PayPal Here and Greedy Goat at Mobile World Congress 2013

Mobile World Congress is quite a show. Over 70,000 people descend on Barcelona for the annual mobile industry expo. It’s not just about handsets: it’s about everything related to connected commerce, from phones and tablets to payments and even connected cars.

PayPal president David Marcus shows PayPal here to Sky TV

PayPal president David Marcus explains PayPal Here to Sky TV

For me, MWC 2013 was memorable for the huge interest in the UK version of PayPal Here, PayPal’s flexible and affordable way for small businesses to take credit card payments face to face. The PayPal Here demos were mobbed by everyone intrigued by the way PayPal had reinvented the original Here concept for countries like Britain where paying by Chip & PIN is standard. The UK version is a pocket-sized card reader that connects to a trader’s smartphone via Bluetooth.

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Greedy Goat’s Craig and Mark at MWC with PayPal’s Narik Patel

The fun bit was having Mark and Craig from London’s Greedy Goat ice cream on the stand, serving their delicious goat’s milk ice cream. (I recommend the honeycomb flavour…) Greedy Goat is one of the businesses that have been helping PayPal design the UK flavour of PayPal Here. It trades at Borough Market, and it will be one of the first businesses to take card payments through PayPal Here in the next month or so.

Here’s the video showing Greedy Goat trying PayPal Here at Borough Market.

But there’s more to PayPal Here than just card payments. The future probably lies with something rather more 21st century than a card. PayPal is pioneering payment via ‘check-in’: a quick tap in an app to check into and pay a local business. This opens up so many possibilities for making life quicker and easier: for example, ordering your drink or lunch ready for collection, beating the queue. PayPal is pioneering ordering ahead with Jamba Juice in the United States.

Anyone interested in finding out more about PayPal Here can register their interest and get all the facts at www.paypal.co.uk/here.

PS: we served the best coffee at MWC.

PS: we served the best coffee at MWC.

Disclosure: I am head of PR for PayPal UK.

Social Brands: Lego and Chiltern Railways

I love Lego. So it’s no surprise that Lego’s Lars Silberbauer was the star of today’s Brand Republic Social Brands event in London.

Lars started on a high: his business card is a Lego character. But his most compelling message was the way the brand has inspired its fans to share their creations and suggest new products.

Lars showed this brilliant video telling the story of Lego. It’s 17 minutes long, yet it’s been viewed by almost four million people. Over half have watched over 15 minutes, showing its appeal. I watched it with my four year old son Owen tonight, and he was enthralled. It shows the timeless truth: great content is compelling. It’s not a corporate video, but a magical story, beautifully told and animated.

I also enjoyed the story of how Lego rode to the rescue when an 11 year old American boy, James Groccia, found the Lego Emerald Night train set he had saved up for had been withdrawn. Lego sent James the precious set. It’s a great example of how delighting a customer can spread goodwill. (The home video showing his delight has been viewed over 1.6 million times.)

The other highlight of the day for me was meeting Nicola Clark, head of marketing and communications at Chiltern Railways. I’ve blogged many times about Chiltern’s excellent use of social media, so it was nice to hear more at first hand. Nicola said that social allowed Chiltern to become the brand it always wanted to be: human, caring about the customer, with real personality. She explained how the company started its social presence after seeing it as a great way to keep customers informed after the snows of 2009.

As Nicola said, passengers often just want an explanation when things go wrong. Tweeting photos of a line blocked by a tree shows us that there’s a good reason why the 0721 is late. By coincidence, Will McInness from Nixon McInnes made the same point, citing client First Capital Connect getting drivers to take photos of flooded tracks.

I took part in a panel discussion with Simon Nicholson from Honda and event chair Andrew Smith, co-author of Share This. I explained how PayPal is growing its social presence and how the company’s president, David Marcus, instinctively understands social as a way of engaging with customers and learning from their feedback. I added that the debate about who ‘owns’ social – PR, marketing or customer service – is meaningless. It should be a partnership with the needs of the audience centre stage. ‘Don’t ask what the customer can do for you. Ask what you can do for the customer.”

