Optimus Prime Vs Clarks Shoes – social customer service can be fun

Just under a couple of weeks ago I took my son Sam to Clarks to get his annual check up and new school shoes. As it was a Sunday just before the summer holidays, the shop was packed and, on top of that, it turned out he needed 3 different pairs of shoes. All went well – we had a friendly (patient) and helpful shop assistant – and we soon left the shop with all the footwear needed for the coming term. But what has this got to do with social customer service and, more importantly, Transformers?

Well, the next morning young Sam was very excited to be wearing his new trainers to his summer school club to show his new friends. Unfortunately, when he open the box it turned out the shop had given us two right-footed shoes by accident. Cue tears (from child) and grumpiness (from Dad). To ensure household harmony I agreed to pop to the shoe shop at lunchtime and return the offending shoe for one more suitable for a left foot.

I also posted a picture of the trainers on Facebook to see what comedy I could elicit from my friends – as I did this I also decided to post the picture on the Clarks Facebook page; just to see if I would get and comments from them.

The offending shoes…

As well as that, for a little experiment I asked them if they would send young Sam a hand drawn picture of his favourite Transformer, Optimus Prime, by way of apology. Again much hilarity ensued (mainly directed at me, it has to be said) and after a little while, the following message appeared from Clarks…


A result! A quick PM to sort out the details and then it was a question of waiting for the postman… a few days later an envelope arrived…

First off was a rather excellent, genuinely hand-drawn picture of Optimus Prime by their team member Sophie, followed by an also rather excellent letter to Sam, FROM Optimus Prime on behalf of Clarks apologising for the error…

Cue one happy boy and a very happy ending…

So, what’s the point of this? Well, we had a bit of a bad experience from a shoe purchase. It wasn’t the end of the world but it did make my son upset, caused me a minor inconvenience and put a black mark over Clarks’ brand in the Hinder household. Rather than a rant I thought it would be interesting to have a bit of fun with my “complaint” and see how Clarks would respond.

The outcome was a very happy child and a great brand experience for my wife and I. On top of that, from a social perspective, Clarks did a great job of responding to my request. We’ve shared the pictures back on their Facebook timeline and they’ve received a fair-few likes, helping to cement their position as providers of excellent customer service. In the end, what could’ve been a tedious complaint turned into a light-hearted, fun and positive experience for everyone involved and a major win for Clarks’ customer service.

Social media for financial services – part 5

Does social media have any future as a sales channel?

The reality is that social media is playing a large role when it comes to how people choose their financial services. Hitwire PR carried out research in late 2010 that demonstrated that more than four in ten (43%) of people buy financial services as a result of a recommendation via social networking friends.

These findings help to prove the influence social networks like Facebook and Twitter have on the financial products and services we choose. Surprisingly, financial products ranked higher than other industries. People are far more inclined to choose a financial product or service based on a recommendation than they would clothing (26%), flights or car hire (26%).

One in five people pass on advice about financial services they receive via social media

In addition, more than one in five people said they pass on advice about financial services they receive via social media, potentially overlooking recognised experts for advice on pensions, mortgages, investments and bank accounts.

Interestingly, men are more confident about using a lead they get on a social networking site to choose a financial product than women are. More than half (52%) of men said they had purchased a financial product as a result of advice they had received online, whereas just 20% of women said they had done so.

Money Saving Expert

Just look at the success of sites like Money Saving Expert. It was set-up by financial journalist Martin Lewis in February 2003 with the aim of providing information and journalistic articles enabling people to save money. The site claims to have 10 million unique visitors each month and a large portion of these use its forum to discuss financial products and, in reality, give advice.

For sales, the use of social media in financial services is facing lots of challenges. From the regulatory issues which guide what can and cannot be said by companies, to the pressures of internal risk and compliance. Realistically the best use of social media at the moment is to engage on a common interest. Rather than pushing their brand, products or advice, firms have identified other, often more ‘lifestyle’ issues that they can engage their target audiences on.  Good examples are the blogs on healthy eating and lifestyles from AXA PPP, or from American Express’ OPEN Forum. It supports and engages with businesses about their broader business and management issues.

Engaging on actual product sales and expertise will be trickier. How do you engage people about your products to drive them to a sale in social media setting without falling foul of regulation or internal compliance issues?

New models are emerging

However, new models are emerging. As an example, Zopa is an online marketplace that matches people with money to invest with borrowers who need a personal loan. By cutting out the middleman the theory is that it’s cheaper for both parties. The lender decides how much they want to lend, how long they want to lend it for and the rate of return they want. It’s then up to the borrower to size up the offers and see if they like the look of it.

Next up is eToro, with more than 1.5 million users worldwide, it allows its customers to see who is trading what in real-time, follow the best performing traders and automatically copy what they do. In effect it’s a social trading platform.

These are fascinating new models with lots of potential applications – are they just the first of a new wave of solutions built on a truly social foundation?

Social media for financial services – part 4

Can you use social media to facilitate engagement with intermediaries?

Intermediary relationships and sales are typically high-touch and are mainly established through building direct relationships with customers. With social media, you can interact with both potential leads and customers using an array of touch points. The two-way, real-time nature of these tools can lend a highly personal dimension to the relationship. And, unlike traditional marketing channels, social media allows you to engage and build relationships with customers and prospects, increasing the high touch effect.

Social media is a great way for people to actively network and build professional communities, ask questions, solve problems and share knowledge. This in turn means you can leverage these interactions to build brand, reputation and prospects.

Demonstrating thought-leadership

Social media engagements are a good platform to consistently demonstrate thought leadership. Thought leadership can help strengthen your market positioning, enhance your perceived value to clients and build greater trust and loyalty.

It can help you present insightful, compelling and even provocative perspectives. Get it right and your organisation could be acknowledged as a thought leader – the “go to“ business for a particular interest area.

Social media for financial services – part 3

The most important part of a social media strategy is to understand your social media goals and objectives and how they tie into your overall company sales and marketing strategy.

Your digital profile is not just about your website and email any more. You need to think about your presence on the key social sites and create content that is easy to share, discuss and comment on.

Core to this is understanding the sites and tools your customers use. In the UK, professional and business use of Facebook is low. However, LinkedIn has an active professional intermediary community, as does Twitter. There are also key industry verticals to be aware of and monitor, like Steve Bee’s JargonFreePensions, FT Adviser’s community, Panacea and IFA Life.

Before you even start to engage, there are a few things to think about; is your senior management team supportive? Do you have social media guidelines for your employees that cover acceptable usage? Are your IT security and risk people on board? Who can use social media and manage responses? And do you have appropriate compliance and response handling processes in place.

Once you’ve answered all these, you need a robust social media process. This can be split into 3 parts.

1) Listen

You need to track comments and conversations about your organisation and respond when necessary. How will you do this, what tools will you use and how will you use this feedback?

2) Engage

How will you encourage feedback and comment? Remember, this is a social conversation so you need to be open about comments & responses.

3) Share

How will you share content, thoughts and opinions? What sites and networks do your customers use and what groups are they part of? Are your web site and email platforms integrated with social media?

Social media for financial services – part 2

Why is social media important? Simple, it’s huge. Facebook is the second most visited website in the UK after Google and has nearly 30 million registered users in the UK alone. In fact, if Facebook was a country it would be the 2nd biggest country in the world.

In a press release at the end of 2010, LinkedIn, the worlds largest business social network, confirmed it has over 4 million registered professionals in the UK and  had increased it’s numbers by over 1 million in just 8 months.

It’s not just their size, social networks have changed the way people communicate; whether it’s reconnecting with old school friends and workmates on Facebook or Friends Reunited, moaning about poor customer service on Twitter or joining a group of like-minded professionals on LinkedIn.

As a quick check, there are 29 RDR groups on LinkedIn – the largest membership is over 900 people. There are nearly 6,000 people with the job title Financial Adviser on it in the UK.

IFA Life, the industry vertical, has over 6,000 members.

At Scottish Life we have well over 1,000 followers on our Twitter account and it now accounts for almost 5% of our web traffic. If you look to the US, around 15% of financial advisers have a Twitter account.

Social media for financial services – part 1

I thought I’d start with my views on what social actually means. There is no real fixed definition that everyone agrees on – as an example, the Social Media Guide – a renowned marketing website – has an article that lists 50 separate definitions. In reality they’ll all reasonably similar but I think you can boil it down to a simple statement:

Websites and applications that enable people to interact and share information online.

A key thing to remember though is, the most important part isn’t about the media, it’s about being social.

If that’s what it is, then let’s go down a layer and look at what this actually means. Social media shares most or all of the following 5 characteristics:

1. Participation

Social media encourages contributions and feedback. It blurs the line between media and audience.

2. Openness

Most social media services are open to feedback and participation. They encourage voting, comments and the sharing of information.  People can see what’s being said and comment on it, if they wish.

3. Conversation

Whereas traditional media is about “broadcast” – pushing your content to your audience – social media is better seen as a two-way conversation or a dialogue, something you can use to really engage with your customers.

4. Community

Social media allows communities to form quickly and communicate effectively. In this respect all community means is a group of people who share common interests, such as a love of music, a football team or a favourite TV show.

5. Connections

Most kinds of social media thrive on their connectedness, making use of links to other sites, resources and people.

As you can see, social media share a number of common traits with modern business communication.