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.

The future is digital, the future is now…

In the good old days – the early ‘90s – it was simple. You got the odd telephone call, paper-based forms and letters by post and nothing was really urgent. The concepts of immediate responses and 24/7 customer service didn’t exist. For many businesses, the first sign of change was the fax machine – days turned to hours and the digital revolution had begun.

The modern world

Today it’s a totally different story; we live in a digital world where everyone expects everything to be instant. If it’s not they take to Twitter to complain so everyone can see and, if that’s not enough, they might be using a computer, a tablet or even a phone. How times have changed.

The consultancy view

These are just a few statements by respected consultancies around the world..

  • Gartner states that this year, refusing to communicate with customers via social media will be as harmful as ignoring emails or ‘phone calls is today.
  • IBM say social media will become the #2 customer interaction method in the next three to five years.
  • From IDC, more people in the United States will access the web via mobile devices than via computers by 2015.

Old is the new young

The truth of the matter is that our customers aren’t getting younger, we’re getting older. It’s estimated that by 2025, 40-60% of workers across the world will come from Generation Y.

So who are these people? They go from teenagers to people in their mid-30s – a group that was raised on MTV and the internet. They are the children of Baby Boomers and Generation X.

Generation Y represents a massive group of influencers – the largest and the most cutting edge generation in our history – that is until Gen Z hits us. Which is why it’s so important for businesses to create strategies that attract and retain this powerful demographic.

Paraphrasing Greg Pitcher from Personnel Today; before Generation Y came along, people obsessed with computers were called nerds or geeks. But now you’re nobody without an iPhone and hundreds friends on Facebook.

Gen Y – the facts

And just to position what this means for your organisation, here is some behavioural insight about Gen Y.

  • 70% talk daily with friends on a mobile phone but just 46% talk to friends on a landline phone
  • 60% send text messages every day
  • 54% use instant messaging
  • and 46% use search engines to find out about brands.

They spend an average of 16 hours a week online and 9 out of 10 teens have access to a home computer. In fact, 45% say they couldn’t live without a PC and web connection…

  • 96% have joined a social network
  • 28% have talked about a product or brand in an online forum during the past month.
  • 49% have reviewed a product online.

Engagement can be simple

So, how can we engage with them? We need to understand:

  1. Their mindset and attitudes
  2. How they consume media and information
  3. And their preferences in sourcing and sharing information.

In simple terms what this means is:

  • They’re happy to use technology
  • Buying decisions are made based on peer recommendations, especially friends.
  • They want information easily and instantly, in real time across multiple channels
  • And they’ll lose interest if information isn’t relevant and engaging.

Adapt to survive

To survive, organisations like need to adapt and change to meet the needs of their customers. It’s no longer the case of a few geeks in the corner playing with computers and iPhones. Most companies will need to put digital at the heart of their business to survive.

Adapting to the digital age is about turning your company inside out, listening to your customers and putting them at the heart of your organisation.

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.