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Brand Automation ; The Good, Bad and the Amusing

Hanging on the telephone - Blondie, a poor example of brand automation
Even Debbie Harry suffered from brand automation

The trend to brand automation – to employ IT systems, automate telephone systems or outsource call centres to lower cost markets is common in developed markets. Most notably in sectors such as banking, insurance, utilities and the public sector. It is also usually designed to cut costs and compete with online services.

The trouble is that it is usually to the detriment of the brand experience.

Banking service experiences

Below is a genuine letter sent to a bank by an 86-year-old woman. The bank manager, to his credit, thought it amusing enough publish in The Times.

Dear Sir:

I am writing to thank you for bouncing my cheque with which I endeavoured to pay my plumber last month.

By my calculations, three nanoseconds must have elapsed between his presenting the cheque and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honor it.

I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my entire pension, an arrangement which, I admit, has been in place for only eight years.

You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account £30 by way of penalty for the inconvenience caused to your bank.

My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to rethink my errant financial ways. I noticed that whereas I personally answer your telephone calls and letters, when I try to contact you, I am confronted by the impersonal, overcharging, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank has

From now on, I, like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person.

My mortgage and loan repayments will therefore, and hereafter no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank, by cheque, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee at your bank whom you must nominate.

Be aware that it is an OFFENCE under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope.

Please find attached an Application Contact which I require your chosen employee to complete.

I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative.

Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Notary Public figure, and that the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and liabilities) be documented as proof.

In due course, at MY convenience, I will issue your employee with a PIN number which he/she must quote in dealings with me.

I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have modelled it on the number of button presses required of me to access my account balance on your phone bank service.

As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Let me level the playing field even further.

When you call me, press buttons as follows:


#1. To make an appointment to see me

#2. To query a missing payment.

#3. To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there.

#4 To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am fast asleep.

#5. To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature.

#6. To transfer the call to my mobile phone if I am not at home.

#7. To leave a message on my computer, a password to access my computer is required.

Password to be communicated to you at a later date to the Authorized Contact mentioned earlier

#8. To return to the main menu and to listen to options 1 to 9

#9. To make a general complaint or inquiry.

The contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering service.

While this may, on occasion, involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music will play for the duration of the call.

Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover the setting up of this new arrangement.

May I wish you a happy, if ever so slightly less prosperous New Year?

Your Humble Client

My own experience of financial brand automation

I was held in a phone queue to a well known Scottish Business Bank for 6-7 minutes myself last Thursday. The number of buttons to press and codes to remember weighted heavily. Unable to help, the service agent said a colleague would call-back by Friday. On the following Tuesday, I received a letter to say they’d tried to call (8.08am, Friday) and repeated the message (call this number). Thank-you. My call-back prompted a repeat of the first experience, with two different people. It lasted 25 minutes. It was less than satisfactory. Correctly noting his inability to help, the bank guy asked if I’d like to make a complaint. Struggling to discern a benefit in so doing, my answer was ‘no thank-you’. We’re just emptying our bank account.

Don’t make old people mad. We don’t like being old in the first place, so it doesn’t take much to piss us off.

Marketing Inspiration

  1. While brand automation sometimes saves money there is usually a trade-off in terms of customer or brand experience. Thus, if in doubt where the balance lies, put yourself in the customer’s shoes, or ask a few customers to test your service or process out.
  2. Avoid spurious and complex processes; keep processes simple, practical and also empower your people to listen and solve problems without passing the buck.
  3. Remember not all customers are the same. So design your service brands to match the needs, attitudes and behaviour of specific segments.  Also match your business operating hours to your customers.
  4. Also remember that a customer who has a bad experience is more likely to tell lots more folk about it than a customer who has a great experience. So if you are a bank and reduce your savings interest rates to 0.05% remember also that lots of customers view that a message to shift their  business elsewhere. And if you don’t value loyalty, expect to lose it.

So now let us know what you think.

Tim is a famous marketer of the 80's and 90's who ran one of the most successful independent UK marketing agencies. he went on to help establish a leading UK search agency and become a sought after interim Marketing Director and consultant. He is co-author of The Marketing Director's Handbook Volumes 1 and 2 with Guy Tomlinson.

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