First Direct: A branding masterclass

Managing your brand through its conversations

Brands only truly thrive over the long term if they represent a great product or service. Ultimately that is the only true constant in a brands life.

But just consider the conversations that go on every day in and around a business – between employees, with customer, investors, agents, publicists and the press, and all within hearing of the ever present and interested ear of social media. 

And this constant flow of opinion, and the impressions and associations they create, directly affects an organisations’ view of itself and the world’s view of it.

So how do you begin managing your brand conversations? 

The key is to understand where the important conversations happen, why they happen and what the positive outcomes of those conversations are, for you and your brand. Then you can begin to embrace the flow of information and opinion, accept the randomness of the conversations you will have and start to manage the whole environment in a much more sympathetic, intelligent and effective way. Here’s how one brand does it really well.

First Direct – a case study

first direct is a division of HSBC providing a comprehensive range of banking services. What is different is that first direct does not have a branch network. Customers access services over the internet, by telephone or through mobile phone banking services and text messaging. It has more than 3,000 employees and over 1.1 million customers, serviced by two UK-based call centres working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, receiving more than 200,000 calls each week.

It is a service brand that never looks its clients in the eye. It never meets them and never gets to sit down with them to manage a conversation about its service or product range. And as its customer service is literally a conversation with its customers, then if any business needs to manage its conversations, first direct does. 

And yes, it’s doing it very well, thank you. 

In the latest Which? survey of customer service in the UK’s 100 biggest brands – first direct was voted the best big brand for customer service. The poll asked members of the public to rate up to three of 100 of the biggest brands in the UK for their customer service. first direct was rated excellent by a higher proportion of people than any other brand in four of the five areas of customer service we asked about. An impressive 63% said that its staff’s attitude was excellent.

It also topped a satisfaction survey by of current account customers for the third year in a row, with 90% of customers voting its service as “great”. Was voted top financial brand in the latest Institute of Customer Service awards, and financial website of the year recently published their Top 50 Brands for customer service in the UK and guess who was top? 

How does it do it? It understands that its service and its clients’ experience of that service is everything. It has put in place a very simple mission, ‘pioneering amazing service’, and then actively managed and monitored the process and the conversations that deliver that mission.

For example, four out of five calls are answered within 20 seconds. On average, a customer’s call is answered in 13 seconds. Customer service representatives are available around the clock, so that customers always get to talk to a real person not a machine, and they never have to push buttons before they talk to someone. Customer service is used to set the direction for the business because the brand is, in the end, the experience we have of the service. 

first direct has been providing online banking services for 28 years and it continues to set the standard. It manages its brand quite literally through its conversations and this means, despite all the technical innovations and automation of our business and social interactions, real ‘social’ interaction still matters.

The proper management of relationships and the control you have over your brand by managing its conversations will result in greater attraction and retention of clients. And the organisations that manage their conversations the best will be the brand leaders of tomorrow.