Maybe Bank of America means to make this a yearly thing. It's the cusp of fall and winter, and the banking behemoth is backpedaling furiously from yet another PR disaster relating to account fees.
Back in 2011, as the leaves fell from the trees, BoA junked the fantastically unpopular proposal that customers be charged $5 per month simply for using their debit cards. The Bank was already charging a transaction fee for debit card use at non-BoA ATMs, in addition to any fee imposed by the ATM vendor.
Customers' patience finally snapped. Their weapon of choice? Social media. One individual customer alone collected over 150,000 signatures opposing the decision through a Facebook petition. A Google+ user created a fake and insolent BoA Business Page, which quickly gained more followers than the authentic BoA Google+ page. Consumers Union used Web outreach to prompt 40,000 consumers to demand a Congressional investigation.
Did BoA learn the social media lesson from all this? To some extent, it did. Last week, and at the last minute, it backed off doing it all over again. For now, anyway.
The scheme this time was to levy new checking account fees on customers who maintain a low account balance; in other words, the customers who, by and large, can least afford extra charges. This threatened, of course, another wave of consumer revulsion against the famously bailed-out bank.
It seems clear that bank researchers have been using small focus groups in an attempt to discover what will and won't wash with consumers. According to the WSJ:
Researchers at the bank have spent several hundred hours over the past two months with customers, sitting in their homes for hours at a time and interviewing them about their financial habits.
There's no sign, though, that BoA is utilizing the biggest focus group there is: the non-stop national conversation taking place on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and the other major social media sites.
If BoA, buoyed up by being "too big to fail," can perhaps afford to blunder a bout the market place like a deranged elephant, attempting to impose unpopular and unfair charges on its customers. Small to midsized businesses can't afford to act like this.
Media relations guru Howard Rubinstein said, in the context of last year's BoA about-face, "Every company is now sitting on electronic quicksand." How true. And for smaller businesses, whether B2B or B2C, swimming against the tide of what the market wants is no longer an option in an environment where customers -- as well as partners, suppliers, and competitors -- are communicating in real time.
Electronic quicksand. That's a negative image. What's really available, to companies agile enough to understand and respond, is an electronic foundation. As never before, it's possible to learn in real time what potential customers are looking for -- in terms of product, price, and service. It takes a fumbling, monolithic enterprise like BoA to turn a foundation into a swamp.
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution