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 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.

What is your brand?

It’s a common misconception that a brand is just a logo or a tag line — but they are merely its signature. So what is a brand?  I’ve got four descriptions from well-respected sources that try and explain what a brand is:

  1. A name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.
    American Marketing Association
  2. A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.
    Seth Godin
  3. The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.
    David Ogilvy
  4. Any brand is a set of perceptions and images that represent a company, product or service.
    Persuasive Brands

I kind of like them all but none of them quite get to the point. I think brand encapsulates what people think about your business, product or service when they encounter it:

  • What do they think your brand offers?
  • Is their understanding of your brand what you want it to be?
  • How is your offer differentiated from your competitors?
  • Do people trust your brand to deliver that offer?
  • What personality do they attribute to it?
  • Do they like your logo, colour palette and tone of voice?
  • How does their perception alter once they have bought from you?

To put it at its simplest, a brand is a promise. It comes down to 2 points:

  1. Your brand is your reputation
  2. You don’t own your brand, your customers do.

Your brand touches everything and everyone in your organisation – no one wants to be known for bad service, unreliable products, being expensive, or difficult to understand communication. This is where your brand and customer experience are really linked….

Your brand is what your customers think of you.

The history of the brand

The word brand comes from  brandir, an old norse word meaning “to burn”. It refers to the practice of producers burning their mark (or brand) onto their products to make them stand out from other suppliers.

Cattle & Livestock have been branded since Egyptian times. The name stuck in the middle ages as a way of identifying livestock ownership.

Brands in mass-marketing

Brands in mass-marketing originated in the 19th century with the advent of packaged goods. Industrialization moved the production of many household items, like soap, from local communities to centralized factories. When shipping their items, the factories would literally brand their logo or insignia on the barrels used, extending the meaning of “brand” to that of trademark. A tradition you still see today in the drink and cigar trade.

That’s when advertising and competition began to really affect business. People confronted by a variety of different manufacturers could only guess which one to choose. They would often choose by how they looked, as that was as good as any other way. This presentation would soon help the product to grow a reputation, and this became known as a brand.

Bass & Company, the British brewery, claims their red triangle brand was the world’s first trademark. Lyle’s Golden Syrup also makes a similar claim, having been named as Britain’s oldest brand, with its green and gold packaging having remained almost unchanged since 1885.

The industrial revolution

Factories established during the Industrial Revolution introduced mass-produced goods. This led to companies selling their products to a wider market and to customers previously familiar only with locally-produced goods.

It quickly became apparent that a generic package of soap had difficulty competing with familiar, local products. The packaged goods manufacturers needed to convince the market that the public could place just as much trust in the non-local product.

Products  like Campbell soup, Coca-Cola, Juicy Fruit gum and Quaker Oats were among the first products to be ‘branded’, in an effort to increase the consumer’s familiarity with their products.

Moving on from simple logos and adverts, companies soon adopted slogans, mascots, and jingles that began to appear on radio and early television. By the 1940s,manufacturers began to recognize the way in which consumers were developing relationships with their brands in a social & psychological sense.

Modern branding

From there, manufacturers quickly learned to build their brand’s identity and personality like youthfulness, fun or luxury. This began the practice we now know as “branding” today, where the consumers buy “the brand” instead of the product.

This trend continued to the 1980s, and is now quantified in concepts such as brand value and brand equity. Naomi Klein has described this development as “brand equity mania“ in her book “No Logo”. In 1988, for example, Philip Morris purchased Kraft for six times what the company was worth on paper; it was felt that what they really purchased was its brand name.

The highest level of achievement in the world of branding is to create a brand that is instantly recognizable even without the name of the company present. This takes years of marketing and huge amounts of investment.

Brands came about as a way to identity companies’ products from similar products by rival businesses, but of course branding could also be used to disguise an inferior product as one of higher quality. A successful brand identity is easily recognisable and creates an instant association with a product or service.

A great example of this is Starbucks. Nowadays it’s far less associated with the smell and taste of coffee than with the interior design of it’s café, related services and its iconic green and white logo. For its brand advocates, Starbucks has become a lifestyle choice that reflects what they want people to think about them, not just a cup of coffee.