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Monday, December 9, 2013





"By setting the highest standards of behaviour our aim is
that all of our employees and customers can be proud of our business.”

 Stuart Gulliver, HSBC Group Chief Executive



Perhaps, you’ve read some of our earlier DISPATCHES’ articles about delivering meaningful experiences to build a brand relationship with customers. If so, you know that we’re not calling you stupid. Instead, this is drawing, for dramatic effect, from the distant but timeless Clinton versus (George) Bush (Senior) U.S. presidential campaign where the economy was the critical and deciding issue in the outcome. Today, many people continue to confirm the rather obvious lesson, “It’s the economy stupid.


But when it comes to bonding with customers – creating the kind of loyalty where customers go beyond preferring to insisting on your brand of product or service – it’s their experience that is the critical and deciding factor. Far too often we marketers overlook the experience of the customer – bringing our marketing effort to an end at the point of delivery of the basic product and/or service. This is a sure path to undermining the development of “brand” loyalty, leaving the product vulnerable to inroads from competition and becoming a commodity. We need to keep foremost in our minds and actions that “it’s the experience stupid.”


This article deals with HSBC and their committing a faux pas of epic proportions in creating a rather negative experience for their small business customers in the U.S. You know HSBC, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. They’ve promoted themselves as the “World’s Local Bank” for many years.


HSBC has defined their values (being Fair, Perceptive, Progressive, Responsive and Respectful), which, they believe, reflect the best aspects of their heritage. HSBC proclaims that these values define who they are as an organization and what makes them distinctive. According to HSBC in operating in accordance with their values they are:



  • Dependable

-     Standing firm for what is right, delivering on commitments, being resilient and trustworthy

-     Taking personal accountability, being decisive, using judgment and common sense, empowering others



  • Open to different ideas and cultures

-     Communicating openly, honestly and transparently, welcoming challenge, learning from mistakes

-      Listening, treating people fairly, being inclusive, valuing different perspectives



  • Connected to customers, communities, regulators and each other

-     Building connections, being aware of external issues, collaborating across boundaries

-     Caring about individuals and their progress, showing respect, being supportive and responsive


Yet, on Friday, November 29 (day after Thanksgiving, when many of us were in a turkey induced coma), Mr. Brett King, respected social financial commentator and strategist, tried to use his HSBC Debit Card, which is linked to his business accounts. Simply put, upon his return from a business trip to Europe he attempted to pay for a limo-ride home. However, his card was denied! Payment rejected!! Mr. King, concerned about potential fraudulent use of his card, called HSBC only to learn that he had been, well, “fired” as a customer. HSBC, as part of its effort to rationalize small business accounts in the U.S., had closed his account, irrespective of the viability of Mr. King’s or other small business customer accounts.


The strategic decision is rather questionable. But, regardless of what we may think, it is HSBC’s right to do what they think is best, to do what they think is right for their business, albeit it really doesn’t seem to fit with their values (especially when it came to handling Mr. King’s and other customers’ issues). Importantly, it created a social media maelstrom when it piqued Mr. Brett King and he blogged about his experience in the Huffington Post. You need to know that Mr. King’s blogs and tweets are followed by anywhere from 250,000 – 1,000,000 business people.


Yes, this is about Mr. King, and the impact of his social media campaign to call into question HSBC business practices, but it is also about the bank not living up to its values and the resultant loathsome experience it wrought for its small banking customers. Keep in mind “it’s the experience stupid.”


The Experience

Imagine for a moment that you hold a small business account with HSBC, and have possessed it for several years. Imagine that you received a notice that the bank was terminating its relationship with you by closing your account and sending you a check of your liquidated funds, end of story. Would you feel surprised? Astonished? Upset? Angry? Would you feel that they are treating your fairly? Being inclusive? Hey, imagine that you had the experience of Mr. King. What would your reaction be to having your debit, not credit, but debit card rejected? While you’re out on business? Are you sympathetic to the bank, and their change of strategy, or Mr. King, and his experience?


