How to use email to alienate your most important customers

On 21st April, HSBC Middle East bank sent a promotional email to 400 ‘Premier’ customers (whose qualification criterion is to maintain at least $95,000 in their accounts). Unfortunately, HSBC revealed all these customers’ names and email addresses to their peers by accidentally using the generic “To” function for this communication, rather than a personalised and confidential addressing technique. Understandably, a number of HSBC customers have publicly expressed their outrage and some have claimed that hackers have subsequently tried to access their email accounts.

This story is spreading fast across the local media and HSBC are clearly embarrassed and very much on the back foot. Whilst they have swiftly and profusely apologised, also emphasising that no customers’ bank account security has been compromised, it is too late to prevent any resulting damage to the bank’s reputation regarding standards of care and confidentiality.

Tim Mace of Tenzing a Marketing Consultancy believes that every brand – not only banks – needs to earn and maintain a brand image focused on trust to retain existing customers and to attract new ones. Trust is justifiably the most sought-after emotional attribute and there is no short-cut to gaining customer confidence.

Reputation-dependent companies like HSBC constantly measure a range of customer perception factors, which do not generally fluctuate much in the short-term, and HSBC will be hoping not to see a negative movement in their UAE stats for April or May and that this incident is swiftly forgotten by any of their customers and prospects who read this story or heard it from a friend.

However, disgruntled customers have long memories and Tenzing wonders what HSBC would (hypothetically) be prepared to pay to turn back the clock to the moment just before that fateful email was sent to 400 of its top customers!

Tenzing Marketing Consultancy – based in Dubai – is helping brands to reach new heights.

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