Social Media

Customers ask Westpac for millions as bank takes to social media to explain outage

Emma Koehn /

Westpac customers faced an outage on Thursday night and the bank decided to take to social media to communicate it – including with some cheeky customers who demanded millions.

The “Westpac Live” system experienced issues on Thursday evening that affected payment processing and the way balances displayed in online accounts between 6.30pm and 9.30pm, with some customers reporting their balances were lower than expected. The outage came in the week after the Westpac Live and mobile banking system underwent a scheduled overnight upgrade last weekend.

Some customers reported being unable to see their accounts and balances from the bank’s online banking platform, or could no longer see recent deposits, including fortnightly salaries that had been placed in accounts on Thursday afternoon.

But while the Westpac customer service team swiftly responded to those asking for updates on social media, they also faced customers who claimed millions of dollars had been lost from their accounts and requested the bank immediately return their lost fortunes.

While some of these comments were made in a joking manner, the bank was still keen to touch base with each one. This was the right move, says crisis communications expert Nicole Matejic.

“The response should be very much audience led,” Matejic told SmartCompany.

“If people are happy enough to joke about it, you should go along – but in this case you really don’t know if people are missing millions of dollars.”

The Westpac social media team elected to take such complaints offline, encouraging customers to call the general customer service line to resolve any concerns.

But while many requested standardised text messages and emails about any widespread outages in future, Westpac said social media is the most effective way of speaking to customers.

“We are finding social media is the most effective way to reach our customers quickly, compared to trying to email or SMS everyone,” bank representative Rachael told one comment writer on Facebook.

Matejic says small businesses should look to the changing face of crisis management in large corporations, because it highlights the way quickly consumers are turning to social media when something goes wrong.

“Initially companies were a bit reticent to actually engage online, but that’s changing. Social media becomes a brand newsroom now when a crisis hits,” she says.

Having a strong social media plan especially for communicating problems with a business is very important – all the more so when customers’ money or information is concerned.

“As a business owner, you know what the risks are likely to be,” Matejic says.

“Have a think about what these risks are, and a plan on them.”

While a polite tone was taken throughout, even with the jokers, Westpac kept its messages simple and to the point:

A spokesperson for Westpac confirmed the timing of the outage to SmartCompany this morning but did not respond to further questions.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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