I’ll end with a personal story about Chiltern Railways. On Tuesday morning, I told Owen about the famous Pontcysyllte canal aqueduct in North Wales. I added that there was a railway locomotive named after it. I showed him photos from the internet of the aqueduct and the engine. That morning, I saw the engine racing through Gerrards Cross as I waited for my train. When I got to Marylebone, I took a photo (below) to show Owen later. We agreed we’d go on a train pulled by the engine one day…

Pont Cysyllte at Marylebone

Dyfrbont Pontcysyllte at Marylebone

Disclosure: I am Head of PR & Social Media for PayPal UK

RIM’s Stephen Bates – disaster in motion on BBC 5 live

If you’re a business launching a make or break product, a prime time national radio interview is a golden opportunity. Unfortunately, Research in Motion (RIM) European boss Stephen Bates completely blew it on BBC 5 live breakfast today.

He was on to explain BlackBerry 10, the long-delayed new operating system designed to compete with hugely successful Apple and Android smartphones. Yet he was unable to give a single reason to buy a BlackBerry – criminal given the importance of today’s launch.

We learned that BlackBerry was a unique proposition – whatever that means. We learned that RIM was taking the essence of the BlackBerry experience and moving it forward. Apparently BlackBerry 10 gives users a new and unique experience – though we still have no idea what that means.

Worst of all, he completely ignored the question ‘What did you learn from the iPhone?’ Repeatedly. Nicky Campbell mocked Bates: ‘It sounds like you’re reading from a press release’. Yet Bates could have turned that most predictable question to his advantage: ‘The iPhone has had a big impact, but BlackBerry 10 is better for consumers and businesses because it does X, Y and Z’.

Stephen Bates’ woeful performance – repeated on BBC TV’s Breakfast – underlines why business leaders must be able to tell their story simply and convincingly. I can’t imagine Bates speaking such gobbledegook at home. So why do so in a radio interview?

He must have expected questions about BlackBerry’s fall from grace and the rise of the iPhone and Android. He had a perfect chance to answer those questions honestly followed by a straightforward explanation of why the BlackBerry is still a must-have device that will give Apple and Samsung a run for their money.

His failure to take that opportunity is baffling.

PS: RIM has a history of disastrous PR. Former CEO Mike Lazaridis stormed out of an interview with BBC’s Rory-Cellan Jones two years ago. The company horribly mishandled its service failure in October 2011. It needs some decent PR direction before it’s too late.

We love M&S Culverhouse Cross

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M&S: a very special restaurant

We’ve loved Marks & Spencer’s Culverhouse Cross store in Cardiff for a long time. It has a huge range of goods, an excellent food hall and nice cafe almost all on one floor.

It now has the best restaurant of any high street store I’ve come across. We called in on our way to Mum and Dad’s in Penarth last weekend, and decided to have a late lunch there. It was great value – and the food was wonderful. (With at-table service.) Best of all was Owen’s dessert – with the kind of presentation you’d normally find only in a far more expensive restaurant.

We’ll definitely be back!

How social media can win your brand friends for life

Companies around the world are waking up to the power of social media. They’re looking for the magic sauce that turns customers into fans. So it was no surprise that today’s Social Media for Results conference in London revealed some great examples of the best of social media practice.

I spoke about how organisations can use social media to help their customers, especially when things go wrong. I quoted an amazing finding from the United States: 47 percent of social media users had turned to social for help (this rises to 59% of people aged 18-24). And 71 percent of people who have had a positive experience will recommend that brand, compared with 19 percent who got no response. [Source: NM Incite: State of Social Customer Service 2012.] Incidentally, the figures are remarkably similar for men and women. In short, handling complaints well on social could turn an unhappy customer into a friend for life.

I spoke of my own experience as a Vodafone customer: how I enjoyed outstanding customer service after the social customer service team contacted me after I blogged and tweeted about my unhappy experiences. I also cited the example of Vodafone’s rival, O2, which did a great job keeping people informed with humour (and allowing critical comments) on its social channels after service interruptions recently.

