“It is all odd at first and then it becomes normal – not because it is normal but because repetition uns the peculiar.” This line from John Green’s children’s novel The Sequel serves as a rather apt appraisal of the state of (dis)service from providers to advisers for, well, forever.
In fact, this truism is so accepted, few even bother to talk about it anymore. There are parallels with the also sadly accepted, rather depressing Sigmund Freud “death drive” theory, which addresses the human propensity for self-destruction, so often acting against one’s own best interests – even the desire to survive.
Providers being rubbish at service harms the experience advisers deliver to their clients, which advisers are unhappy about and vocalise, which providers do nothing about, which further damages their brand equity… and repeat.
It is madness and feels rather like a sad, slow and frustratingly avoidable death. I do not accept the myth that personal service is not possible in a company with a large disparate customer base that cannot be economically managed with a field sales team and dedicated account management.
Personal service is data driven and can be delivered cost effectively to literally thousands of customers through relatively small centralised teams – if it is taken seriously and committed to.
Before providers start sharpening their pencils to an even finer price-cutting point, they should take a breath. Even today, after the biggest recession for 30 years or more, and with the spectre of another looming large, it is not all about price.
Business-to-business customers across industries have been influenced by big-spending consumer brands who, despite the tumult, have continued to drive loyalty programmes and invest in their ability to provide personal service based on data-driven customer segmentation.
With their backs against the wall on product and price, business-to-consumer organisations have put money and effort into the customer experience, making it a core differentiator.
Advisers – consumers too once they leave the office – have had their expectations raised. When it comes to getting the customer experience right, they expect as much from providers as from their online retailer: recognise them, understand them and give them something special.
One of the things advisers told us would make the single biggest positive difference to their business this year is the marked improvement of service delivery by providers. It will be providers’ loss if they continue to let advisers down.
Phil Wickenden is managing director at Cicero Research