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?

A few tips on building customer dialogue.

A few tips on building customer dialogue.

As marketing evolves to understand and harness the power of social media, we hear a good deal about creating dialogue and positive conversations with customers. I was asked this week about a few tips to start having these conversations quickly and am sharing that discussion here.

Dialogue is an interaction between the company and the customers – a chance to listen, to answer, to understand each other. Ways to get insights into customer needs.  Companies know that this understanding is vital and need to find ways to capture this whether through formal functions like customer service or research methods or how to start to use (or perhaps importantly how to react to) social media.

Keep talking after the sale

Some companies forget to increase customer contact and conversations once a sale is complete – and have a customer service function that is really only set up to answer unhappy customers. These can be telephone call centre approaches that ultimately frustrate customers rather than encourage them. They are unlikely to want a dialogue and indeed are unlikely to want to make another purchase. Keep or increase your contact with customers once they have purchased. This is becoming as important to B2C companies as it already is to B2B ones.

It’s more than training, it’s your culture

Staff as an important part of your marketing workforce as they all have their own network of people that they use to communicate and listen. It’s good to have them share good stuff about the company or brand with their networks. Many new staff are much more savvy than we often give them credit for and while many companies do understand the mantra of hiring for passion and attitude then train for skills, it can be forgotten that companies themselves can learn from each other. A company culture that encourages dialogue and sharing amongst its own people will be better placed to have conversations with its customers. It is a company culture not a training program that encourages this.

Online methods over time, rather than moment in time research

Many companies use real-time research to gather insights. These are structured conversations that can, with good questions, illicit smart answers. Panels and diaries and ethnographies are important methods of allowing for broader conversations over time – and all can be improved by using online research which can be quicker, in real time and confidential. By building big panels of customers and having regular discussions with them, you can also share how their inputs help companies change – and this in turn will reward customers as well as encourage further dialogue and loyalty.

Human behaviour not corporate behaviour

Corporate concern over what to do in social media often means delay in using it. Where customers mention your brand or complain about it, this is an opportunity. One that can be ignored by companies not used to unstructured ways of having conversations with customers. How companies act on social media is important and that you do it in real time. Try to do it personally by behaving as humans rather than as a corporation.  Saying sorry, saying thank you, using real names in twitter or Facebook to complaints, is a big step in the right direction.

And do so in real time; in full view and not using private direct mail placating with coupons – because a complaint once posted is out there. The response needs to be seen, not just for the person complaining directly, but for all those who read and watch. And keep the practice up so that it becomes second nature.

When you build communities with customers who have actively contacted the company – whether for a positive or negative initial reason – remember to behave like a person would – treat them like you would want to be treated. . Invite (don’t demand or expect) feedback.  Use the feedback to create further dialogue and share progress. Ask don’t tell. Say please and thank you. Say sorry. Use their name and your own personal name – not the brand’s name.

What other tips would help build meaningful dialogue?

Utility Companies: prioritising relationships with customers not shareholders.

Utility Companies: prioritising relationships with customers not shareholders.

British Gas & E.On both announced this week that they are changing the way they have a dialogue with their UK customers.

Quite right.

Energy markets are relatively straightforward – companies buy the product and supply their customers. Their customers use the product and pay for it. There is variability in price of the product  that the suppliers pay (usually in advance) and different ways the users can pay (before, during & after use).

However, by chasing increasing returns for shareholders, utility companies have over-complicated the market and lost the trust of their customers leaving them confused and, increasingly, disillusioned. Their biggest sins being

  • Ridiculously complex tariffs – 400 different ones – and complicated bills
  • Aggressive cross-selling
  • Inconsistent & apologetic messages

The relationship between company and customers have eroded significantly over the past few years as the economic slump hits our pockets, 21st Century branding offers clear guidance for regaining trust for service companies and these big energy companies have got great advisors. One of them would have a chance to take a competitive lead in their market by improving their relationships with their customers – by providing better experiences, by building trust via simplicity and transparency.

But it has taken their regulator Ofgem to mandate such change! “As part of urgently restoring confidence we are calling on all suppliers to get behind Ofgem’s reforms to deliver what consumers tell us they want – a simpler, more competitive energy market,” said Ian Marlee, of Ofgem.

So 2012 should see relationships improve. We will be looking for honesty, transparency, simplicity and a proper dialogue with customers. Let’s see. 21st Century brands depend on a consistent rewarding experience from the customer’s point of view – not raising profits for shareholders at their expense.

Phil Bentley (British Gas MD) made a good start last night on the BBC. He announced they “hadn’t made it easy for customers to trust them” – Honesty. He also admitted they had subsidised some tariffs in order to get to the top of comparison sites.  He said their customers should have 2 tariffs, variable or fixed – simplicity. British Gas had also secured a deal with Norway’s Statoil that could help insulate against future price volatility.

Mr Bentley spoke clearly and positively, He was believable and honest.  A good start. He said he was “committed to having an honest conversation with his customers” – that sounds like start of the dialogue the company needs. But it’s a start. Everything that touches their customers has to now reflect it.

The proof will be found out in a year or so when the changes are embedded and if his customers begin to trust British Gas again. If they do, they will steal a march on their competitors. E.On says they need 6 months to review everything in order to change. That may be too long.