My favourite experience however was Chiltern Railways. Last year, I got on the wrong train at London’s Marylebone. I tweeted about my stupidity. Within minutes, Chiltern’s excellent social team tweeted back the best train to return home on. Experiences like this make you feel special.

My other point today was that it’s so important to ask what’s in it for the customer (or council tax payer…) when you’re developing a social media presence. So many companies think: we need a Facebook page. Yet they don’t ask what value it will give. What content will you share? Are you simply going to churn out sales messages and dull news releases? Or do you have something interesting and relevant to say?

I also repeated my favourite subject at any communications conference: the need to use simple, compelling language. I quoted RIM’s apology (during the 2011 service failure) to customers in ‘EMEA’. As the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones mocked, ‘Where on earth is that?’ It doesn’t exist, except on corporate organisation charts.

Finally, a plug for an excellent book raising money for a very worthy cause. Behind the Sofa, compiled by Steve Berry, is a collection of celebrity memories of Doctor Who. All profits from the book will go to Alzheimer’s Research UK. I called Steve after we at PayPal had let him down. I was keen to find out how we could put things right and learn from the experience. Seven months later, I was delighted to read the book. Well done Steve!

[Disclosures: I am Head of PR & Social Media at PayPal UK. Steve Berry kindly gave his permission for me to mention his experience.]

Cardiff’s Queen Street BHS to close

The original Cardiff BHS, 1970s

I felt nostalgic tonight when I read that Cardiff’s main BHS store in Queen Street is to close.

The store was once the site of the largest Woolworths store in Wales, before Woolies closed in around 1985. British Home Stores (BHS) relocated a few hundred yards from the store you can see in this wonderful photo.

The original Woolworths was a special place. It had a cafeteria on the upper mezzanine floor. Even in the 1970s it was selling loose biscuits behind a glass counter window. BHS was never quite as iconic, although it did briefly have an in-store Nationwide Building Society branch in the late 1980s.

The photo shows Queen Street before it became traffic-free in 1975. Judging by the gleaming K-reg Rover on the left I’d say it was taken in 1972 or 1973.

The details are fascinating. Every car is British. The Dutch clothing store C&A was still a household name (it left Britain in 2000). Top Rank Suite enjoyed the glam rock era.

The crane in the background was building Brunel House, which was meant to house British Railways’ Western Region headquarters. (Another botched reorganisation at the taxpayers’ expense…) The Venetian-looking building on the right once overlooked the Glamorgan canal, which entered a tunnel here. (It was filled in over 50 years ago.)

The sign for the hair removal clinic (above Stead & Simpson on the right) suggests we were already obsessed about appearances!

Britain goes 4G with EE – at a price

It’s been a long wait, but Britain finally got a 4G mobile phone network today as EE opened for business.

Don’t all rush to sign up though: the 4GEE service is only currently available in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and eight other cities, with others following by the end of the year.

A bigger issue is that the cheapest £36 a month contract includes just 500MB of data. So if you’re tempted to download an episode of BBC Top Gear in under a minute on your smartphone (as the Guardian’s Josh Halliday did testing 4GEE), you’ll have used up your whole monthly allowance. Sure, you can use wifi to avoid blowing your allowance, but that rather defeats the point of 4G. More generous allowances will cost up to £56 a month.

To be fair to EE, it needs to get a return on its investment. But it remains to be seen how quickly consumers upgrade to 4G. Britain’s mobile networks invested huge sums in 3G licences a decade ago, but consumers were slow to sign up. 4G may be different: we’re now shopping, watching video, route-planning and connecting via Facebook on our phones. Doing all those things faster is an attractive idea.

Vodafone’s overseas internet rip-off

I’ve blogged before about my unhappy experience with Vodafone’s mobile internet service. I explained how I found it almost impossible to get online. So it was a bitter irony to get charged £100 by Vodafone in June for mobile internet roaming charges in California – especially as I was careful to go online when wifi was available in the office and hotel in San Jose.

