Category Archives: Customer Service

Observations and commentary on good, bad or ugly customer service

M&S Bank- Viva La Evolution!

I recently ran a Financial Services Marketing workshop at the CIM Northern Conference, entitled “Viva La Evolution”, where I urged FS Marketers to evolve the way they gather and use knowledge to think about their customers, their market and themselves.

One of the tasks I set the delegates was to look at the risk of new market entrants from firms in highly trusted sectors and that had excellent customer service. Marks & Spencer was one of the companies I used in this scenario planning exercise to demonstrate the need to ‘look for competitive threats in unusual places’ and to ‘regularly review and update market response plans’.

So Friday’s news that Marks & Spencer is to launch M&S Bank in the summer came as no great surprise to me, with the intention to offer a current account from the autumn and mortgages ‘at a later date’. With over 3 million customers already using M&S Money, the near immediate cross-sales potential of the current account is massive. Add in the fact that M&S has 21 million customers and the business case writes itself.

What did surprise me was the rebrand from M&S Money to M&S Bank. The word ‘bank’ has developed negative connotations in some quarters and the move shows clear confidence that the strength of both the M&S brand and the M&S Bank proposition is materially different (and better) to that offered by ‘traditional’ banks. It certainly looks compelling, as customers will have access to branches that are ‘open twice as long as high street banks, seven days a week’, and will have 24 hour access to online banking.

This is all made possible thanks to a joint venture with HSBC, who describe this as “our most significant innovation in retail banking since we launched First Direct”. Nothing to be worried about there, then.

What do you think about M&S’ move? Do the high street banks have anything to worry about? Or will customer apathy and a renewed focus on increasing customer service levels be enough to hold onto their customer base?

Here’s the slide deck from my workshop last month.

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Giving marketing a rebrand- step 3

Ivory Towers

Ivory Towers (Photo credit: James F Clay)

In previous posts on the theme of ‘giving marketing a rebrand’, I have suggested a number of steps marketers can take to raise their profile, credibility and effectiveness. I have called for them to Fight the Fluff and Manage the Magpie.

In this third and final post in the series, I feel it’s time to Trash the Tower.

Marketers are sometimes perceived by other functions as living in an Ivory Tower which, according to Wikipedia, is a place “where intellectuals engage in pursuits that are disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life”.

Sometimes we are worthy of the ‘ivory tower’ perception because we have become internally focused and disconnected from the customer. Sometimes workload and organisational politics conspire to make it harder than it should be to spend more time with front line staff and customers, but how else will we get to hear firsthand accounts of how the products and services we are marketing solve (or cause) customer problems?

Does this sound familiar? If so, when was the last time you were able to escape the confines of the head office ivory tower and hear the customer’s voice at firsthand?

And I mean truly firsthand, not sitting through a 72 slide debrief on ‘wave 58’ of the latest customer satisfaction survey (showing a 3% improvement from ‘wave 57’ but with a +/- 5% margin of error!).

Here are three practical ways in which you can reconnect with everyday life in your customer’s world and learn some actionable insights to improve their experience:

  1. undertake regular customer site visits with front line staff and witness firsthand how your product or service is used in their business – look for new ways in which you can tell these stories to prospective customers
  2. listen to customer calls in contact or service centres – your colleagues in these teams have more experience of the day to day client experience than most in the organisation, so make sure you tap into it when developing new initiatives and campaigns
  3. read the 10/20/50 most recent customer complaints – look for emerging patterns and identify an issue you can own and solve, even if this means stepping outside of your organisational silo to do so

How do you gain actionable insights in your team? What are your best practice tips for getting out of the ivory tower and listening to the customer? Where have you seen innovative techniques employed that you wouldn’t expect to see being led by a marketing team?

Email data breaches: where will it end?

Following my earlier post on the two email security breaches at trusted brands that have my email address data, it seems that bad news really does come in threes. McKinsey Quarterly is the latest to write to me over the weekend to tell me about my name and email address becoming “exposed”. 

Here’s the email I received:

 Important information from McKinsey Quarterly

We have been informed by our e-mail service provider, Epsilon, that your e-mail address was exposed by unauthorized entry into their system. Epsilon sends e-mails on our behalf to McKinsey Quarterly users who have opted to receive e-mail communications from us.

We have been assured by Epsilon that the only information that was obtained was your first name, last name and e-mail address and that the files that were accessed did not include any other information. We are actively working to confirm this. We do not store any credit card numbers, social security numbers, or other personally identifiable information of our users, so we can assure you that no such information was accessed.

Please note, it is possible you may receive spam e-mail messages as a result. We want to urge you to be cautious when opening links or attachments from unknown third parties. Also know that McKinsey Quarterly will not send you e-mails asking for your credit card number, social security number or other personally identifiable information. So if you are ever asked for this information, you can be confident it is not from McKinsey.

We regret this has taken place and apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. We take your privacy very seriously, and we will continue to work diligently to protect your personal information.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact McKinsey Quarterly at info@mckinseyquarterly.com. For any media inquiries, please contact Humphrey Rolleston at +1-212-415-5321.

