Jan 28

Virtual Service

There are always two sides to a coin, two sides to every argument and two views on service! Those in the business of delivering service will tell you that it is always getting better, while the rest of us, on the receiving end, find good service very hard to find.

Financial services is a key battle ground in the service war – Better, Faster, Greener, Today, Tommorow and very PC, whatever the slogan we are assailed by the PR campaigns of the banks, insurance companies and investment houses, but has service really improved?

Firstly, I think as players in the financial services industry we should all step back and ask what kind of service would I like to receive myself, then ask yourself, am I actually giving my own clients that same service commitment?

It is never easy to deliver good service but one of the worst sins must be advertsing your commitment to great service and then really giving none! Hands up all those who love call centres and enjoy dealing with them. Does anyone see them as a quality service? OK, I will assume the man with his hand up at the back owns a call-centre business that is doing well, no doubt, as more and more companies retire hurt from any attempt to offer service and simply “outsource” it.

Actually, I was always taught (and I stand open to correction) that it is twenty times harder to win a client than it is to keep one. Amazing then that some companies try so hard to lower those odds by trying so hard to upset us, they put us on hold for an age, play truly terrible music at us, tell us (while we are holding for 20 minutes) how important our call is to them – so why don’t they answer then? My favourite is those fully automated service centres. It takes an age for them to get to the point only for you to find that the phone you are using does not activate their commands, so you end up using your own cell phone and start again from scratch.

I digress. Ten years ago there were no private banks, no niche providers of the ultimate service levels to the banks’ (so called) top draw and most valuable clients – how did we survive? Today these “Super Platinum Card” providers inhabit designer offices and offer us an absolute array of products. Strange then that the people you deal with have no ability to commit to any idea and even their own boss now has about 10% of the discretion that my old simple bank manager had ten years ago. It now takes weeks, if not months, to get a decision and recently it took my lot just under a year to get a lost petrol card replaced. It was however delivered personally, so that’s OK then!

So what is it all about then? We are often the architects of our own problems, we want things quicker, we eat drive-through cardboard burgers without complaint and the big companies continue to panic and outsource our service needs to India or Pofadder or wherever the latest call-centre nirvana is based.

So back to our day to day world and our most valuable assets, our clients. We should stick to the simple things, talk to our clients as often as we can, show genuine interest and don’t forget to use your client’s name. The human being likes the sound of their name more than any other sound, and why shouldn’t they?

Before we leave this world of virtual service can I tell you a true story? Well, our friend, the client of a certain American Card company had been a holder of their little blue card for a while, this was upgraded to the usual Gold version and all continued well. Then out of the blue, the client received the ultimate ego stroke: the client has been chosen and therefore “invited” to join the ultimate level of card, which for some reason was jet black. Wow, this card was so select it had more bells and whistles and services than anyone could ever need; yet, knowing this, the client’s ego parted with the required fee and received the card.

Well, all went well. The card was used for a couple of years and points were amassed, so many apparently that our friend could fly wherever he wanted first class, great. Then disaster struck, a letter arrives “Your cards are all cancelled.” In a nutshell, the Americans had forgotten to cancel the old card and the annual costs of a few pounds had not been paid, but no one knew they were even there! So despite the fact that the ultimate service card was always used and cleared on time, the company procedure manual dictated that the client was out and the deal was off. There was a call centre that could do nothing, a legal call centre who said it had gone too far. They did however admit they were already fully paid.  There was also the loyalty points person who confirmed that the company had cancelled all the points on the Jet Black Card, so no flights to New York Then? There was also a little man in southern England to whom you could complain, but not by phone, as for some reason in the 21st century he apparently had no external line.

Yes, OK, so it was me and it is the last time I have ever looked at this company’s ads without laughing myself silly. How can any company be so blinded by their own systems and manuals to alienate a client? How can anyone work so hard to annoy and frustrate people? They lost a loyal and easily pleased client, but more importantly they created a walking, talking opponent of their blind PR and avertising.

All this trauma just because they did not talk to their own client and solve a non-issue!

Finally, what about that little man without the phone! Be brave old chap, talking to clients is really not that scary!

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