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Mel Kenny: Robo-advisers will fail the client service test

Mel Kenny

Now that technological advances have plateaued, all I want this Christmas is excellent service. I do not need to feel loved by my provider of services but I do need to feel valued. It is that simple. Sitting on hold at length while being told my call is important simply will not do.

These automated apologies for any inconvenience caused when it is clear to all that I am being inconvenienced simply will not do either. If Father Christmas did not deliver until 29 December and was “sorry for any inconvenience” how sincere would that feel?

The problem is we now expect Christmas every day. Progressive technology has slowly programmed us to want things at the touch of a button. However, if the computer says no, all sorts of sweats can break out for fear of untold disruption and delays, as well as the anticipation of a lengthy call to sort it out.

And that is the trouble our friend the robo-adviser faces. When you want something done that is a little off-piste or requires engagement beyond a screen, frustrations can quickly mount. Especially when you realise you are now going to be subjected to a low-cost gig economy-type model to handle your now critical problem.

I acknowledge that nothing is perfect (I am far from perfect) but it is the way in which being let down is sorted by the provider that makes the difference between win or bust.

The machine age has no personality or conscience and is prone to both dysfunction and – as I am constantly reminded – a growing risk to data security.

But, as advisers, if we slip into responding in the same way and adopting the same behaviour we are no better. For the most galling aspect of all this is when there is no one taking responsibility to get things done.

Give me someone putting their hand up and I will take mistakes every day. It is okay to admit you are a human being. People like to know they are dealing with one, so long as, when we do slip up, we realise the error of our ways, confess and work to overcome it for the future.

But holding your hand up is not the norm. Nor is great service. So if great service is being delivered by a living, breathing human being, believe me, it really does get noticed and respected. Ask for feedback and you will find out.

Of course, there will be occasions when you have a staff shortage or a spike in business that will make systems creak. And that cannot be helped. But managing expectations and communicating them to the client is key.

If the client’s default expectation is now, then the risk of disappointment is discernibly high without a revised timetable. Delivery on Boxing Day is okay, so long as Rudolph’s calf strain has been relayed.

Mel Kenny is a chartered financial planner at Radcliffe & Newlands

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