Sincerely,

Rik Kirkland
Senior Managing Editor
McKinsey & Company

How can businesses make this bad news land better?

As discussed in my previous post, businesses need to be open, honest and complete from the outset. Customers have the right to know EXACTLY what happened to their data, why it happened, and to be told what steps have been taken to ensure that the risk of it happening again has been minimised.

And when they do so, please use plain English- “Exposed by unauthorised entry” means nothing, and gives me no confidence that this can’t happen again:

  • Did a rogue employee leave a USB stick on the bus? If so, tell me.
  • Did someone hack into your systems? If so, tell me.
  • Have law enforcement been informed? If so/not, why?
  • And most importantly, what are you doing to make sure the chances of this happening again have been mitigated? 

Where will this end?

If these high-profile ‘breaches’, ‘exposures’ and ‘compromises’ continue, then the foundation of permission-based marketing will be rapidly eroded- trust.

I trust brands to look after my data responsibly. I hold them accountable for keeping this safe, including any arrangement they have with any 3rd party supplier. So when something goes wrong, don’t I have the right to be reassured that it won’t happen again? If not legislatively, then morally?

“Trust is like a vase…once it’s broken, though you can fix it, the vase will never be the same again”

(Author unknown)

Guess what happened to your email data?

Information security has been high on the agenda over the last week or so, following two high-profile data protection breaches by established and trusted online brands. Last Monday 21st March at 23.04, I received the following email from PLAY.COM

Dear Customer,

Email Security Message
 
We are emailing all our customers to let you know that a company that handles part of our marketing communications has had a security breach. Unfortunately this has meant that some customer names and email addresses may have been compromised.
 
We take privacy and security very seriously and ensure all sensitive customer data is protected.  Please be assured this issue has occurred outside of Play.com and no other personal customer information has been involved. 
 
Please be assured we have taken every step to ensure this doesn’t happen again and accept our apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused some of you.
 
Customer Advice
 
Please do be vigilant with your email and personal information when using the internet. At Play.com we will never ask you for information such as passwords, bank account details or credit card numbers. If you receive anything suspicious in your email, please do not click on any links and forward the email on to privacy@play.com for us to investigate.
 
Thank you for continuing to shop at Play.com and we look forward to serving you in the future.
 
Play.com Customer Service Team

Apart from the obvious data security concern, two things immediately made me uncomfortable about this as a piece of crisis communication:

  1. the lack of detail: ‘a company’, ‘part of’ and ‘marketing communications’ are all a little vague, to say the least 
  2. too much jargon: what exactly do they mean by ‘breach’ and ‘compromised’? Tell me what happened to my data!

As a result, I’m thinking, “there’s something more to it than this”. I was pretty angry at the lack of detail and the general tone. Maybe I wasn’t the only one, as this follow-up note arrived less than 24 hours later on Tuesday 22nd March at 21.31:

Dear Customer,

As a follow up to the email we sent you last night, I would like to give you some further details. On Sunday the 20th of March some customers reported receiving a spam email to email addresses they only use for Play.com. We reacted immediately by informing all our customers of this potential security breach in order for them to take the necessary precautionary steps. 

We believe this issue may be related to some irregular activity that was identified in December 2010 at our email service provider, Silverpop. Investigations at the time showed no evidence that any of our customer email addresses had been downloaded. We would like to assure all our customers that the only information communicated to our email service provider was email addresses.  Play.com have taken all the necessary steps with Silverpop to ensure a security breach of this nature does not happen again.

We would also like to reassure our customers that all other personal information (i.e. credit cards, addresses, passwords, etc.) are kept in the very secure Play.com environment. Play.com has one of the most stringent internal standards of e-commerce security in the industry. This is audited and tested several times a year by leading internet security companies to ensure this high level of security is maintained. On behalf of Play.com, I would like to once again apologise to our customers for any inconvenience due to a potential increase in spam that may be caused by this issue . 

Best regards,

John

John Perkins
CEO
Play.com

What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours…but it leaves me asking the question, ‘Why couldn’t you tell me this yesterday?’. In any form of crisis communication, it’s vital to get all of the known facts out up front, immediately after the apology. Holding back some important facts for 24 hours just fills me with suspicion.

How they should have handled it

Overall, it looks like it was a bad week for email data security and I also had the following note from the folks at TripAdvisor.com. However, you can immediately see the difference in quality of their approach…

To our travel community:

This past weekend we discovered that an unauthorised third party had stolen part of TripAdvisor’s member email list. We’ve confirmed the source of the vulnerability and shut it down. We’re taking this incident very seriously and are actively pursuing the matter with law enforcement.

How will this affect you? In many cases, it won’t. Only a portion of all member email addresses were taken, and all member passwords remain secure. You may receive some unsolicited emails (spam) as a result of this incident.

The reason we are going directly to you with this news is that we think it’s the right thing to do. As a TripAdvisor member, I would want to know. Unfortunately, this sort of data theft is becoming more common across many industries, and we take it extremely seriously.

