tool for optimizing the placement of online advertisements (SearchManager).
Areas for improvement
Considered the “boldest and most socially-savvy of the major credit cards” by Forbes contributor B. Bonin Bough, it is somewhat difficult to find significant areas where Amex can improve their Twitter programs (Bough, 2013). However, expanding AskAmex monitored hours should be considered because the social world never sleeps. AskAmex is only available Monday – Friday 9:00 AM – 10PM EST. Staffing this group 24/7 should happen immediately. They also need to determine if security-conscious Twitter users will adopt the AmexSync program as their purchasing tweets are public.
We’ve looked at American Express’ use of Twitter and new programs launched as a result of social media listening of their card members and merchants. Perhaps the most important use of Twitter within Amex continues to be as a tool that augments their customer service efforts. For Jim Bush, customer service is of utmost importance as he “believes that great service doesn’t come down to what we think about our performance internally. It’s all about what the customer thinks after every interaction.” (Gutnam, 2011).
Bough, B. (2013). Retrieved November 9, 2013 from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/boninbough/2013/02/13/from-hashtag-to-purchase-twitters-newest-partnership-with-american-express/
Gutnam, B. (2011). Retrieved November 9, 2013 from http://www.forbes.com/sites/marketshare/2011/03/17/why-american-express-is-raising-the-bar-on-customer-service/
Li, C. & Bernoff, J. (2011). Groundswell. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press
Schaefer, M. (2012). The tao of twitter. New York, NY: McGrawHill
Swallow, E. (2012). Retrieved November 9, 2013 from http://mashable.com/2012/03/28/american-express-social-media/