One of the best quotes in the media I read last year was by Patricia Callan, Small Firms Association director. She was commenting on research the organisation had published which showed that the majority of Irish workers that changed jobs last year did so because they could not get on with fellow workers. To make her point she said that “people leave people, not jobs.”

I think the same is true with a lot of brands. Ignoring FMCGs, people often tend to switch brands because of people. Poor service shifts people into taking action. You’ll switch mobile phone company because they won’t give you a good deal on a handset, won’t return to a retailer because the shop assistant was rude or change insurance company because they ignore your personal circumstances.

Companies spend a lot of money on how they want to be perceived. This is often referred to as their wish image. In reality, the truth can be far different and their mirror image (how people actually perceive them) can be quite different. It doesn’t matter how funky their advertising is, what celeb launches their product or how cool their promotion prize is. In short, reality bites.

There’s a lot of commentators out there talking about how marketers can’t control their brand anymore. What companies can control though is how they deal with people. It’s always refreshing when you read about experiences like Stephen Davies’ with his new car insurance company. Here’s a snippet:

Yesterday an envelope came through the post from More Than. I knew before I opened it as they have branded ones with the distinct green logo. I thought it must have been a brochure to tell me about the “fantastic” deals they had on home insurance, business insurance, pet insurance, life insurance or some other type of **sigh** insurance.

Nope.

It wasn’t some kind of advertorial. It was a letter from one of their “UK based” Personal Customer Managers. His name is Liam and he wasn’t trying to sell me anything. He just wanted to drop me a note to introduce himself and should I have a query about my current policy or any other insurance related policy to let him know.

What I particularly liked most about Liam’s letter is that it didn’t give me the generic 0800 number; it was his direct line and extension number in case I needed to contact him. As well as this, he also added his email address but not the typical enquiries@ email address but his own with his Christian and surname are part of the address itself.
He even gave me the hours he works so I know when to call but told me that if I can’t get through to him to speak to one of his colleagues who’ll pass the message on.

Now, if I was a high-rolling, big pimping, bling bling insurance spender, I may have expected this type of service. But I’m not. My car insurance doesn’t cost me thousands as I have a full no claims bonus and my car isn’t a Ferrari. Far from it.
Thing is, should I want to take out some other insurance I’ll probably send Liam an email enquiry. I’ll probably introduce myself and mention that I received his letter. If the quote from More Than is a little more than another quote I’ve received elsewhere I’ll probably still be inclined to go with More Than. Or, more specifically, with Liam.

The point of the story

Everyone bangs on about social media and how a personal, human approach needs to be taken in any type of outreach you do. This is true but we often forget that the same applies offline too. This simple letter has had much more of a positive effect on me than any kind of advertising brochure would have. The brochure would have been binned immediately, the letter will be kept for future reference.
To me, this letter is a signal that PR’s value to companies like More Than is taking a higher precedence over other marketing disciplines.

And rightly so. I reckon we’ll see more of it too.

It’s those little things that make all the difference.

This stands in contrast when I tried to take out a policy with my family car insurer. Despite pointing out that both my parents had their policies with this company and that I actually wanted to take a policy with them also, even if it came at a slightly higher price than the quote I was given by another company, the operator was so short with me that I’m sworn of them for life. Marketing genius – aggravate the consumer about three hundred euro when his long term custom will dwarf that figure.

Another company whom I’m fond of recently is McDonalds. They seem to be doing quite well for themselves by responding to customers needs. Look at the success of McCafe or how slick some of their new restaurants look. What’s really been behind the company’s turnaround though is the company’s ten commandments:

1. The customer is the most important person in our business
2. The customer is not dependent on us – we are dependent on him
3. The customer is not an interruption of our work – he is the purpose of it
4. The customer does us an honour when he calls – we are not doing him a favour by serving him
5. The customer is part of our business, not an outsider – he is our guest
6. The customer is not a cold statistic – he is flesh and blood – a human with feelings like our own
7. The customer is not someone to argue with or match wits with
8. The customer is the one who brings us his wants – it is our job to fill them
9. The customer is deserving of the most courteous and attentive treatment we can give him
10. The customer has the right to expect an employee to present a neat, clean appearance. The employee should have trim, clean
fingernails, be clean shaven and keep his hair cut

Companies can spend millions on their next advertising campaign or they can look closer to home and improve the consumer experience. As Patricia Callan goes onto say in the Small Firms Association press release, “companies which respond to employee retention solely by increasing wages are only buying time not loyalty. Companies which compete for scarce talent only on a cash basis are vulnerable to the next offer that the employee receives.” You can argue the exact same point on product pricing.

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