HSBC “Rgerts to Onform”

I’m always amazed at how much money companies sink into sparkling advertising and PR, but so little into ensuring the emails their staff send and receive reflect the same sheen.

Especially when they call themselves the “world’s local bank”.

Take this recent email exchange with HSBC. I’m a customer, and sometimes use their Premier lounge at Jakarta airport. I’m one of those annoying people who make a point of submitting comments to companies about my experience, even if they’re not solicited.

A few months back I was impressed enough with the Jakarta lounge to send an email to a generic customer relations email address I found here on HSBC’s global site where the page says:  HSBC customers are invited to email customerrelations@hsbc.com.

I can’t remember now what I wrote, but it was complimentary about the initiative of one of the staff, a guy called Musli. I got this back a few days later:

Thank you for your recent e-message.
I have forwarded your email to Jakarta, Indonesia so that your positive comments can be feedback to Musli and their manager.
Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Great. Just what I wanted. A slap on the back for the little guy.

But a few months later—last week–I had a quite different experience, so I fired off another email to the same address:

Hi, I thought I’d follow up my earlier message about HSBC lounge in Jakarta. Since my last email I feel standards have slipped a bit and the place could do with some attention.

I then went on to detail the slippage: my Premier card, it turned out, wasn’t in itself good enough for Premier lounge, and the staff seemed keener on getting rid of me than seeing whether I carried the magic card. The lounge felt more like a lower tier massage parlor, with four females sitting around the front desk, chatting, giggling, singing karaoke and exchanging backchat with male staff. It got so raucous I and some other travelers went to another lounge to get a bit of peace and quiet.

Anyway, I fired off what I felt was a constructively critical message. I got this back today:

Thank you for your further e-message. I am sorry you have had to contact us under such circumstances.
I rgert to onform you that I am unable to assist you with your complaint.
As you have contacted HSBC UK, we are only able to access accounts held within the UK.
Therefore may I suggest that you contact HSBC Jakarta for them to investigate the issues you have and provide you with a full response.
I apologise for any inconvenience this may cause you.

I wrote back:

Thanks for this, it cheered me up no end. The first time I send complimentary remarks to this email address, and they’re passed on right down to the staff, but when I send criticism you “rgert to onform” that you are unable to assist me.
Lovely stuff. Couldn’t make it up if I tried.

I’m a bit flabbergasted, actually, but I shouldn’t be. It’s pretty amazing that the global email address for customer relations for what is now one of the world’s biggest banks can spew out ungrammatical and misspelled dross like that, but more important, but that the staff member feels able to shunt responsibility back to the customer is shockingly shoddy.

Repeat after me: Every email sent and received by a member of your staff is an ambassador at large for the organization. Mess it up like this one and your whole brand suffers.

(Also being sent to HSBC PR for their comments.)

The Cup Final, the Uplifting Video and the iPod

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Hang on, let me check my iPod first

Technology, however small, can be the difference between winning a cup final and losing it.

Manchester United faced Tottenham Hotspur in the Carling Cup Final on Sunday, and it’s instructive how video technology was, in a way, the difference between the two sides.

After no goals in 120 minutes, there was nothing between the sides, and it came down to a penalty shoot-out. (Each take five.)

Now I’m a Tottenham fan, if that means anything to you, so this is painful to relate, but it’s striking.

The Spurs manager, old school Harry Rednapp, had got his staff to put together a six-minute video of Spurs’ previous cup final victories. “It involves some of the Spurs teams over the years winning cups and how great it was,” he told the BBC. “We will show that with a bit of music to it and show how this particular team has scored some of the goals on the way to the final.”

Nice, and uplifting, I’m sure.

The Manchester United backroom fellas had spent their time differently: collecting recordings of the Spurs players taking penalties. What they do, which side they put the ball, whether they hit it hard or place it. This in itself isn’t that unusual, but here’s the key bit:

No one knows in advance who is going to be taking those five penalties. It depends on a lot of factors—who has been substituted, and by whom, who is tired, injured, or just doesn’t want to take the responsibility. So it would be tricky for a goalkeeper to store in his head for 120 minutes or more all the vagaries of the other team’s players.

So the backroom boys stored the videos on an iPod (video or Touch, I don’t know) and showed it to the goalkeeper just before the shoot-out. Ben Foster is quoted as telling The Guardian:

“I did a bit of research for the penalties,” said the 25-year-old. “We tried to find out everything we could about Spurs beforehand and, just before the shoot-out, I was looking at a video on an iPod with Eric Steele, our goalkeeping coach, and Edwin [Van der Sar].

It’s not an amazing use of technology—there’s lot of it used in soccer, as with any sport, these days—but it proved to be Spurs’ undoing. Foster emerged the hero of the shoot-out, diving to his left to parry away the first Tottenham penalty by Jamie O’Hara. Foster relates:

It’s a new innovation he’s brought in since coming to the club and on it were some of Tottenham’s penalties, including one from O’Hara. I was told that, if he was taking one, to stay as big as I can.

The lesson to me is a simple one that every organisation seems to miss: Technology is not always the big stuff. It’s the Hinge Factor.

In this case it was the difference between one guy using it in a very non-specific way—splicing together a few clips of past glories to lift the lads—and another very specific way: anticipating the possibility of the game going to penalties, gathering videos of all possible penalty takers and then—most important—making sure they’re in a format that can be accessed on the pitch at the crucial moment.

But this in a company or organisational environment, and it’s the standard vs the unconventional. The corporate promotional video commissioned for millions of dollars vs a personalised twitter feed put together by one sparky individual in their lunch break. It’s the glitzy press launch with silly goody bags vs a blog. It’s the expensive software development project vs an open source content management system put together for peanuts and endlessly adaptable.

In organisations I’ve worked with or in, I notice that technology is always pushed into the background, usually literally: The tech guys have a cubby hole at the back, with cables and spare parts, being summoned to fix things but never to innovate. I’ve never heard their opinions being sought, and I’ve rarely seen non-technical people try to build bridges with them to try to marry technology with innovative ideas.

The result is that these moments of competitive advantage wrought by small but crucial deployments of technology are rare.

In this case it’s just one guy with an iPod that made the difference. Go figure.

Photo credit: Guardian/Matthew Peters/Manchester United/Getty Images