I’d also like to reassure you that TripAdvisor does not collect members’ credit card or financial information, and we never sell or rent our member list.

We will continue to take all appropriate measures to keep your personal information secure at TripAdvisor. I sincerely apologise for this incident and appreciate your membership in our travel community.

Steve Kaufer

Co-founder and CEO

More information

Although this is far from ideal, I find myself congratulating TripAdvisor in the way this communication was handled, especially as it demonstrates why play.com got it so wrong:

  1. They provided the facts, in plain English, up front. An email list had been stolen. Not a ‘breach’ nor ‘compromise’ in sight.
  2. It had a tone that empathised with how I might feel and contained clear information and guidance on how it might affect me
  3. There was a link to further information

Congratulations TripAdvisor. They have demonstrated that it is still possible to deliver bad news in a positive, professional and reassuring way, without keeping me guessing. 

I hope play.com take heed.

“Old school” Customer Service

Well, following my last post I’m pleased to say that NatWest came good. I confess I adopted a ‘belt and braces’ approach and sent a letter to my branch with a copy of my blog post attached (old school).

Now maybe the snail mail chain will catch up and enlighten me as to who/how/when this was picked up but at least the issue is now resolved.

 

Do Customer Charters drive great Customer Service?

At the end of my last post, I suggested that Veolia Water should give NatWest Bank a lesson or two in Customer Service. It was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek sign-off, but it turns out I was right…

I’ve been a NatWest customer for many years and, until recently, have been very happy with the service they gave me.

I won’t bore you with the details here, but it’s that all-too-common sorry tale of:

• Bank takes charge for something they shouldn’t

• Customer notices, and contacts Bank (17th December 2010)

• Bank says they’ll get straight onto it, so the charge won’t hit my account

• Charge hits customer’s account (29th December)

• Customer contacts bank on 31st December. Is told refund will be in account by 12th January 2011.

• Nothing happens. Customer calls Bank and is told that Bank has escalated it to their Card Services team, but they will ‘monitor daily’, whatever that means.

• As at today (30th January) still no refund, and still no sign of it…

Now I know that this isn’t exactly headline-grabbing stuff here. Most people reading this will have their own (and probably far worse) version of this chain of events. Having spent the last ten years working in banks, I have seen first hand how internal systems and broken processes can sometimes stop the good people in branches and service centres from delivering great service.

So, I turned to the NatWest Customer Charter (http://tinyurl.com/6a2anbz) to find out more about their mission to become “Britain’s most helpful bank”.

It tells us in committment 14…” We will actively seek your thoughts and suggestions on how we can become more helpful. We will launch a new Customer Listening Programme to ensure our staff, including Executives, can hear first hand about the needs and frustrations of our customers.”

All to often, there is a huge gap between the promises of Customer Charters and the reality of day to day service delivery. I have two suggestions that would help avoid the tale of woe above for many customers like me:

1) Give your people the tools and systems to break down internal barriers to great customer service. In my experience with Veolia Water, every single person I spoke to had a record of my previous conversation and actions arising. I have spoken to three different people in NatWest and still my problem isn’t resolved.

2) Empower local office and call centre staff to resolve complaints at the first point of call. Whether NatWest Card Services or NatWest Bank gives me back my £48 isn’t that important to me. Sort it out, refund me and do the internal paperwork afterwards.

I’m not sure if NatWest will reach its goal to become “Britain’s most Helpful Bank”, or how it’ll even know if it does. I just hope that someone, somewhere really is listening.

Excellent customer service alive and well in….Utilities?!

If you’re anything like me, when you need to contact a utilities company, your heart sinks. Expectations are low from the outset. You need to prepare…

  • You take deep breaths as your eyes search for the customer services number
  • “Flashbacks” to previous encounters of a hold queue that took 37 hours to escape still haunt you as you pick up the phone
  • Your fingers shaking now, you try to remember the combination of buttons you need to press to speak to a human being within 23 minutes (normally 1,3,4,4,3,2,3,3,#,@,5,5,3,6)

Ahem, maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, Veolia Water have gobsmacked me over the last few weeks with their proactivity, efficiency and service (3 words you don’t normally associate with Utilities):

Proactivity: Upon noticing our water usage was rising, and had been for the last year or so, they phoned us to ask if we’d been using more water, or if there was any more people living in the house as (it turned out our toilet was sporadically leaking water like a running tap).

Efficiency: They suggested we could apply to be considered for a Leak Allowance, as our bill was HUGE. They explained the process and sent the forms which arrived next day. Every subsequent contact was painless, with well trained people on the end of the line who had access to up to the minute information about who I last spoke to, and the status of our enquiry.

Service: The people I dealt with were friendly, competent and gave me reassurance that our discussions would be acted upon. I had confidence. In a utilities company! The happy ending is that we got a refund on some of the lost water and the money was in my bank account the day after I received the letter!

Well done Veolia Water. You have one extremely satisfied customer. Any chance you can speak to my Bank now and show them how it’s supposed to be done?