Wednesday, September 14, 2011

OCBC Succeeds in Managing Customers Unhappiness over Service Disruption

OCBC suffered a “technical glitch” yesterday (13 Sep 2011) which resulted in an island-wide disruption to its banking services. For a period of approximately 4 hours, OCBC customers could not access their accounts via the ATM, Internet Banking or Credit Card Services.

Apart from the “physical” immediate action undertaken by OCBC to mitigate customer inconveniences, OCBC also responded well in the “information” dimension to protect its reputation. OCBC's crisis communication plan was open, timely and included the use of Social Media platforms like Twitter. This Social Media integration with Main Stream Media proved effective in keeping customers updated. The piece de resistance in OCBC's crisis communication was the broadcast of a SMS apology by its CEO (Mr David Conner) which, judging from Social Media monitoring sites, was well received by customers.

So what are the key lessons for Crisis Communicators from this incident.

Firstly, as mentioned in my research, an effective crisis communication plan must comprise the 5 Essential Elements of being open, timely, 100% truthful, broadly communicated and internet present. A quick look at what transpired yesterday would reveal that OCBC's plan included all of these elements: (a) OCBC's confirmation of the technical glitch was noted to have been posted on Twitter within an hour of the incident; (b) OCBC was “truthful” over the cause (at least as far as we can tell for now); and (c) OCBC used a mix of Social Media as well as Main Stream Media channels to communicate with stakeholders.

Secondly, attribution theory of crisis communications states that stakeholders will attribute responsibility based on OCBC's perceived role in the crisis. In this instance, in view of the prompt restoration of services and OCBC's perceived attempts to minimise customer inconveniences, stakeholders can tolerate one off “technical glitches” and “forgive” OCBC. Unfortunately, this is a one-time pass and a second incident would not be viewed in the same light.   Hence, in my opinion, while it was a brilliant PR move for the CEO to SMS an apology to affected customers, I thought OCBC should have gone one step further. This is because technology is unpredictable and even with numerous redundancies in place, I would predict that it is impossible to prevent a second occurrence. Hence, a stronger approach would have been to “compensate” customers for their inconvenience. Much like Domino Pizza's strategy where a failure to deliver a performance standard is reframed into one in which the customer accepts willingly.  Such a move by OCBC, would have put OCBC in a strong position should a second incident occur.  In fact, I would even venture to say that such a move would encourage existing customers to switch their banking to OCBC.

All said and done, I think overall the PR Team at OCBC did a fantastic job!  Kudos!


  1. It's easy to suggest compensation in order to achieve positive PR. But it comes at a cost to shareholders. Companies should consider compensation carefully.

  2. Thanks Anonymous for your comment.

    Yes, it is true that compensation seems like the "easy" way out and that the company's bottom-line is not a consideration. Perhaps the perspective to adopt would be to compare the cost of gaining a new client vis-a-vis the cost to maintain an existing one. Most would agree that the cost for the former is much higher than the latter and hence the present emphasis on loyalty programs.

    I do however fully agree with you that companies must be careful and not over-compensate.



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