IFAs are increasingly asking me how they should differentiate between the
many technology suppliers that are operating in our marketplace. Quality of
product is an obvious factor. IFAs need to be using proven products and
services that exactly match their needs and add value to their business.
However, there are many marketing buzzwords such as portal, CRM and ASP
that can make it difficult to differentiate between offerings.
For IFAs, one of the key objectives of using technology is to improve
their customer service. I think this should also be one of the key
differentiating factors that IFAs consider when comparing technology
suppliers. IFAs are experts at giving financial advice, not operating IT
systems, and will often have little or no internal technical support. The
service they get from IT suppliers is crucial.
A good customer services team must be focused solely on providing support
to customers rather than as a function of a wider role. The external face
of many customer services teams, and the most widely used by IFAs, will
usually be a helpdesk.
I use helpdesk rather than call centre because some people have an out of
date perception of call centres. They are sometimes seen to provide minimum
customer service at minimum cost. They are perceived to be manned by
stressed-out, underpaid personnel with a lack of knowledge of the problems
they are supposed to fix.
The key here is empowerment. Customer care staff must be given the
authority to help their clients immediately. They should not be phone
operators who take messages and get someone else to solve the problem. IFAs
need access to customer care staff with a unique mix of skills that embrace
technology, the financial services market and people handling.
Importantly, these services must be provided free as part of the
commitment by the IT supplier. IFAs need to be able to contact the helpdesk
via phone, email, fax, web or post to suit their preference and it should
not just be a one-way flow. The helpdesk should be predictive and contact
IFAs to update them on service or technology enhancements.
In the future, we may see the helpdesk concept being taken one step
further. With the client's consent, helpdesk agents will be able to take
control of the customer's PC down the phone line. This will enable the
agents to demonstrate functions to IFAs and show them how to resolve their
issues. If this proves successful, and if IFAs want it, it will
revolutionise the way that customer care teams can support IFAs.
Another primary function of a good customer care team should be as the
voice of the IFA in the technology supplier. The feedback from IFAs through
the helpdesk can be instrumental in the development of services.
The helpdesk should not simply take calls and solve problems in isolation.
It needs to group calls on similar issues and produce business reports on
underlying trends. This information can used to create self-help material
such as frequently asked questions and answers, user guides,
troubleshooting guides, online help functions and faxback sheets, giving
hints and tips on subjects. It can also be fed back to the product and
technical development teams.
By being fully aware of how clients use the service, the customer care
team is often first to identify new ideas for service enhancements and can
help predict IFAs' responses to new products, services and interfaces. In
effect, the helpdesk can act as the customer representative in development
and testing of new services.
Without this feedback, product and technical development happens in a
vacuum. By listening to customers, service providers can develop a product
of practical benefit to IFAs.
For IFAs, the customer care team is the human face of a technical service.
There is nothing more frustrating than having problems with technology with
no one to help. Good customer care can alleviate this , enabling IFAs to
take advantage of the benefits technology can deliver.
Jim Gaskin is managing director of The Exchange.