Database Management & Procurement

Privacy issues and the scourge of the loyalty scheme

Firstly, as I write this blog the irony has not escaped me a marketing professional complaining about loyalty schemes and privacy issues published on all my social media channels but that’s my choice. You’d be right to call me a hypocrite but please bear with me. There are two types of loyalty scheme the less sophisticated stamp collection where generally you don’t have to provide any personal details and the more complex credit card style ones where you ‘sign up’. I think Boots where the first to come up with a points scheme and there’s no escaping the fact it’s a good idea. Capturing data about your customers purchasing habits has limitless potential. I’m pretty sure the online ‘supermarkets’ I use send me specific deals based on my purchasing habits.

I don’t mind too much the basic loyalty schemes where you get a stamp each time you visit and get something free after a nominal number of stamps. I’m sensible enough to see the benefit of this. I also have no issue with the more complex ones in theory. It’s the way its collected that I probably have the biggest issue with I’ll explain more shortly. Most major and minor retailers have their own loyalty scheme and smaller businesses are also following suit. The fact is that everyone wants to get hold of your data. Your personal data is like gold dust to a retailer, restaurant, B2C or even B2B enterprise for that matter. Since setting up my business and utilising free listing I get several sales calls everyday selling me business related goods. Its got so bad that I tend not to answer the landline as I’m certain it’s a sales call – could I be missing out on a vital lead?

 I now have in my purse cards with John Lewis, M&S, Waitrose, Paperchase, Boots, Superdrug the list is endless. This is just the big hitters everyone wants to get a hold of your data.

Here’s why I find it so annoying;

1.       My purse is now so full of loyalty cards that I struggle to find my debit card quite an issue when you’re in a rush

2.       I have an unusual first name and my surname is not spelt the conventional way so lots of spelling out and repeating required – (not ideal when you’re in a rush)

3.       This issue is probably only specific to me as my husband always reminds me to use my “indoor voice” but I’ll admit I’m quite loud probably why I’d found myself drawn to the world of radio people often say I have a voice for radio. But when you need to verbally give out your name, email address and postal address in a busy store to sign up to their loyalty scheme and there’s a queue of people behind you I often decline for fear of others overhearing. It’s almost as bad as when you pay for something over the phone and the person you’re speaking to repeats back your card number.

Each loyalty scheme has its own merits but it’s just so overwhelming as a consumer. I never got around to activating my John Lewis card and I have spent a small fortune in there since becoming a mother. I suppose what I’m saying is that It comes back to the same problem time. I’ve singled out email here but text message campaigns can be equally annoying my local pizza takeaway which I ordered from once would text me every single Friday without fail with a special offer (probably the same one I got bored of reading it) there was no opt out option so after several months I had to call them to ask them to take me off their list. The DMA (Direct Marketing Association) has a code of conduct that must be adhered to for members but individuals don’t necessarily have access to this information.  When I worked at Space and Time Media we had to follow their guidance to the letter when handling data I learnt a lot during that time.

Of course, I understand the merits of all the above activity but if you get it wrong you risk alienating your customers so be wise about how you use your gold dust. So, there it is my feelings about loyalty schemes do you agree? I’m not saying don’t use them just be mindful of the fact that with information comes great power.

If you’d like to talk about any aspect of your marketing communications, feel free to get in touch or call 01625 533102.

Good Customer Service

Not so long ago I spent 4 years working for the late Tim Bacon the founder of Living Ventures a group of restaurants and bars including Gusto and the Living Room. I learnt a great deal, his Core Manual is one of his greatest legacies almost biblical!

In it Tim teaches you how to give excellent customer service and at the root of his teaching is that the customer is always right. Many people couldn’t understand why a degree educated person would want to work in a restaurant with the long unsociable hours and relatively low pay. I never explained to customers that I was a Business Development Manager and that there was much more going on behind the scenes, they just viewed me as a host (well what’s in a name?). Those 4 years taught me so much about providing good service, dealing with difficult customers (sometimes drunk) as well as creating a welcoming environment. A fellow hospitality worker once said that ‘hospitality should be made a national service’. I really couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately, this has made my expectations very high and I find it quite frustrating when I don’t receive the same good customer service from other business to consumer enterprises it’s not hard to get it right just put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re dealing with and ask yourself what would you expect? In many other countries i.e. America hospitality is viewed as a career whereas over here many view it as a stop gap.

