Analysis: Getting up close and personal

Customer service expectations are changing fast. Not long ago most communication with clients was by post. People would be happy to wait for a week for a reply to a letter or would understand that the phone would only be manned during normal working hours.

Now we are in a world of 24/7 communications. Many clients conduct their social and working lives on the move and expect to be able to check their financial products, look up statements and request changes at any time of day and night in any way they want. Both product providers and advisers need to be able to respond to this changing world if they are to retain their customers’ loyalty and business.

So what are the big themes in customer service that have affected advisers, providers and third-party administrators over the last 12 months? The drivers have been regulatory change, customer demand and pressure on costs. Increasingly technology is being used to simplify complex processes - allowing time and cost to be saved and processes controlled.

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Providers are working hard to empower their customers to access information about their products when they want to – rather than when the office is open. Online portals, giving 24/7 access to information and valuations are now common. Some allow requests for fund switches, withdrawals and additional investment to be made online. Customers can also update their personal details, change their address or add a new phone number.

Although these developments allow for more effective customer service, some advisers have expressed concern that they remove a ‘touch point’ where advisers could engage with their clients.

In reality the key to success is for the adviser to work with the technology and their client so that their client is comfortable doing some activities online but crucially knows when to contact their adviser. This releases time for advisers to offer advice rather than dealing with administration.

The way providers are delivering online services is also changing. Many started their online presence by simply replicating paper-based forms with online versions. The market leaders have now realised that this is not the best solution. People do not want to complete a 20-page online form where a short-form application provides all the information the provider needs. Short-form applications separate product application information from the detailed records needed by advisers to meet their factfind and ‘know your customer’ requirements. Now many online forms can be pre-populated so that only relevant unknown information is requested.

Probably the biggest shift in online servicing over the last 12 months has been the move towards mobile internet. Access to products through mobile devices has rocketed, driven by improvements in smartphone technology, the availability of online tools and more engaging content. Many providers have already adopted mobile technology, aided in many cases by new technology developed by their third-party administrators. This move can help advisers in their work as empowering clients with web-based tools which provide the advisers with valuable information can reduce the need for some face-to-face meetings.