If 2012 is the year of mobile – has Barclays got off to the right start?

If 2012 is the year of mobile – has Barclays got off to the right start?

In December, I noted that the mobile would become the primary focus of many interactions for customers and brands in 2012. This year, Smartphones are going to outsell PC’s – with nearly 90% of the world – be that poor, developing, emerging or developed markets – having a mobile phone. More people have a phone than a home, a car, a living wage. Whereas the developed world has great infrastructure, that allow for interconnectedness at home or work and have utilities and banks with systems that rarely go down – indeed systems that are more trusted than those in charge of them – the vast majority of the world can only really depend on their mobile devices.

Money transfers and healthcare applications in the developing world are already ahead of those in the “more connected” developed world. However, this is changing. While the financial institutions are struggling to regain trust following their culpability in sending the world into recession in 2008, they recognise that their customers are demanding not only more transparency, they are expecting services that are more useful. Banks need to look to new innovations that recognise this.

In the UK, First Direct is leading the way…again. Their customer service approach has always led the way – not just in financial services but in across the board. Their use of social media has added to their fantastic phone based service to their customers. Their first direct labs and first direct live offers are great. They launched the twitter service @firstdirecthelp to more success – see the attached Econsultancy report.

As an organisation, first direct are organised around customer service and has been for years. They are a leading example of a 21st Century Brand – indeed they already were in the last Century. Customer driven innovations will always beat me too innovations and new offers that simply ones jump on the bandwagon. Too many organisations attempt to have digital and social media offers or channels without linking them to two core foundations;

  • Is the offer directly linked to the company’s purpose or DNA
  • Is the offer clearly meeting a customer need

If neither is being met, the service will flop and the brand will be damaged. If this is done in public (and all social media is in public), the damage is magnified significantly (and rapidly). Getting it right deliver significant benefits, that magnify the word of mouth of the brand, and create advocates who praise the experience. Brands need to test these innovations out internally, with small pilots. Then when they are ready to launch, control the environment so that more learning can be captured, in order to constantly improve the offer.

So it was interesting to look at Barclays new mobile offer Pingit that was launched this week. The Pingit application allows people to send money to each other using simply their mobile phone numbers. Via Smartphones, Pingit allows Barclays current account customers to send money, but all UK account holders will be able to receive money through the system, by registering online.

The messages Barclays are using to promote the service are positive and customer driven – offering a small, useful service for friends and family – rather than a world beating e-commerce (or m-commerce) breakthrough. Barclays are containing the initial users to small amounts of money and only for their own current account holders. But they’ve also announced a 2nd generation app is due that will open the service for other bank customers. This suggests further learning is being gathered before offering it to a wider audience.

While the data protection regulations prove a significant stumbling block for this kind of innovation – especially where banks need customer data to hone their offers in more targeted shapes for their customers, Barclays have got this right so far. I suspect they have a good dialogue with those of their customers who want a simpler way to transfer money. Their insights have allowed them to shape the offer for them rather than simple copy software that exist in Africa and Asia already.

Where brand have a good dialogue with their customers, then customers share not only their dissatisfaction but reveal more needs and wants. These deliver the insights for brands to shape new offers.  I think Pingit will grow significantly and be the forerunner of more apps that Banks will develop for their customers to use. If that usage provides a positive experience, then maybe the bank’s relationship with their customers will start to rebuild trust. Those, like first direct, will remain the preferred choice. Has Barclays turned a corner?

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