Lansons Conversations

The summer of technical glitches – how brands responded when they hit a crisis

Summer 2012 will stick out in peoples minds for many reasons – the unquestionably bad weather, Andy Murray making it to the Wimbledon final and how the Olympics rallied the nation and Team GB became national heroes. Summer 2012 was however, also a period where over a relatively short time space some large brands faltered with problems, in various degrees and sizes. How they tackled these problems will no doubt have left a lasting impression on the minds of any consumers who are their customers or potential customers.

Many banks including NatWest and Nationwide were placed firmly in the spotlight, but for the wrong reasons. Technology glitches left NatWest customers unable to access their accounts for several days, whilst problems with Nationwide saw up to 50,000 customers adversely impacted by having payments taken from their accounts twice (although duplicate payments were later refunded and customers notified accordingly). And phone giant O2 saw its networks go down leaving its customers without phone access for over 24 hours.

In an age whereby social media now acts as a platform for angry customers to vent their views (as long as it’s within 140 characters on Twitter of course) it has never been more important for a brand in a crisis situation to respond as quickly as possible and in the right way. Nationwide, one of the banking brands that appears to have escaped relatively unscathed from the banking crisis over recent years admitted its failure was down to simple human error and was a one off, and it seems customers are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. NatWest, owned by RBS, apologised to its customers through a statement but the outcry from customers on social media platforms was that they felt the bank hadn’t done enough to understand how being left without access to their account for several days had really impacted them, even when the bank opened 1,200 of its branches for a three hour period on a Sunday to help solve customer problems.

Whilst O2 started off slowly – it issued a statement and responded to twitter complaints by saying it was tackling the problems, it initially stuck to this somewhat safe approach which wasn’t having much cut through with customers. However, it changed tack on day two of the crisis and began to engage with every customer complaint, even rude and aggressive ones, with humour and a sense of fun. O2 strove to put a human voice to the crisis. The tweets were engaging, funny and lightened the tone of the overall crisis – even asking customers for a hug when things were getting tough! Even the most angry of customers soon saw the amusing side and calmed down until the problem was eventually solved. The tweets being sent to O2 then moved from being mostly complaints about the company, to mostly praise for the team issuing the funny Twitter responses. O2 used Twitter to deliver fast paced customer service during a crisis, and it worked.

How these different brands tackled their respective issues directly reinforces how important social media is today in a crisis. Twitter in particular creates a platform whereby customers, and potential future customers can air their views and directly see how companies respond to issues – so brand management is key to success. O2 engaged directly and gave a human feel to its Twitter account, so people felt that a human being was actually dealing with them. All too often companies are accused of hiding away when real problems strike and customers feel they aren’t getting the direct communication that answers their questions. O2 have proved that when managed properly social media can win round even the most angry of customers.

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