(Updated post - DBS apologise with the 3Rs – Will social media bite?)

It was the bluest Monday for DBS/POS Bank in its entire banking history when more than 1000 of their ATM and online banking services were taken offline due to a software upgrade an outage (PR announced that it was down due to software upgrade, but the outsourcer, IBM, later claimed it was an outage).

So on that Monday, DBS decided to sign up onto Twitter and post a 140 characters one-liner onto Twitter to post a one liner to inform the Twitterverse of the down time.

imageEverybody knows that if you just create a new account on Twitter, you would start off with 0 friends. How would you be able to inform the Twitterverse if you start with 0 friends?

DBS Bank did something smart to insert the #dbs and #posb and that probably drew some attention to this account. However, the effectiveness of the tweet was lacking as it drew only 28 retweets.


As of this posting, DBS Bank attracted 274 followers.

A letter to The Straits Times forum highlighted DBS Bank’s failure to communicate and DBS Bank should look to continue to take advantage of the momentum.

Wrote John Chiew to The Straits Times Forum,

THE real concern about DBS Bank's network meltdown reported yesterday ('DBS network hit by 7-hour breakdown'), which paralysed its consumer banking services and part of its corporate banking services, is that the bank has failed miserably in the most essential and critical aspect of how to deal effectively with a crisis of such magnitude.

That weakness is communication.

DBS, with its huge customer base of 3.2 million and close to 1,000 ATMs plus about 80 branches islandwide, must accept the reality that it is a bank that is too big to fail.

But it failed its customers by not taking action, such as broadcasting its network breakdown in the early morning via all media and channels available.

Unfortunately, as mysteriously as DBS Bank appeared into Twitterverse, it has also mysteriously disappeared. The last post was on the same Monday at 7:42pm.

If DBS Bank engaged the Twitterverse much early, it would have been an efficient tool to communicate the outage and use the influence of its followers as loudhailers to get the message out.

Investing into social media is about investing into the future. The Internet allows you to get information instantly, but to build a following takes time. As such, if DBS Bank gone into Twitter a year earlier, it would have able to communicate the outage to a wider audience.

Besides an investigation into the cause of the outage, DBS Bank should also relook at how it can improve the communication to the public, if such a similar scenario (touchwood) should happen again.

Wrote Sumner Lemon - IDG News Service\Singapore Bureau

The outage knocked DBS Bank's back-end computer systems offline, leaving its customers unable to withdraw cash from ATM machines on Monday morning.

"We first knew of the problem at 3:00 a.m. (Singapore time) and by 10:00 a.m., all our branches and ATMs were fully operational. We are conducting a full investigation into the cause of yesterday’s problem, thus will not be in a position to comment much about the cause at this point in time," wrote Jenny Lee, a spokeswoman for the bank, in an e-mail response to questions on Tuesday.

The outage affected all of DBS' consumer and commercial banking systems, but no data was lost during the system failure, she said.

If DBS Bank knew of the problem at 3:00am on the Monday morning, why did it take till 9.21am for them to inform Twitterverse of the outage?

Should have DBS Bank played a more pro-active role instead?

Many questions to be answered as DBS Bank investigates the problem.


  1. Chris Ng  

    July 7, 2010 at 6:53 PM

    Thanks for the mention, Aaron. I manage online strategy at DBS, and suffice to say, we're only beginning to dabble in the space. Appreciate your advice though!

  2. Aaron Koh  

    July 7, 2010 at 11:35 PM

    Hi Chris, Thanks for the comment.

    DBS Bank should continue the momentum by posting links of news articles that have appeared after 5th of July.

    Everybody in Singapore is aware of the issue and there isn't a point to hide from it. By sharing the news articles, though some may not position DBS Bank in glowing light, it does help to show that DBS Bank is open and transparent in sharing information about the outage.

    Once the investigation is complete and final, I believe DBS Bank will conduct a press conference to explain the whole situation. DBS Bank should like at possibly do a "live" stream via services like ustream or Livestream so that the public on the Internet can be part of these conference.

    DBS Bank could also look at accepting questions and answering questions via Twitter or the live chat session that uStream or Livestream provides.

    If the communications team is open, DBS Bank CEO or CIO could do a Youtube video to address the issue.

    In the Youtube video, the spokesperson should employ the 3Rs of crisis communication.

    Regret - There were a lot of bank customers who had a hard time on Monday because of the downtime. The spokesperson should show sincere regret that it has happened. I believed Chief executive Piyush Gupta has made a statement to apologise, but nothing is more sincere than to the words coming out of a real person as opposed to have the apology coming from a text.

    Reason - Your bank customers are currently confused by what cause the downtime. Was it cause by a software upgrade or outage? You customer will also be wondering why the backup didn't kick in. Your spokesperson should take this opportunity to clarify through the result of the investigation to clarify these questions with reason.

    Remedy - Your bank customers will want to know what is the remedy that DBS will implement to ensure that this will not happen again. Murphy's law apply and so you would need to also highlight how DBS will communicate future issues quicker and faster via traditional and social media.

    Hope this help.

    PS: Your Twitter account will now be treated as a channel for customer services. Hence you will begin to get complains about your service. My advice is to bring these complains away from the network by asking the complainer to email a dedicated email address to address the issue. Of course, you should be on top of this to ensure that the complain has been address and do a check with the Tweeter if the issue has been addressed.

  3. Willy Lim  

    July 8, 2010 at 9:53 PM

  4. Anthony  

    July 8, 2010 at 11:45 PM

    If transparency is to be respected, I suggest DBS should immediately appoint an independent observer to sit in on the postmortem and certify that the blame is correctly apportioned. Should an outside party be at fault, an independent observer will give this finding greater credibility. If not, the usual cycnical Singaporeans will whisper that its another whitewash.

  5. Joshua  

    July 9, 2010 at 7:28 AM

    A great case study on how to better manage Public Relations in times of crisis. Lesson Number 1 - being open and transparent is a smarter approach than trying to BS (I'm not trying to be funny here) your way out of the situation.

  6. Aaron Koh  

    July 9, 2010 at 2:03 PM

    @Willy Thanks.

    @Anthony Good idea for an independent audit. Beneficial for IBM. But question will be who bear the cost? IBM or DBS? Quite strange that IBM has not done anything yet to protect their brand after this incident.

    @Joshua Social media also requires some communication tactics. The thing with social media allows the people behind the brand to interact directly with their audience. However, over the past few years, many choose to hide behind the brand.

  7. Anthony  

    July 13, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    This comment has been removed by the author.
  8. Anthony  

    July 13, 2010 at 9:37 AM

    standard clause in such contracts is that vendor not allowed to say anything without the approval of the client. Money Rules.

  9. Aaron Koh  

    July 13, 2010 at 11:09 AM

    @Anthony Totally aware of that clause. But IBM did announce it was caused by an outage opposed to the DBS communications that it was caused by a software upgrade.

    Still, IBM can still talk about everything BCM but not the details of the DBS outage. For example, it could share the names and experience of the experts they have who are now working with DBS.

    I find it surprising that none of the major IT vendors in the BCM space have taken opportunity here to talk about their BCM solutions or the importance of BCM.

    One has to remember social media isn't just about the brand or the company, but it is about the group of talented people that they have working for them.

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