Archive for March 30, 2011

Posted: March 30, 2011
Comments: 1

Is your customer support a bit of a let-down?

Most businesses these days understand that they are driven by Brandships.  Many appreciate that Brandships are built on trust and few would fail to recognise that if their words and deeds are in any way inconsistent, either with each other or with their Brand Promise, they stand little chance of establishing the level of trust that success is built on.  So where is it going wrong?

Having acquired this wisdom, organisations around the world now devote a great deal of time and invest heavily in initiatives designed to represent their brand values consistently at every touch-point.  Getting every communication to say the same thing is the essence of integrated communications.

Because customer acquisition for all the reasons I’ve explored here in the past, is getting horribly expensive, Brandships are more valuable than ever, which is why businesses are increasingly seeking to improve their customer support,  a factor that is accentuated by the growth in e-tailing where the incidence of customer complaint is, as I mentioned last month, a bit of an issue.

I’m encouraged by the increase in the number of businesses who, instead of trying to make customers with a complaint feel like Oliver Twist asking for “more gruel”, have adopted a no-quibble replacement or compensation policy.  It seems that,  at last, the penny has dropped on this one (Although you’ll note from my earlier post on this subject that Halfords still don’t get it!).  However, you can have the best complaint resolution policy in the business, but it ‘aint worth a hill of beans if your customers have to navigate a maze of on-line and telephone obstacles to get to it!  There’s no more telling evidence of a genuine commitment to Brandships than an organisation’s on-line or call-centre process and it’s certainly taken by customers as a pretty good guide to brand values.  So why do so many businesses get it wrong?

My guess is that they simply don’t recognse what’s happening.  I’ve been advising senior execs lately to call up their own customer support line from time to time, rather than rely on the KPIs they get every month.  Whether your process is automated or not, the way you handle after sales contact with customers can be pivotal to the success in Brandships.  This isn’t just about damage limitation (because nearly all the calls you receive are going to be potentially damaging), many businesses have demonstrated that you can actually reverse the momentum, turning a potentially damaging situation into one that strengthens Brandships, if you handle them correctly.  For most this is nothing more than aligning the process to the brand model, which, sadly, few businesses do well.

In recent weeks I’ve experienced both the best and the worst in customer call handling.  The worst being the episode with Halfords that I reported on here last week and a more recent still, an encounter with HP’s customer dis-service process that starts with their un-navigable web site, designed to send you round in circles until you screw yourself!  Yes HP seem intent not to engage with you unless they absolutely have to, which is a pity, because if you can get around the system and actually manage to speak to the person you need, the response (in my case anyway) was exemplary.

I was also disappointed when re-visiting a brand that I have been happy to deal with for years.  I have never before had cause to complain about Polar UK, The local distributor for Polar, who manufacture heart-rate monitors for athletes, but I’ve called and spoken directly to their service people in the UK a number of times.  Such an old-fashioned process may have been a little at odds with their global positioning, but it was very reassuring and, overall, it worked.  Sadly, they have succumbed to pressure to automate their calls handling, but in their case the band-waggon has a wheel missing.  In fact, its possibly the most bumbling and poorly conceived process I have come across for a good while and the antithesis of everything that I have come to expect of the Polar brand.  This takes me right back to the principles of Full Effect Marketing – individual marketing elements, which because they are neglected, neutralise some of the brand building benefits of higher-profile elements that the business is investing in.  In other words … waste!

The up-side of my engaging with customer service processes has been a discovery I made of a business that specialises in designing models that actually contribute to brand development.  Brand Audio in Edgware, North London, will study your brand (even work with you to help you profile it if you haven’t already) and then bring it to life in navigation, messages and music.  Just what every business needs in fact.  This isn’t about hardware or programming (although I’m told they can provide that too), its pure brand development and while I am sure they are not alone in this space, it made me feel good to know that there is someone my clients can turn to for this kind of specialist help.  Brand Audio work with a host of leading brands who recognise the need to prioritise their customer handling processes.  At least, one route to great Brandships (and therefore a healthy business) is in the way you interact with customers on-line and on-phone and I recommend to every business to address this area of their marketing before its too late.

Footnote: Brandships, as it suggests, is the name I use to describe the relationships we have with brands.  Enter the world of Brandships at or follow me on Twitter @thefulltweet.

Posted: March 18, 2011
Comments: 1

A bit of a trip.

When life serves you shit how else would you respond, but by kicking its ass and next weekend that’s exactly what my mate Graham Rust is planning to do … well, he’ll be making a start, at least.

