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Alistair Cunningham: The quest for decent feedback

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It is common for service oriented firms to request feedback. Over the past week I have been contacted both my mobile phone provider and the company servicing my car. I rarely respond, and do not appreciate the invasive phone calls, emails or text messages. I imagine I am not alone in this.

I was broadly satisfied with my car’s service and did not respond but I did provide feedback to the phone company. Its request came in the form of a text message questionnaire, which explained it would be in three parts.

This overcame an initial obstacle – convenience – as I happened to be on a train. On reflection, this was still a waste of time – it scored zero across the board and has made no effort to resolve my dissatisfaction.

We encourage and receive feedback from clients, both those who have bought a service either as a one-off or ongoing, and at the annual review. This feedback is almost universally positive, but in some respects this misses the point of asking for feedback in the first place.

So why ask? In many cases, particularly from a financial services perspective, we may be ensuring that the minimum level of service has been supplied, for example was the client notified of fees in advance, did they receive a business card and client agreement? Did the adviser do the job that the client and firm would expect them to do?

I would argue this is not valuable feedback, as it merely covers a hygiene level of satisfaction. Firms should be quick to respond to dissatisfaction and it is useful to know that advisers are performing compliantly. Feedback also allows firms to be confident there are no trends of bad client outcomes.

But could firms be missing an opportunity – a deep understanding of the clients who are content-to-happy, but with scope to be much more?

Given strong relationships with clients, they may be less likely to give valuable feedback. If they think we are failing in minor ways that could be addressed, we should encourage them to provide honest feedback.

Like my issue with my telecoms provider, I often wonder about the feedback that we do not get. A client who is strongly aggrieved, or (hopefully) passionately enthusiastic about our firm, is likely to provide feedback. How do we encourage the clients who have been marginally happy? Or those that have niggling worries that could develop into significant concerns over time?

I do not know of a suitable tool which could collect feedback in a more valuable fashion but the first step in seeking feedback is explaining clearly the benefits to the client, firm and the firm’s other clients. It should be anonymous and questions should be phrased in a non-leading way. Methods should be in place to follow up feedback for those who do not provide it – is it because they are marginally happy or marginally dissatisfied or are they unhappy with, for example, online questionnaires or other methods of communication?

Best practice can be improved. Businesses fail to identify small niggles before they develop into bigger concerns.

Financial services is famously mooted as being about trust and value, and having read some of the ‘science’ in this area I believe feedback is the route to fulfil the majority of clients’ needs in a sustainable way.

Alistair Cunningham is financial planning director at Wingate Financial Planning

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