Sustaining great service
Most advisers are super responsive to their clients. However, as your business grows and you are serving more clients, it becomes harder and harder to maintain that service level.
This is an important issue. For most advisers, the personal customer service component is a major competitive advantage. Compare your service to the generic service levels you receive from your bank, your pay tv provider, or your local council. Compared to that we look amazing.
In his blog, Your customer service strategy, master of marketing Seth Godin says:
“Customer service isn’t simply an expensive, time-consuming obligation. It’s a strategic marketing investment if you want it to be.”
As well-funded, big-brand names try to build relationships directly with clients themselves, via robo advice and cyborg advice, a mix of human and robo, what’s your strategy to compete? It might not be a major issue right now, but I suspect it’s going to become one.
Seth goes on to say:
“When Fedex was building relationships with busy business people who would become the backbone of their customer base, they answered the phone on the first ring, every time.
When Apple needed to save the Mac from Windows hegemony, they installed experts at the Genius bar and encouraged them to spend the time needed to humanize a traditionally inhuman interaction.
A b2b insurance agency spent two million dollars ripping out voicemail from their agency. Every call gets answered by a human every time. It paid for itself in four months. That’s a strategic investment, not a cost-cutting shortcut.”
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Reinventing Customer Service, Matthew Dixon looks at how mobile phone company T-Mobile have completely reimagined their customer service proposition.
In the traditional customer service centre:
“Turnover rates for customer service workers are among the highest in the business world, 27% annually on average, according to Mercer. For customers, the experience is hardly better. They are forced to navigate computerized call trees and, should they get a live person, they’re often treated robotically and handed from one agent or department to another if their issue is outside a rep’s narrow repertoire.”
Now, in T-Mobile’s new call centres:
“Reps sit together in shared spaces called pods, collaborate openly, and are trained and encouraged to solve customer issues as they see fit. Most remarkably, these teams manage a specific pool of customer accounts, just as a small business would. Unshackled from legacy metrics like handle time, they instead think about the best way to solve each caller’s problem and, ultimately, how best to improve customer retention, share of wallet, and loyalty.”
Does it work?
“In the three years since launch, T-Mobile’s overall cost to serve is down 13%, its Net Promoter Score (a measure of customer loyalty) is up by more than half, and its customer churn rate has dipped to an all-time low. Employees are happier too; attrition and absenteeism have plummeted.”
I see the best Financial Planning firms operating a similar model.
How the best FP firms do admin
At successful FP firms administration roles are split into two different kinds:
- The Technical Administrator – handles what we might consider typical admin work: lodging applications (hard copy or online as required), dealing with providers, entering data, and completing trades or purchases.
- The Client Relationship Manager – the first point of telephone and email contact with clients. These team members are the front line of customer service, with great people skills and a happy customer service style. Clients speak to them first, and they make sure stuff happens and gets followed through.
By splitting the administration roles, the right people can be recruited for the right role.
Team structure is key
The two administration roles liaise with the paraplanner, who is high-end technical and can assist in anything that is not answerable by the administrators.
A team structured like this leverages the time of advisers, by keeping them out of most customer service work. Advisers are free to focus on what they do best; seeing clients face to face across the table, and prospecting for more new on-target clients to see.
The adviser will only need to get involved in the most delicate or technical of situations for the client.
I can hear some people already becoming indignant here: “In our firm the advisers speak to clients, and we’re proud of it.” I get it. When you’re small, you can do that. But as you grow you need a scalable strategy, and advisers taking all of the calls from clients is not it.
It’s your choice
If you take Seth’s view, seeing customer service as a positive strategic choice, then you might have some difficult decisions to make.
Can you really provide this level of service to small clients? Maybe, but it’s going to have to be very technology dependent, and you’ll need to be servicing large numbers of clients to make it work financially. Maybe it’s just simpler to identify who you really love to serve, and focus on providing a fantastic level of service to a more limited number of higher-value clients. That’s much harder for big players to compete against. Not impossible, mind you, but they don’t have a great track record of recognising how important customer service is in building loyalty.
What’s your strategy?
The last word goes to Seth:
“The question I want to ask the Silicon Valley CEOs that are caught in the uncanny valley of cutting their customer service costs while also puzzling about why consumers don’t like them is: What’s your strategy? Specifically: What’s the reason you’re treating your frontline customer service people as cheap human flotsam, protecting the folks who actually know the answer?
What’s the business case for high lifetime value, high acquisition costs and a mindless disregard for customer satisfaction?
You can treat your customers like they don’t have a choice, but in the long run, customers always have a choice.”
What’s your customer service strategy?
Let me know how you go.