If I have to call a business and get good customer service I’m actually amazed. Almost shocked if I get through directly to the person I need to speak to. Lansinoh are one such business I needed some replacement valves for my breast pump the lady who answered the call was able to deal with my query straightaway without having to pass me to another department. It made me think it doesn’t matter what communication method you use as long as you do it well. I recently had to speak to a large business who provide a wide range of electrical items let’s just say their name began with Sam and ended in ung. I was appalled by how poor their customer service was. Firstly, the line was very poor so it was difficult to hear them, they took me through their troubleshooting (basically) switch it off and on. When this didn’t resolve the issue they put me on hold for roughly 15 minutes until eventually my call was dropped. I called back only to have to go through the same process again and once again was put on hold for a further 10 minutes whilst the individual reviewed my notes. Finally, they deducted that my equipment (a sound bar) was faulty. I had called about the same issue a year ago and was made to feel quite foolish because my husband had removed the battery (I hadn’t checked before I called). On this occasion I was transferred to the supervisor who asked me over and over again if my problem was resolved, even though they knew it wasn’t.

As a parent you’re told to ‘praise good behaviour and ignore bad behaviour’ (not entirely sure which guru came up with this theory). I don’t agree with this theory. I do agree with praising good behaviour something I do loud and proud however, but bad behaviour should also be acknowledged. We shouldn’t insult the intelligence of our children by assuming they can’t understand right from wrong and this is why they should be punished. In the world of consumerism people don’t follow this rule (I’m as guilty as the next person). Giving feedback to a company is the only way to help them improve. Posting a negative review can be very damaging for a small businesses. So back to the electronics company there is an email address on their site where you can directly contact the CEO of the company surely he would care about the poor customer service I received? But I’ve received no response as of yet. I also tweeted their official twitter handle yet again no response.

You can be sympathetic to small companies not having the resource to be across all communication channels but a global business should be able to provide brilliant customer service. I am a big Gin fan and for Christmas I received a beautifully packaged bottle of Gin from the Gin Parlour with complementary bottles of tonic and beer matts it was a real treat. On their website they state in their FAQs


We are a small, 2.5 person, online company. We made the decision not to have a public phone number and instead embrace the various online methods of communication - email, live chat, Twitter and Facebook - because these enable us to provide a better, more reliable, level of customer service. We could put a phone number up but 9 times out of 10 you would have to leave a message for us to get back in touch with you. In our experience that frustrates people even more.

We know that some people see a phone number as a sign of a company’s validity and will not want to shop with us however we have been independently verified by our website security certificate provider and our independent review provider.”

This is a prime example of smart communications, you don’t need to be across every method of communication to give good customer service just pick a few and ensure you do them well. 01625 533102

Credit: Jonathan Farber

Credit: Jonathan Farber

The Birth of Icon Marketing Communications

As my first blog I thought the best place to start would be to talk about how and why I set up my own marketing communications consultancy.

I went to University in Leeds and studied a degree in Media, Communication and Cultural studies. It was quite a diverse course where we learnt about the practical side of media as well as theory. We did work placements in related industries I chose PR (I really wanted to do a placement at a radio station), but communication is communication. At Uni we were taught to analyse things and look for the hidden meaning in things. Such as the stereotypical roles used in Disney films like the jive talking smoking crows in Dumbo. There are many subtle messages in mainstream media like the constant barrage of negative programming such as ‘Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole’. ‘EastEnders’ depiction of Stacey’s battle with post-partum psychosis or even the late George Michael's lyrics in his hit tune Faith.  We can learn a lot from the media we consume both positive and negative.

Having spent several years working in marketing/advertising/business development and radio change was on the horizon when I fell pregnant with my first son Nico. During my maternity leave I threw myself into various projects not to mention Mums & Tots groups. But if I’m honest they weren’t my cup of tea and believe me there was always plenty of tea! The only class I felt was useful was Tiny Talk a baby sign language class. Where babies learn useful signs to communicate with their parents before they can speak. I remember going round the circle when we were asked how many signs our babies had done and my answer was always none (but who’s to say the other Mums were telling the truth?). Many months later and even now Nico does various signs for me and has even learnt more.

Anyway the maternity leave went by quickly and it was time to take on the dreaded commute on the M60 to Salford Quays. I knew it would be tough (husband often works abroad) but I wanted to keep my independence and small income once nursery fees where paid. The world of media and particular social media is constantly evolving so if you take time out for too long it’s a major setback. It was becoming challenging taking on the commute and with no work from home option available I regrettably handed in my notice. With the encouragement of my husband I decided to set up my own marketing communications consultancy. Thankfully since setting up I have learnt so much including how to build websites.

Working as a sole trader is a tough slog; finding new business, getting expensive contracts written up, paying for office space and dealing with late payers. A survey by the Federation of Small Business in March 2015 found that 43 per cent of firms have waited over 90 days beyond the agreed payment date before they got the money they were owed. Is it any wonder that so many small businesses fail?

The hardest thing of all was coming up with a name it took me long enough to agree on a name for my children this was going to be just as challenging. After weeks of shortlisting I finally settled on ‘Icon Marketing Communications’, Icon being an anagram of Nico.

Icon Marketing Communications is designed to help businesses just like mine, people with an idea that just needs promoting to the outside world to attract customers. If you’d like to discuss your marketing requirements, please feel free to get in touch or 01625 533102