It was an early start as I was due in London for a couple of meetings with clients. I was running on time but, as I got into my car, I heard the sound of fabric ripping.
My trousers had split right down the seam. As I ran back into my flat to change my suit, the birdsong outside was drowned by the sound of my cursing.
Against all the odds, I got to my first meeting on time, having spent around an hour and a half stuck in traffic around Oxford. Despite the inauspicious start to my day, it ended up being productive.
Sometimes you have just got to roll with the punches and this is certainly the case in this business. Nothing stands still for long and, if you look at the type of business you were writing five years ago and what you are writing now, not to mention the companies you were using then, you will know what I mean.
However, to return to my trousers, I had only bought the suit a few months before. Being made by a company whose reputation for style and quality are well known and matched by its prices, I took the trousers back to where I had bought them, hoping that the trousers would be exchanged for me.
At the very least, I expected to receive a significant discount if I was expected to pay for the trousers myself.
As I approached the counter, I was met by a uninterested grunt once the two people working there had finished their conversation.
When I explained what had happened, there was a couldn't-care-less sigh followed by the slamming of a returned goods book on the counter. I gave my name and details and was told that head office would have to take a look at the trousers. This could take two weeks or more and nothing could be done in the meantime. They would be in touch. Bye.
You may be wondering what on earth this has to do with financial services. Well, I am sure we have all imagined the clever dialogue surrounding the sale of a beef burger or shoes when it is subject to financial services regulation. “I would like a burger please.” “Certainly, sir, but first I need to know a bit more about you.”
The point is that this total disregard for customer service came from a company with which I have spent a fair amount of money over the years. The attitude of the staff did not suggest that I was a valued customer, more that I was an irritant, interruption and inconvenience to their day.
Hopefully, head office will redeem the situation and improve my negative perception of the company. If not, I guess that I will have to test the saying that an unhappy customer relays his story to far more people than a satisfied one. I suppose I am already doing that although I have not revealed the name of the company.
This is a perfect illustration of how not to deal with a customer and we can all learn from such examples. Poor customer service is not unknown in financial services.
The real point I am trying to make is that customer complaints are something that every industry and business has to act on. Sometimes it is easy to feel that it is just our industry that gets it wrong but it is not.
The advantage that our industry has over many others is that the system is structured in such a way as to ensure that any complaint receives attention within a set timescale and that there is, in effect, an appeal process if the company does not provide the response that the complainant believes to be correct.
That is not to say that there are not flaws in our system. However, instead of being seen as a stick to beat the industry with, the fact that we have this system in place should be something to be proud of and seek to improve. It is in all our interests.
Tom Warwick is a consultant at Warwick Butchart Associates