When I first complained in June, a Vodafone agent accepted I was not responsible but said that my phone was. She said the phone was online continuously for six hours – yet at the times she said this happened, I was mostly in the office on the work wifi network. (And, just as significantly, I was not using the phone as I was on my work laptop and wifi-only iPad.) Despite this, the agent said they could do nothing until the billing period was over.

False sense of security: the Vodafone texts

It gets worse. Vodafone send me texts (above) saying that I was halfway through my 5MB data allowance. At no point did they say I had used up the 5MB allowance. So I was appalled to get a further text saying I had used up 80% of the £100 cap on data outside Europe (below). So Vodafone’s texts to me went straight from saying I was more than halfway through a 5MB allowance and would be charged £15 for exceeding it to telling me  I had used £80 of data. How incredibly irresponsible and misleading. (I’m now been told I had used 30MB.)

Vodafone’s bombshell

Customer service woe

It gets even worse. When I complained, I got a phone call from someone from Vodafone. They asked me for personal information, including my date of birth. I said I was uncomfortable doing so without being sure it was a genuine call. The caller said they’d send a code by text – which never arrived. When I chased by email, Vodafone’s agent asked me to send my date of birth by email. I said I wasn’t prepared to send such an important piece of info by insecure email – only to be told:

“I understand your concern about the Internet charges, Rest assured, the medium to exchange the information via email is on secure server. Your can provide information over the email. We care about your personal information that is the reason we have developed a secure protocol.”

Quite bizarre, as the email exchange was not taking place within a secure section of Vodafone’s website but by ordinary email. So the security of Vodafone’s servers was irrelevant.

Nearly two weeks on, Vodafone’s customer service team is still ducking all my questions:

Why didn’t you tell me that I had exceeded the 5MB allowance?

Why did you wait until I had supposedly used £80 of data over six hours before warning me?

Your agent acknowledged in June that I had not personally instigated the data usage – so why have you charged me for it?

I’m still awaiting answers.

The Guardian investigates Vodafone

The Guardian is doing a good job exposing Vodafone’s practices. Its deputy personal finance editor Rupert Jones this weekend reported that Ofcom is investigating price rises on ‘fixed’ mobile phone contracts. Vodafone is about to sting 10 million customers with higher monthly charges. As the Guardian said:

“The signs say pay monthly, the contract tells you how much you will pay … then suddenly something which you thought was fixed is moved.”

This weekend’s Guardian Money also reported that Vodafone had charged a small business £17,484 for a stolen phone. The company told the Guardian that  “Vodafone doesn’t monitor accounts – this is the customer’s responsibility.” It could learn a lot from the banks and credit card companies, who have a good record of monitoring unusual transactions and warning the customer.

UPDATE: once again, Jenny and team at @vodafoneuk came up trumps, with an excellent, fast and generous response. A copy book example of great customer service through social media. Thank you!

Rabobank: sponsor’s revenge for cycling’s doping scandal

The Dutch bank Rabobank has ended sponsorship of the cycling team that bears its name. Its decision comes after seven times Tour de France Lance Armstrong was condemned as a drugs cheat.

Bert Bruggink, a member of the bank’s managing board, said: “We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport. We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future.”

The only surprise is that cycling has any sponsors at all. The failure of the sport to tackle endemic use of drugs has been a scandal for years. Let’s hope that the new generation of professional cyclists show that cycling has a future. Bradley Wiggins is a better role model than the likes of Michael Rasmussen and Levi Leipheimer, disgraced former Rabobank riders.

Windsor car parks: we don’t have £10 in coins

We had a lovely day in Windsor today. But it started on a rocky note: a car park (Victoria Street multi-storey car park, Windsor) that demands you pay in coins. That’s fine if the cost is 50p. But not when the charge is £10.

Windsor & Maidenhead council, let me introduce you to the 21st century. We now have credit and debit cards, mobile phones and PayPal. You could make life a lot easier by letting people pay by card and mobile. It would mean that we didn’t have to go back to the car park to top up the payment. You’d make even more money. You’d have to empty the machines less often. Everyone will win. Welcome to the 21st century.

Disclosure: I work for PayPal