I’ve read a few books by Helen Dewdney, consultant at The Complaining Cow, on how consumers can complain effectively. We had discussed over email the need for better financial education in the UK and she talked about how people can also lose money because they don’t know how to effectively complain about faulty products or the wrong service.
“Many just scream into the wind, many get forgotten, and many give up,” she told me. “While the majority of companies try to do the right thing, many don’t. It often takes hard work, assertiveness and knowing your rights to get anywhere.
That’s when my ears perked up. Poor service from product providers is an issue for many advisors and is very topical. So I wondered if the information Dewdney shares with consumers in his books might be helpful to advisors.
As a “consumer champion,” much of what Dewdney writes in her books is not directly relevant to advisors in their professional capacity. But there were a few things in his “How to Complain” book that stuck with me. In one chapter, Dewdney summarizes the reasons people complain and don’t get redress — or even file a complaint in the first place.
First on this list is having low expectations, which she illustrates using the example of another bad restaurant meal. In short, people get used to bad service and apathy sets in as they expect it. “If you had a bad meal there last time, you should have complained and maybe things would have improved!” she writes. I get it – if you don’t tell a service provider something is wrong, you can’t blame them if they take your silence as if everything is fine.
The time and effort required to complain effectively can also be a barrier for some people. As Dewdney points out, if someone thinks it’s too much of an effort to make or escalate a complaint up the chain — possibly all the way to the CEO level — it’s easy for companies to push them away. Sometimes you have to dig your heels in and be willing to work to be taken seriously.
I wonder if all of this is part of why it’s the same providers that keep popping up when advisors discuss poor service standards. You know that a certain company takes forever to do what you asked or respond to you, so you end up taking that into account when dealing with them and doing the best you can. What else can you do other than speak out to other community members who share your frustration? If you complain, what difference will it make?
Or you start complaining, but the process becomes so long and exhausting that you can’t care about it anymore. They ask you to send that piece of paper, they ask you to clarify that information, and they hang you on the phone for an hour when you sue them. Life is too short and a million other things need your attention, including your customers.
Been there myself, having bought things online that arrived damaged or mistakenly replaced with something completely useless to me.
A lack of protective packaging on fragile items irritates me the most. He doesn’t need Columbo to understand that without him, a glass vase risks being broken during transport. It’s just common sense and it seems such a waste to have these beautiful, easily breakable items left unprotected and destined to be damaged. But, it seems, these retailers are agreeing to forego bubble wrap to save money and keep costs down.
When I phoned these retailers to tell them that skimping on bubble wrap is not a good business decision, they don’t want to talk about it. It’s still an isolated incident, apparently, and they just want you offline.
So they ask for a photo of the damage by email, which you send immediately. But you have to follow up with them on the phone to get a response because they just don’t seem to be getting your emails.
After all this back and forth over the phone and email, I was even asked if I wanted to keep the damaged item as is with a 50% discount. It took me a while from wanting a perfect item at full price to register with customer service, which they did, eventually and I got my refund. At that time, I was so exhausted that I felt like I was running a marathon. Twice.
Connecting this to financial services, it’s not like the advisor community doesn’t know which providers consistently provide poor service. Advisors love to talk, it goes with the territory. They do it at networking events, they do it on internet forums for the advisor community and on the comment sections of Money Marketing on line.
We’ve been writing for years about companies that consistently deliver poor service – a quick search of today’s worst offenders reveals that the same issues have persisted for more than a decade in some of them. Isn’t that a clear signal to avoid them like the plague?
Until I wrote an article about poor service standards for Money Marketing last year I never really understood how companies get away with it for years and still do business. If everyone knows how they are, why don’t they vote with their feet and go somewhere else?
But I guess this argument is too simplistic to cover all situations where the provider’s service is insufficient. Even applying it to myself, I admit, I still buy from online retailers who frequently make mistakes with my orders. Just last week I shopped with the company who sent me an ugly oversized cushion instead of the polo shirt I bought my stepdad for Christmas.
I have often said “never again” I will not go to certain companies and I meant it. But then I found out that I couldn’t get a particular product anywhere else because it was exclusive to that retailer. Or I can’t get the products I want elsewhere at a price I’m willing to pay.
I reluctantly shop at these retailers time and time again, preparing for any damage or mistakes that may occur this time around. So I guess it’s not always so easy for advisors to get business from substandard service providers.
Switching from one provider to another should be in the interest of the client, not the adviser, so I expect that can cause all sorts of issues as well when we’re talking about transferring to another pension provider, etc And where would you go instead? Are they better or are you replacing one set of issues with a different set?
But when enough is enough, people go elsewhere. In April, our editor Katey Pigden reported that many advisors were moving assets off the Embark platform due to poor service standards, so it’s happening.
In response, Embark Platform Managing Director Peter Docherty explained how the platform “invests in technology, in people and in our overall service capability” because it wants “the best for our existing relationships. and future”.
Maybe it’s because I’m Libra – the astrological sign represented by Libra – that I also have sympathy for providers. I don’t believe a legitimate company willfully provide poor service; this happens because of the stresses and strains that companies and the people who work for them are under.
But at the same time, business is business and poor service standards need to be addressed as they ultimately affect the livelihoods of paying clients and advisors. I’ve heard stories from some advisors of how they’ve even lost clients due to constant vendor errors and delays.
However, when I was writing about poor service standards from providers, few of the advisors I spoke to wanted to be registered and named alongside the providers they were complaining about.
Some were happy to speak lyrically about their experiences within the relative safety of LinkedIn — which is, ironically, where I found them in the first place. But they were reluctant to go public in Money Marketing. “I just want a quiet life,” one of them told me. “You absolutely can’t mention my name,” said another.
A counselor was happy to go to the case and tell me exactly which company had screwed up without proper repair. “Why wouldn’t I want my name printed?” I didn’t do anything wrong,” this counselor told me. How refreshing.
There were concrete details, dates and documents. Oops, I thought. Only in the end, their network made noise and advised them not to record, so their comments – illuminating as they were – remained anonymous.
I needed to protect my source, who needed to protect her relationship with her network, who presumably needed to protect her relationship with the vendor of the product.
And therein lies the problem – business is a chain of relationships. To do our job properly, we need other people, so it often makes good business sense to choose our battles carefully rather than shouting loudly from our rostrum whenever someone disturbs or disturbs us. We are all human, we all make mistakes and what an awful world it would be for everyone to be crucified for every mistake or delay.
So while many advisors are drawing attention to what’s going on with certain remote providers and swapping stories about them with their peers online, that’s all they’re willing to do. It’s understandable, but it’s easier for vendors to get rid of anonymous reviews with generic statements that don’t reveal much than people standing up to be counted.
Of course, some advisors are willing to publicly denounce companies for poor service. From what I’ve seen, that’s what brings out the real explanations from the companies as to what’s causing these issues and what they’re doing about it, because it leaves them nowhere to hide .
It was interesting to read Praemium UK & International Managing Director Mark Sanderson’s recent article in Money Marketing about the upcoming consumption duty. Sanderson says that “counsellors should see some improvement in the quality of support they receive from providers.” Whether that will be enough remains to be seen, but it’s always good to be optimistic.