If there’s one idea that’s shared by absolutely 100% of everyone in the world of financial services these days, it’s the importance of being customer-centric. You can use slightly different words – you can talk about focusing on the customer, or putting customers first, or of course if you’re an IFA you’ll want to replace the word “customer” with the word “client.” But everyone in the industry – regulators, providers, advisers, suppliers – agrees that it’s the right thing to do.

    Forgive me if I sound a trifle sceptical, but I feel I have to point out that saying this, or indeed agreeing with it, is easy. It’s doing it that’s hard.

    A good example of how and why it’s hard is to be found in the area of planning and managing our communications with customers, or clients as I’ll call them for the rest of this blog. Most advice firms these days run some kind of segmentation of their clients, dividing them into groups with some kind of commonality amongst them. And most run some kind of communications plan, implementing a timetable of activities that brings together individual, one-to-one communications, and broader communications addressed to everyone in a particular segment, or in some cases everyone in every segment, all at once.

    But do we actually look at this pattern of communications through the client’s eyes, so that we’re clear about what exactly each client sees, hears and gets from us over the course of a year? And if we do, what does that pattern look like?

    For a start, who’s getting what? Are we concentrating our efforts on our most valuable clients, or the ones who offer the most potential? Are we using the calendar well, with activities spaced across the year, or are we clustering communications in one or two short periods with long radio silences in between?

    Perhaps most important of all, does the balance of the communication each segment receives accurately reflect those individuals wants and needs? A friend, discussing this point with me the other day, is looking for a new adviser because virtually all he ever gets from his current one is invitations to hospitality events – rugby, golf, cricket, tennis. Some would say he’s a lucky man – but my friend has no love of sport and suspects that the cost of all this jollification is reflected in his ongoing adviser charge. (My friend, on the other hand, is an economist and a very serious student of the investment markets: he would really value and appreciate some intelligent market commentary.)

    It’s important, in taking a client’s-eye view of what you look and sound like, to be realistic about the effect your activities really have on them. For example, you may previously have read my dubious remarks on the subject of advice firms’ newsletters. There may be a few that are worth reading and are genuinely valued by firms’ clients, but not many. In a world where one of our besetting problems is that we all have far, far too much to read, I doubt whether many of these spend much time in front of clients’ eyeballs on their brief journey to the bin. Research, obviously, can help here, as in so many other aspects of marketing and communication. You think your clients value your newsletters, just as you think my friend appreciates the invitations to sporting events. But are you sure?

    In a research study looking at a customer’s-eye view of the communications activities of one of the big banks not long ago, customers had a deeply jaundiced view of the quality and nature of the bank’s relationship with them. There were several reasons for this, but one of the most important was summed up in a single quote: “You never get in touch unless you want to sell me something.” I wouldn’t imagine this particular failing would apply to many advice firms. But even so, it’s worth reviewing the pattern of your activities from a client perspective – even if just to make sure.

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