On October 7, 2011, the Occupy Santa Cruz movement made life much more difficult for banks - large and small. On the third day of an Occupy event in the small coastal town, an event took place that has likely turned upside down the life of a Bank of America branch manager. This same event should have the Bank of America training department scrambling to address an important issue: how to handle confrontations with customers and protesters to avoid public relations disasters.
The October 7th incident involved several woman seeking to close a Bank of America account. The women entered the branch with protest signs and a video camera. The branch manager upon noticing the women immediately acted by politely asking the women to leave the branch. The entire exchange was captured on camera and subsequently released on YouTube. The video has been broadly distributed, resulting in hundreds of thousands of views, causing continued damage to the Bank of America brand as well as likely affected the branch manager.
A few thoughts came to mind as I watched the video. First was whether Bank of America senior management had provided its branches with guidance regarding how to handle protesters. In this case, while the protesters were carrying signs and a camera, they appeared quite passive. This was clearly a set up and the branch manager played directly into their hands when she indicated that they could not be both a customer and a protester and kicked them out. As a former branch employee, I appreciate the feelings that overcome someone when things go sideways in the branch. And as such, it is hard for me to be too critical of the employee for reacting as she did. However, perhaps banks should roll out training that requires employees to first evaluate the scene - especially if cameras have been used. And while hindsight is 20/20, in this case, having an employee calmly close the account would have been the best option for diffusing the incident. Perhaps some vignettes would help get the point across. Because, while the Occupy movement may or may not die out soon, similar approaches are likely to continue in the age of YouTube.
Another thought is having banks establish a clear policy regarding the use of video cameras within the branches. Many gyms post policies regarding the use of cameras in their facilities. Banks should determine their own. And while they need not post the policies, managers should know the policy and be able to calmly describe and provide a copy of the policy to individuals in a manner that will not make for a good smear video.
Times have changed. Bankers hope only temporarily. But they have changed. Every bank employee must recognize that he/she is an ambassador of the organization. Everything they do may be used positively or negatively in social media. The more aware employees are of their role as brand ambassadors the better off everyone will be.