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The TCF experience

Treating customers fairly is a cunning and evolutionary project.

Treating customers fairly is not a question. Therefore, the answer is not a simple “Of course we do”. We can be pretty clear what it means through examining our own experiences as customers of other businesses.

Here are some recent examples of my own. Three personal visits, two phone calls, two emails to a bank simply to arrange an appointment. I am still waiting three months later. I have now moved accounts.

Flowers for a funeral did not arrive. Why? Because the shop assistant failed to process a paid-for order. In that case, the chance to correct the oversight will not come again.

A certificate of tax deducted showed nil interest and no tax on a deposit account. Who sends such rubbish? Do they check and correct, as they did, only when drawn to attention?

Then there are call centres. You just know they are not treating customers as customers – let alone fairly. Press one if it’s this, two if it’s that. By the time you have the right channel, you dare not ring off and lose your place. Better have all your questions to mind or you will go through the whole performance again.

My daughter’s complaint to a jeweller that a stone had dropped out of a ring met with an immediate response of: “You must have knocked it out.” Excuse me, is this diligent research and complaints handling?

I have lost count of numerous calls reminding companies that I have not had a follow-up to the “we’ll call you back” stock response to difficult questions. One particular company never returned calls. That is why they have lost my business.

I have often been left wondering whether anybody cares. Do staff take ownership of customer care and what that means when it goes wrong? Would they care more if there was higher unemployment? That is not a wish but it is a fair question.

And what about us? In speeches many years ago, I stated that the manufacture and marketing of financial products is the “industry” but those giving advice should be viewed as being in a “profession”.

A professional is described as expert, specialised, trained, practised, qualified, licensed and proficient. It is for our regulator or clients to determine how we measure up.

If anyone thinks shortcomings in customer care do not exist in our industry and profession, including within our own firms, they are missing the point. TCF is indeed not a question – it is a culture. The answer is not, of course we do. The question is, after conducting a gap analysis, how can we do better?

Treating customers fairly applies in many different areas. Record-keeping and processing of requests. Do clients get what they are paying for?

Telephone. How many rings? How quickly are clients put through to the right person? Do we return calls promptly?

Letters. What is our response time? Are letters clear, compliant and unambiguous? Do they answer all questions? Is the name of the person responsible shown or just a squiggle without a name or reference?

Complaints. Are they treated as irritants or as an opportunity to show we want to perform at a high standard for our clients?

Staff is also an issue. Do our staff contracts bias incentives against objective advice? How are staff trained and monitored?

Finally, there is the relationship with clients. Do clients get what they are paying for? What client feedback on our service is obtained? How closely involved are senior managers in the firm’s relationship with consumers? In short, do they know what is going on?

TCF is an evolutionary project. It should cover our contact with the public, before, during and after advice but internally should examine and deal with processes, training, staff rewards and attitudes, leadership and the firm’s aims and objectives.

TCF is a cunning plan which embraces all we do and all we should want to be. Perfection, in all businesses, should be the aim and, like success, is a journey and not a destination.

Len Warwick is chairman of Warwick Butchart Associates

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