Monday, 26 April 2010

First Direct Live - 6 months on




It is coming up to 6 months since First Direct launched First Direct Live. The site has been hailed as a triumph of the open and honest sharing of customer feedback in real time. First Direct is still really the only UK retail bank that has successfully engaged with its customers online. However, in reality the online experience isn’t ‘amazing’. The persistence in using white out of black in the design is still an accessibility minefield, however because it looks different it has been allowed to pass and while the First Direct 'Retail Experience' is so much better than other competitors it tends to be regarded as highly successful. However, if you place the offering next to some other large consumer brands it doesn’t stack up as successfully.

Now this is not to say that First Direct is not a decent experience, but it could be better and it is against this backdrop that the questions around First Direct Live come. There has been little critical evaluation of the site. It does seem to have snuck under the radar with little scrutiny, so 6 months on from launch there are 5 areas in which I feel the site could definitely be improved as a true reflection of customer sentiment.

1. Ratings - The ratings widget is an automated sentiment scoring system at present. In reality there isn’t currently a sophisticated enough algorithm to replicate true human sentiment, so the scoring needs to be taken with a bit of a pinch of salt.

2. Curation – the filtering of content appears to be moderated, or highly selective and you don’t seem to get a full view of all feedback. It would appear that not all comments are posted and you get no feel for the volume of comments received.

3. Live words don’t really mean as much as they could and because you can’t click through to any of the content that the tag cloud is made up from it’s difficult to understand context. There is also a mismatch between the positive and negative scoring and the overall sentiment scoring and it hasn’t really been explained why. As an additional point, the words that make up the cloud and how they are rated negative and positive bring into question the overall sentiment algorithm again.

4. The platform is still all about push and destination web thinking. There’s almost no interaction and the lack of a human face makes it feel quite corporate.

5. The fact that the site’s been leveraged with a campaign leaves a suspicion around the original motives for the site. The satisfaction proposition is indeed very strong, if a little unspecified, but again this feels suspicious.

Now I have to say that what First Direct has done is laudable. It’s certainly much better thought out and executed than many brand forays into social media to date in any category. However, it’s more controlled than other attempts and that’s where the conflict exists – control is not what you’re looking for if true transparency is to be achieved. Now maybe we haven’t reached a point where true transparency can be achieved for a corporate company and in terms of First Direct taking things forward it’s brave and still unique within UK financial services. The digital community has unbelievably high expectations of what brands can currently achieve given the corporate structures that remain in place and until businesses are modelled around social we won’t see truly social businesses, so I guess where First Direct is, is good, however we do need to consider First Direct Live with a more watchful eye.

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