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Lowering the touch tone

“Good morning. Thank you for calling Preposterous Life, Call Centre 1, my

name is Cynthia, how can I help you?”

Does this ring a bell? When I hear this, I assume the staff have been on a

Victoria Wood training programme. The problem is that Victoria Wood is a


We recently carried out detailed research with Swiss Re looking at the

service IFAs get from providers. It may not surprise you the responses were

not all favourable. The big issue to us is that many IFAs support providers

whose service is poor. Common responses were:

We have to use the best product regardless of service (often quoting


We will put up with bad service if it does not hurtthe client.

Most are bad.

A provider which had good service when we gave them business has gone

downhill and we still have to deal with them.

In the “good old days”, each provider had a local office and a team of

broker consultants. The consultant and the support people knew the IFAs and

their clients. People took ownership of problems.

Why did it change? Like all industries, there was pressure to cut costs.

The fad of the early 90s was Business Process Re-Engineering,

business-speak for changing the way we do things. The obvious area for cuts

was distribution. The sales and marketing cost of putting a policy on the

books varied from £150 to more than £500, excluding commission.

Along came the axe. So-called telesales consultants replaced broker

consultants. Call centres in remote offices replaced regional offices.

High-quality telephony and advanced technology ensured the call centre had

all the data to ensure first-class service.

So why don&#39t IFAs get first-class service? Inexperienced staff are

handling IFA queries. They refer to someone else when they do not know the

answer. They are nameless, you get someone different each time. No one

takes ownership.

Instead of direct-dial numbers giving access to individual human beings,

we now have touch-dial systems that, if you are lucky, give you access to a

call centre. The technology is not good enough. The electronic files are

not recording all communications and this results in inefficiencies, delays

and frustration.

The messages from the research for IFA Survey 2000 are clear:

IFAs do not like call centres.

IFAs do not like nameless people who refer queries.

IFAs do not like inefficient touch-tone telephone systems.

So what do they want?

They want people to own problems.

They love technical helplines.

They like a name with apersonal number.

It is really not too hard,is it? So, who are the winners?

In addition to a good brand and a broad product range, Standard Life still

employs a big salesforce working from regional offices.

IFAs are not happy that Scottish Widows has withdrawn local service. On

the other hand, it is the one office that seems to have cracked the

telesales problem. From the IFAs&#39 viewpoint, it employs qualified people

whoprovide answers.

Norwich Union and Legal & General have also had some success. L&G would

not win the top award for service right now but it has set up a system for

key accounts that is working and in the field it has a consultant, what it

calls a business development manager. Servicing the same account isa

telesales person based in Cardiff and an administrator based in Hove.

Because it has the right technology, each member of the trio knows what the

other has done. The survey shows its service provision to networks is well


Ninety per cent of those interviewed said service played a part in

selection. But when we looked deeper, only 52 per cent could consider

removing providers of bad service from panels so nearly half support bad

service providers.

FSA proposals are bringing poor service to the fore. This just might make

IFAs rethink who they support.

Despite recent criticism of broker consultants, when asked if they wanted

any relationships with provider personnel and if so who, 85 per cent said

they preferred a relationship with a broker consultant.

What of the future? We asked IFAs what technology they were investing in

and what effect this would have on provider communication.

Eighty-seven per cent of respondents have websites or immediate plans to

build them. Once internet access is unmetered, most communications will be

online. But there are concerns. IFAs still want technical helplines – they

do not trust electronic systems to solve problems and they still expect

consultants to provide marketing and sales solutions.

Largely, IFAs do not use provider extranets because there are no standard

systems. Providers seek competitive advantage by differen- tiation, IFA

administrators need standardisation.

The survey carries a simple message. Use standardised and efficient

systems for transmission of data but ensure qualified and competent people

are on hand to own problems, provide technical help and sales support. Easy

isn&#39t it?


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