March 2013

OPINION: Cave consultants

CallcentreThe words client service always send a chill through me. We know that client service departments are not there to give clients service; they are there to stop irritated clients bothering important people.

When I hear client service, I envision poor clients strapped to operating tables while their moving parts and internal mechanisms are forcibly oiled and recalibrated – the aim being to make them better, less moany.

Worse still is the phrase client centred, much loved and splattered about in the finance industry. When I hear that phrase I see clients being pursued through the woods by snipers suffering from relentless client focus. Imagine my dismay, then, when I learned that an asset management consultancy which works with clients to build more efficient investment management businesses (its words, not mine), has commissioned a new study for 2013 that focuses on “client centricity”.

What exactly is client centricity? Is it a bit like client eccentricity, where the client is weird? Or client electricity, where you find yourself strangely drawn to the client in a way that may or may not be sexual?

To be honest, it’s not entirely clear, but the consultancy does explain why a study of the topic was deemed to be a good idea. “[Our] studies have shown that adopting a stronger client service and value approach helps firms retain clients longer, even during periods of weak performance,” the consultancy says on its website. “This realisation is driving firms to develop programs that deliver exceptional service across all teams while increasing their value proposition to their clients.”

This raises more questions than answers. I can see that a worthless proposition wouldn’t go down well with clients, but what is a value proposition? And what constitutes exceptional service? Given that the consultancy claims “85 % of firms will focus on improving client management and on-boarding activities to increase client retention” in 2013, it looks like exceptional service will soon be normal. And not, eh, the exception.

I have picked on this example because it sent me a press release about its “continued research focus on how investment managers can build more client-centric organisations to win and retain clients”.

But this kind of meaningless drivel is everywhere in the fund management industry, and it is a very unworthy distraction. “Value to the client is created by predicting and delivering to client needs more effectively and proactively,” says the firm.

No, it isn’t. Fund managers look after people’s money. Value to the client is created by doing that honestly and well. Fuzzy consultant speak about “on-boarding” and “dynamic client-centric organisations” won’t help anyone to do anything. And it doesn’t fool anyone either.

In the same way, it’s always the companies that try the hardest to control their public image that end up coming across worst. You can’t control people’s perception of you. You can only be yourself and let others take you as they find you.

Either you’re interested in doing well by your clients or you’re not. It’s not something you can on-board. And it’s not something a consultant can fix.

Fiona Rintoul is a editorial director at Funds Europe Magazine.

©2013 funds europe