By ELEANOR TRICKETT,, Friday, 31 July 1998 12:00AM

THE BUYER - Eleanor Trickett, Campaign

THE BUYER - Eleanor Trickett, Campaign

Eleanor Trickett continues the series in which a Campaign reporter tests

a product or service against the promise of its marketing. This month,

she decides to end a seven-year relationship with NatWest to own a

fistful of cool, black, First Direct-branded credit cards.

I’m overwhelmed. Everywhere I look, I see pieces of paper with the First

Direct logo. Of course, this is my fault rather than First Direct’s.

Years of hearing how wonderful the bank was, and admiring Bob Mortimer’s

powers of persuasion in the lovely black-and-white ads, finally swayed

me and I recklessly fired off a request to join the club before I had a

chance to clear some diary space.

Having sorted the stuff into three piles (letters, information, cards

and chequebooks) how-ever, things are looking a lot better. The first

letter takes me back to an enjoyable phone call in June, during which my

dozens of questions and qualms were dealt with cheerfully and without


The application form arrived a few days later, accompanied by a brochure

which told me everything I needed to know. A week later, a further

letter arrived, gently asking if everything was OK, as they hadn’t heard

from me. Prompted, I sent off the form (which, incidentally, had been

largely filled out for me by computer - and only slightly inaccurately -

during the initial phone call). Being an enthusiastic person generally,

I said I wanted the lot - high interest savings accounts, Visa card,

ordinary card, extraordinary card, a kitchen sink ... that triggered the


Over the next couple of weeks, it flooded in; brochures, guides, tables,

charts and tiny booklets of terms and conditions. All quite necessary,

of course, but I’m not very good at coping with such things. Finally, I

bit my lip, arranged said piles and made the phone call to set up my

security features. A succinct script was read out to me by a nice woman,

who double-checked that I was alone, so as not to be overheard.

My pile of papers has now been whittled down far enough for me to see

that all I have to do is sign my cards, fill in two forms - which are

partly filled in for me anyway - and make one more call to transfer my

whopping credit card balance. All I need to do now is buy a filing


THE SELLER - Mike Phillipson, First Direct

First Direct launched in 1989 and its quirky appeal has brought in

830,000 customers to date. Mike Phillipson, the head of brand

communications, has an advertising background, having worked previously

at J. Walter Thompson and Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper. Here, he replies to

Eleanor Trickett’s comments.

I am glad Eleanor had the opportunity to experience the First Direct

brand before she contacted us. We are intangible, so we have to work

that little bit harder to get noticed. We also lack the budgets of the

bigger banks, so we have to be ultra-smart with the communication tools

we use.

She also mentioned recommendation as one key reason for joining, which

was nice to hear.

I hope she wasn’t too overwhelmed by the literature. We know that

changing your bank is difficult, so we set out to make it as stress free

an experience as possible. Therefore, I’m disappointed that she felt

there was a deluge of material. We know that some of our customers want

every piece of information they can lay their hands on, often for


However, Eleanor wants less information. We want to give Eleanor what

she wants. We are constantly looking at better ways of building positive

relationships with our customers and people who know of us. It is our

mission to make sure people like Eleanor don’t feel overwhelmed. We will

review what was sent and then see if we can reduce it, while keeping it


Also, it may be that we can help her with her filing systems if she

would like some suggestions. We have experimented in the past with

something called the ’Black Box’ and we are looking at this area at the


Our customers are very individual about their filing systems. It may be

that Eleanor actually likes the systems she has in place. Let’s


We spend a lot of time training our people and our internal culture is

something we value, so I was reassured that Eleanor enjoyed her

conversations with First Direct. It is the positive service experience

that we give our customers that sets us apart from other banks. We look

forward to proving this to Eleanor.

This article was first published on


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