When the rest of us Brits were holidaying in Bognor and aspiring to the exotica of the Costas, Graham and his wife were taking their breaks in …  Communist Czechoslovakia!  Yes, they broke the mould when they made Graham!  He was one of the first Western admen – in fact, one of the first westerners and maybe THE first western adman to settle in Prague post first-Republic.  Yes, he pitched his tent even before the fall of Communism and set up an advertising agency that is today undoubtedly the best independent agency in town.  I’ve learned a lot from Graham during my time in Central Europe.  You can imagine that it wasn’t easy-going, making a business of a subject that wasn’t even recognised, but Graham tends to do what he thinks is right rather than what the less adventurous might advise.  That’s what makes him such a great adman and why, having just emerged from 30 weeks of chemotherapy, I’m not a bit surprised to hear that he’s planning a bit of a trip … around the entire coast of Europe.  Basically that’s around the world without getting your feet wet!

I’ll be following every leg of his journey resolutely and you can too, at  Nice one Graham!

Posted: March 4, 2011
Comments: 2

Name the tune that still does it for you (answers on a postcard, if you please)


Thirty years ago, when I was working my way up through the ranks at McCormick Internarco-Farner, our then Creative Director Gerry Moira was working with a film producer on some new effects to use in a TV campaign.  The producer (sorry, but I can’t remember who that was) had been working on pop videos and had a few on his show-reel.  Among these was this one with Chaz Jankel which made the rounds of the agency and was immediately loved and adopted by pretty well everyone.

I don’t remember the tune making it to the charts.  I can’t even remember if we used the effects in a commercial, but I came across it again quite by accident last week and I was surprised to find that, unlike most of the old stuff I listen to, it still had me wanting to get up and dance!  Even the video is great!  I guess we all have songs in our past that still do it for us.  So what’s yours?

Posted: March 4, 2011
Comments: 0

Communities of interest – A lesson for the Big Society?

I just love and have always promoted the idea of communities of interest.  They make the otherwise impossible, possible for business and, for small concerns particularly, are often the difference between success and failure.  Just because it doesn’t slide neatly into one of our business-model pigeon-holes, doesn’t mean it’s not legit.  In fact marketing is nothing if not about doing things and going places that nobody has gone before.  That’s why I particularly like this idea.

When an international film-maker gets together with the owner of a historic monument that’s desperately in need of renovation, a bit of creative improvisation around the age-old bartering theme can give you a solution like this.  Not only is it a great outcome for the building owner it was great marketing too.  There are so many ways that the film producers and promoters could leverage this initiative I can’t wait to see what they do with it – beyond making the series, of course.  Maybe there’s a lesson here for the Architects of David Cameron’s Big Society?

Posted: March 3, 2011
Comments: 0

Halfords’ customer service sucks – well, it would if I had my way!

I’ve never had anything against Halfords.  In fact, I could refer to various supportive comments that I have made over the years.  They seems to have carved a niche for themselves in the bike sector, they triumphed in a deal to distribute Boardman bikes, they were smart enough to partner with an auto service business and now fit the products they sell to motorists and cyclists alike and they made the forray into Poland and the Czech Republic.

Their staff in the UK at least, while nothing to write home about, are certainly, if Mary Portas is to be believed, as good as you would expect from a multiple specialist retailer these days.  On the down-side, their on-line performance leaves a lot to be desired and dealing with their head-office at any level is a bit like wading through porridge, but its my recent experience of their approach to customer support that has sent my overall personal satisfaction rating way into the red.

OK, so Halfords aren’t having the best of times at the moment.  Like-for-like sales are down and despite all the usual excuses – recession, weather, cost of car ownership etc – that always has something to do with the way you treat your customers.  You’d be right to point out here that, last we heard, profits were up, due in part to a concerted effort to drag their back office, logistics and pipeline into something approaching the twenty-first century – Oh, and a quick reverse out of the Czech Republic and Poland.  Nevertheless, I still hold on to the idea that if you treat your customers well you’ll succeed whatever the size the market may shrink to.

Halfords has never gone out of its way to make customers feel wanted.  It wasn’t that long ago that they undertook to respond customer-support e-mails …  wait for it …”within eight days”!  Communication has been a bit quicker lately, but that’s not a lot of use if they aren’t being helpful.  Someone should point out to them that making statements like “we value your custom” and “we pride ourselves on our customer service” is all very well, but until you actually resolve issues its only “lip-service”, not “customer service”!

If you drop your Tesco shopping on the way to the car, Tesco will replace any broken items.  They don’t have to, it’s just their way of making you feel good.  You may consider this as giving 110%, but, let’s face it, it costs Tesco tuppence and the value to them in customer satisfaction ratings is worth far more than that.  Yes, every little helps!  In contrast, telling you they make every effort to make you satisfied, is “job done” in Halfords book!

Last weekend I bought a four-litre plastic container of concentrated screen-wash from Halfords, along with a bunch of other stuff.  I placed it in the passenger foot-well of my car and drove home, only to discover, when I arrived, that the foot-well was now an inch-deep in screen-wash and the container was almost empty – no doubt where that had come from then!