Compounding the Problem

No, it’s not the end of the story. The bank compounded the problem with Mr. King. Among their many indelicate and misguided actions were:



  • Failure to recognize a change of address that Mr. King registered with the bank a year earlier;
  • Sending viral, snail email declaring their intent to terminate Mr. King’s account, which went to his former address;
  • Sending a check liquidating his account to the incorrect (i.e., former) address;
  • Refusal to cancel and issue a new check to Mr. King until he returned the original check that the bank had sent to his former address, or went to a bank branch to reregister his change of address;
  • Failure of the Customer Call Center to get beyond their corporate script to emphasize with Mr. King’s problem that the bank had created and offer an equitable solution;
  • Refusal to extend Mr. King’s account so that he could pay his business staff and bills; and
  • Failure to expeditiously raise Mr. King’s issues to a level where authority to assist Mr. King could be initiated and the problem resolved.


In brief, HSBC created a problem for a customer and made resolution difficult. In fact, it made Mr. King’s life difficult. Is this anyway to treat a customer? Is this bank any better than others that it can afford to alienate customers? What advantages does HSBC have that other banks do not? Do they pay higher interest rates on savings? Make loans at lower interest rates and payment terms? Did they not consider the impact of their initial action and resultant impact on people who had been their customers? Can they afford to ignore the experience they deliver?


The bank has subsequently reinstated Mr. King’s account. (Celebrity has its privileges.) And, HSBC changed its policies for handling customer issues. (Was it the ballpeen hammer to the knees in the form of Mr. King’s blog and subsequent negative PR?) If you are interested in getting his side of the story, click here to read his blog published in the Huffington Post.




1.  Make your customer comes first. This is about being customer centric. No one has to buy your product or service. They have choices. One of our jobs is to serve the customer better than our competitors to drive preference for our offering. Get to know, really know your customers. Get beyond the data. Get into their heads and hearts. Put yourself in their shoes and learn to think like them. Anticipate their needs. Do things that will delight them.

2.  Get beyond the product or service you sell and think about the customer experience you deliver. Brands and customer loyalty are not the result of product or service features and attributes. Virtually every product or service in your category is similar in nature. They’re built on the experience your customers enjoy. It’s the experience you create for your customers that makes the difference.

3.  Make your values your code of conduct and reject anything and everything that is not consistent with these values. Marketing is not about using “smoke and mirrors” to make a transaction. Instead it is about operating with integrity to create an enduring, transformative relationship. Values are foundational to a relationship. If you have a set of values then live-up to them if you want to create lasting relationships rather than a series of transactions. The late, great James “Jim” Burke, former Chairman of Johnson & Johnson, worked with his senior executives throughout the world to rewrite and recommit J&J managers to the Company’s Credo. He stated that if managers were not going to honor the Credo then it was hypocrisy to keep it. He said something along the lines of “if we are not going to be governed by it we should tear it off the damn wall.” Don’t ever compromise on values to satisfy strategy or chase a transaction. Never!

4.  Solve people’s problems. Don’t be wed to dogma. Customer service is an extension of marketing. If they don’t report to marketing, perhaps, they should! When we don’t deal with customers as human beings but, instead, things to be manipulated we create problems for them and our organizations. We destroy trust. Those in customer service need to be able to resolve customer problems and, if not, connect the aggrieved customer with someone who has the authority to say “yes,” and resolve and issue to the customer’s satisfaction. Believe it or not, satisfactorily addressing a customer’s issue (particularly one we have caused) can serve to revitalize the bond and relationship with that customer.

5.  Be advised, social media runs both ways. Social media is something that we do to engage customers. Social media is also something that the public does and can do to us. Mistreat, mishandle or try to snow (i.e., BS) a customer and beware. You will probably get what you deserve. One customer, like Mr. King, can make a difference. That customer may only have one vote but s/he possesses the power to influence. The offended customer might very well complain about you to several others, who in return may pass along that complaint to several more (perhaps, with embellishments of their own) and … It creates a multiplier effect that could set-off a tsunami to drown you in adverse PR, damage your reputation, dampen your sales and undermine your relationship with your franchise base.

6.  Remember to live by the tenet, the customer is always right. If the customer even thinks you made a mistake, correct the situation immediately, offer a heartfelt apology and get to work to rebuild the relationship. Strive to do better next time.


This is our last DISPATCHES’ article for 2013. We will return with more DISPATCHES’ articles beginning the week of 6 January 2014. On behalf of all of us at Brand Development Network International here’s wishing you a wonderful holiday season and great success in the New Year.


Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney


Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820

fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971

fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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