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INTERVIEW Darren Jones of the Post Office on getting social with customers

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To anyone living in the UK, the Post Office is a constant in your life and on your high street. Away from that certainty though, it’s also a business that has undergone profound change and, along the way, one that’s renegotiated its relationship with its customers.

Why this shift? We are talking here about one of Europe’s largest retail networks – with more than 11,600 branches – and one with a social as well as a commercial mission. It has a modernising agenda that, since 2015, has seen it become the UK’s fastest-growing provider of personal and business banking services as well as being a leading provider of travel money services. These changes have all formed part of a wider effort to boost footfall and maintain social engagement, relevance and income for the more than 10,000 independent businesses that run Post Office branches.

Since 2012, Darren Jones has worked in social media and audience insight at the Post Office and seen this journey in relation to its customers and a reimagined future for the group. What has it meant for the customer and customer engagement?

“Personal relevance – that is, how we can be relevant to each individual in context – is crucial, because what the Post Office means and does for customers has diversified and fragmented in some respects,” he says. “This is particularly true of the way the online and in-branch offers have become twin streams of activity, serving customers with somewhat different profiles and needs.”

Campaigns in action

If we start by looking at the online channel for the Post Office, rather than its far-reaching network of branches owned by independents, we see a particular approach and way of doing things that Jones understands well.

“Our profile and activity online and through social media has been driven by specific campaigns in recent years, and in particular our work to build a position as a credible alternative in financial services and in telecoms,” he explains. “It’s here especially that relevance counts. One campaign that illustrates the work we do to engage and learn from customers is #SummerSorted, which we ran in the summer of 2016 to promote our travel money products.”

The specific aims of the campaign were to build awareness of Post Office travel money products, to get more people to buy them and to improve brand sentiment, thereby driving more conversations. So how did it do in customer terms?

“We took an audience-first approach, meaning we did our research on which audiences we should target,” says Jones. “We also looked at the interests of our competitors’ followers versus our own, and at what type of content those audiences engage with on social. Once we had our target audience and priority content themes, we then split our social strategy into four focus areas, including incentives to buy travel money with us, uplifting content about summer travel and sharing information about travel money to urge social users either online or in-branch.”

Jones says the other piece in the puzzle was to support on the campaign on a robust social platform, Lithium Social Media Management. “With #SummerSorted, we had over 300 assets, 15 contests with 91 prizes, and more than 36,000 conversations to monitor in real time, so there were lots of moving parts. Lithium helped us streamline workflow and to analyse customer engagement to tweak the campaign and land it properly.”

Did it work though? “The most significant metric was that we increased subscribers 113% through the development of engaging content,” says Jones. “After the campaign, we had more subscribers and more Facebook followers than Yorkshire Building Society and Tesco Bank – two key competitors. So it clearly helped us grow our brand awareness and edge us closer to our target of being the leading financial service provider by 2020.”

Other similarly successful customer campaigns have included one raising awareness about Sunday opening hours, with quick responses to customers holding the key to getting the message out.

But it’s not one-way traffic with social, emphasises Jones. “We read the comments we receive and aim to learn and respond,” he says. “If we have a broadband offer and get valid criticisms, for example, we’ll go back and try to understand more and adjust if needed. We always try to be agile and refine campaigns on the hoof.”

The social branch network

Away from the social campaigns around a defined number of products and services for digital customers, the Post Office is a messier beast in-branch. But it’s gradually getting less so.

“We are seen by many customers as a physical business but because of the digital activity we undertake, there is a bit less clutter and complexity in branches these days,” says Jones. “That’s a good thing as maintaining the branches and making them relevant gets to the heart of our social mission. We need to keep the branches open and the right customer experience across all channels is what makes that more likely.

Social media activity is also good for driving footfall into the branches, even if only about 200 of the Post Office’s 11,000-plus independent branches are so far plugged into that opportunity. “There is a way to go but 200 active accounts and advocates that are making the most of our social training offer and phone consultations for the independent owners is a good start,” says Jones. “Many of today’s postmasters are definitely more engaged and entrepreneurial than in the past. They are open to new ideas that will help to reach customers.”

This piece first appeared in IREU The Customer Dimension Report, produced in association with Cybertill. Click here to explore the report in full.

Image credit: Fotolia

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