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October 28, 2009updated 04 Apr 2017 1:12pm

Live and Direct

An inventive new marketing campaign from HSBCs UK direct banking subsidiary First Direct is displaying customer comments both good and bad on a website designed to showcase the companys commitment to customer service The new Live campaign from UK direct bank First Direct has put a bold spin on its customer service proposition by collating comments from across the internet to see what its customers are saying about it

By Dan Jones

An inventive new marketing campaign from HSBC’s UK direct banking subsidiary First Direct is displaying customer comments – both good and bad – on a website designed to showcase the company’s commitment to customer service. Dan Jones reports on the latest banking foray into the world of social media

The new ‘Live’ campaign from UK direct bank First Direct has put a bold spin on its customer service proposition by collating comments from across the internet to see what its customers are saying about it. Crucially, the bank is not vetting or censoring any negative comments, and instead keeps a running tally of the proportion of negative comments received – all visible on its website.

The standalone microsite, www.live.firstdirect.com, includes a number of on-screen tools analysing customer feedback and the bank’s own activities, ranging from an assessment of “live words” – comments made about First Direct collated from eight million different blogs, forums and social media sites across the internet – to the amount of money the bank has raised for charity, to the number of phone calls taken by its customer service team the previous day.

Lisa Wood

The most innovative aspect of the site, however, is the inclusion of a tool highlighting First Direct’s ‘Talking Point’ initiative, which enables customers to express their feelings about the bank to a wider audience. Borne out of both an internal confidence in the business and a desire to learn more about consumers’ wants and needs, the ‘talking points’ include “what do you think about First Direct?” and “what do you really want from your bank?”.

Direct from the customer

The launch of the campaign was an attempt to “let our customers do the talking for us”, in the words of Lisa Wood, head of marketing at First Direct.

“We’ve got really good customer advocacy and we’ve got a really strong brand. But for some time we’ve been looking at how we can move beyond the brand and get across the message that we do great customer service. It’s really difficult to sell service because you typically have to experience it to find that out,” Wood told RBI.

The Live campaign in many ways represents a culmination of First Direct’s recent marketing and branding efforts, combining a commitment to online social interaction as exemplified by its recent launch of a ‘social media newsroom’ with a focus on transparency and simplicity characterised by its ongoing ‘black and white’ marketing campaign.

For Wood, a different approach is necessitated by the fact that many consumers have grown tired of existing methods.

“People are fairly cynical about the traditional customer testimonial route nowadays, the question is whether they actually believe that kind of advertising anymore,” she explained.

A survey commissioned by First Direct to coincide with the launch of the campaign found the bank to be the 14th most open and honest brand in the UK, though the list, which was topped by search engine Google and online retailer Amazon, saw Lloyds, NatWest and First Direct’s parent company HSBC rank higher than the direct bank.

Wood put that fact down to First Direct’s targeted customer focus: “We’re quite a niche brand, so when you compare us with mainstream brands we do come lower down the hierarchy, particularly if it’s not our target audience, because the way we target our audience is also very particular”.

That niche is one for whom social media is now “a standard part of everyday life”, according to Wood, necessitating an increased presence across relevant websites in an effort to show that First Direct “understands where our customers are and what they are doing. We are really pushing to build our digital credentials”.

Growing importance of social media

The study results back up Wood’s assertion about the prominence of social media, finding that 79 percent of the UK population now use social media every month, one-third have a profile on a social networking site, 18 percent contribute to online forums and 14 percent pass on reviews and articles via the internet.

That some of these comments, reviews and articles will inevitably focus on the financial services industry – especially given the current climate – was also a factor in First Direct’s thinking.

“It’s being said on the internet, it’s being said to our representatives, it’s the fact that it’s all being pulled together in a way that’s very visible which I think adds weight in terms of truly understanding it”, said Wood.

The online and print advertising aspects of the campaign will run until the end of November, with adverts on the London Underground transport service scheduled to stop at the end of October. But the Live microsite itself will become a permanent part of First Direct’s online offering.

“It’s a great source of understanding how your business is doing, it’s a great barometer for you,” said Wood.

The collating of customer comments will also eventually provide a path to new product launches, though these are unlikely to see the light of day before the start of 2010, which will also bring with it further social media initiatives and marketing campaigns.

“It’s too early to talk about products, but we are gathering all the feedback that’s coming in to us and looking at trends in that feedback, and when the campaign ends we’re going to sit down with the teams and discuss what we want to do with this… it’ll be used as a great source of information, along with all the other sources that we have, to feed back into our proposition area,” Wood concluded.

 

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