I took it back to the store where the manager pointed out that the seal that should have prevented the cap from coming off the container, had been broken, presumably by someone in the store, which he added, was not unusual.  He replaced the purchase, but I still had a screen-wash lake in my car and thick-pile carpets that don’t come out just like that.  On his instructions I e-mailed Halfords’ customer service to seek recompense for the cost of having my car bailed.  And after a couple of days I received a reply.  Apparently, they don’t see that its anything to do with them and suggested that if I had taken proper precautions while transporting the screen-wash I wouldn’t now have an on-board swimming pool, steamed-up windows and a very smelly car.  I get the impression they think that by explaining this to me they resolved my issue.  I’m sure I just went into their customer service database as another satisfied customer, but right now I feel as though the customer service manager should personally suck the screenwash out of my carpets!

They may be making a profit, but with an attitude to customer service like this, in a shrinking market I wouldn’t put my money on this lasting long!

Posted: March 1, 2011
Comments: 0

In the retail – e-tail war detail could be the decider.

So, HMV is in a state of meltdown yet again and with today’s profit warning following a Christmas trading period that turned out to be more of a turkey than a gift, it all looks pretty glum for this once retail icon.

In fact HMV is one of two high street retailers that I feel deserve a kick up the arse right now.  Both are frustratingly short of a few tricks that would counteract the biggest threat to their future.  The other is no-brand WH Smith, whose stores are dismal, amateur, badly lit, over stocked, over-priced and poorly staffed.  There’s an irony somewhere in the fact that HMV’s sister business Waterstone’s is the one showing WH Smith how its done.  Smiths may be in growth mode right now, but it looks like the short-term market-trader kind of success that begs questions like “So what do we do for our next trick?”.

Compare the two – On the brightest day a visit to WH Smith can make you feel like ending it all.  A bit like a church hall jumble sale, the mess of books, school equipment, magazines and sweets(?) and lord knows what else, trying hard to be all things to all people and succeed in being nothing much to anybody.    Waterstones, on the other hand, with their founder back at the helm, have single-mindedly established their authority in a sector where authority is everything.  These days Waterstones are ticking all the boxes, with knowledgable and intelligent staff and meaningfully stocked shelves (no pick n’ mix sweets in grubby pots here).  They have even mastered the trick of using their High Street presence to establish the authority they need to succeed on-line and with a million plus e-book downloads under their belt I have no doubt that both clicks and mortar numbers will follow.

Like Waterstones, WH Smith and HMV have both encountered the Internet challenge, but while WH Smith firstly buried its head in the sand, hoped it would go away, then muffed the response, HMV, like Waterstones, are focussing on doing things in-store that only in-store can do and using on-line as a sort-of take-away format – well almost.  And that’s the rub.  They aren’t getting down to the detail quite as I would have hoped.

For one thing, despite the live music elements they have added, they haven’t really mastered the brand community thing and they are missing some of the small practical things could make doing business with them easier and more fun.  Take for instance the art of the demo.  A focus of all record stores in the past and certainly a useful community building tool today.  Remember the Saturdays (That’s the day of the week not the band!) spent in the listening booth at your local record store listening to Friday’s releases and deciding what to spend this week’s pocket-money on?

When vinyl went out of the door, so it seems did the listening booth – replaced, admittedly by HMVs listening posts, which were fine, but then … silence!  Sure, they’ll play a CD in the store if you can get close enough to the check-out for your request to be heard, but it’s not the same as sharing a set of headphones with your mates in a sweaty booth.

Maybe they think they have that one covered with their in-store radio (Is it live? – I’m not sure), but they kinda’ come out of that looking like the guy who invented 6-Up - just a natz short of success – not enough interaction, which they could have built-in even with an AsLive solution.  They also miss the same trick on-line because, except for a few albums like Jessie J’s latest which features her brilliant Price Tag video, you can’t listen to even samples of selected tracks before you buy.  In the store they make great play (excuse the pun) of introducing new acts with short, on-shelf biogs, but if you can’t listen to the music, you have to risk £10 to buy the album blind (or is it deaf?) which, when we are all being austere, is a non-starter really.

To WH Smith I say, before turn yourself into a Moroccan bazaar, I suggest you don’t copy Woolies, because we all know where that gets you, pop across to Wilkinson instead and see how multi-category retailing is done cheerfully and tastefully (and with staff that you’d consider striking up a conversation with).  Oh and switch the lights on.  Reading in bad light is bad for anybody’s eyes.   HMV on the other hand need to write a thousand times “retail is detail”.  Put yourself in your customer’s shoes, get the little things right, tackle these and I’m sure you’ll find your days will be brighter.