Using customer service to position a business
A first direct case study

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Page 1: Introduction

When customers buy manufactured goods, such as a mobile phone, a magazine, a bicycle, some new clothes or a computer, they usually know precisely what they are getting. These products have tangible qualities. Customers make choices based on the particular features of each product. Retailers need to provide good customer service, so that customers can find out more about products before making a purchase and can get a refund or after-sales service if a product proves to be faulty or unsatisfactory. However, customer service is only a small part of the overall offer. For example, a customer may expect good service when buying some new shoes, but this is unlikely to be the main factor in deciding whether to make a purchase. Factors like price, comfort, style and brand are likely to be more persuasive.

Customer service is more important for businesses that provide services rather than physical products. In fact it is often good customer service that wins and keeps customers in the first place. Many service industries provide essentially similar products. For example, all hotels provide accommodation and most offer food as well. All banks offer customers current and savings accounts. It can be difficult to differentiate between service products. They have intangible qualities. This is why it is important to ensure that customers have a good experience.

Good customer service can be used by businesses to position themselves in the marketplace. Positioning helps an organisation to become distinctive. It helps consumers to make choices.

first direct is a division of the HSBC Bank. It provides a range of banking services, offering customers products such as current accounts, credit cards, savings accounts, insurance and loans. What is different is that first direct does not have a branch network. Customers access services over the internet or by telephone or through mobile phone banking services and text messaging. first direct has been providing online banking services for almost 20 years. It now has more than 3,000 employees and 1.1 million customers. Over 80% of transactions use the online channel. For customers that wish to contact the bank by phone, first direct 's UK call centres work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They receive more than 200,000 calls each week.

This case study shows how the online bank first direct positions itself in the retail banking sector. It illustrates how customer service has become a key factor in helping the bank to differentiate its offer to customers in a competitive market.

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