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Virtually assured: ASB branches out with new Facebranch

For its latest customer service trick, ASB has fully embraced social media, gone completely virtual and launched a real-time, secure, person-to-person banking application on Facebook, something it claims is a world-first.

ASB’s ‘Virtual Branch’ app, which is being launched on a trial basis to gauge customer interest and has been six months in the making, offers secure and private conversations with members of a dedicated team from the branch network at ASB’s contact centre on Dominion Road in Auckland. And it does everything a contact centre does, but without having to deal with any of those annoying human voices or hellish ‘press 1 to go through’ mazes.

Anna Curzon, ASB’s general manager of internet banking, says the Facebranch is open from 8am to 9pm seven days a week and, in the spirit of sharing, the service, which was developed by Wag the Dog, is available to all Facebookers, even if they aren’t ASB customers and even if they’re from outside New Zealand, which she says makes it a cheap way for foreigners to contact staff.

“We believe this is the first ‘Virtual Branch’ application of its kind to be launched by a bank on Facebook, anywhere in the world,” she says.

With the amount of customer interaction taking place online these days and the fact that consumers now often demand instant feedback from the brands they interact with, it’s a logical step for banks to upgrade their online banking approach, dip their toes in the real-time water and go virtual. And while technology has obviously advanced significantly since the early days of online robo-assistance, it’s refreshing to see that ASB’s blonde fembot, which was created with the help of Sitepal, still comes complete with those awkward, quintessentially virtual mouth and eye movements.

“By adding Facebook and other social media channels, customers and potential customers can choose to connect with ASB in the ways they are most comfortable with,” she says.

ASB’s Twitter account kicked off more than a year ago and has over 1,200 followers and its official Facebook page has had over 2,500 likes. So it’s recognised the fact that Kiwis are using social media to communicate. But Curzon expects even greater success with the Facebook branch, which has so far had requests for everything from joining Kiwisaver, to joining ASB, to sorting out a home loan, to just popping in, checking it out and having a chat.

Of course, one of the major perils for companies using social media is having to deal with incessant time wasters and opportunists, but Curzon is diplomatic and says ASB simply sees it as another opportunity to interact (no word on whether the Facebook tellers will also see it this way).

She says the app is encrypted and can process certain transactions, and from a security point of view, she says users will be asked the same questions they’re asked at the call centre in order to establish their identity. But despite this, she believes ASB’s internet banking services will still be the primary channels for most online transactions and she thinks Facebranch will work well alongside the existing offerings.

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