Clients Do Not Want Help. Until They Do.

(This was originally published as a guest post for my friends at the management consulting and strategic communications firm Beyond the Arc: Understanding how customers really want help.)

On the same day I published a post on the Clientific blog about the sometimes disappointing allure of technology (Technology is Not a Silver Bullet), the always insightful Discerning Technologist Brad Leimer shared a a post from The Financial Brand on LinkedIn (Big Study Examines Retail Channel Preferences).

The study, sponsored by Cisco, showed strong consumer preferences for non-branch channels such as web, mobile, phone and ATM for many types of interactions. However, branches were the preferred channel for such things as “Apply for a loan” and “Support from banking representative”. (See below)

What explains the stark differences? First of all, as Ron Shevlin of Snarketing 2.0 says,  just because a person visits a branch for help or to complete a transaction doesn’t necessarily mean that they prefer to do it that way. It may mean that the web site or phone representative was inadequate to meet the client’s needs.

Secondly, and not to get all snarkety myself (that’s Ron’s sole province), but clients really don’t want your help. Until they do.

Results Not Process

Much has been written about the so-called “customer experience”– everything that a customer comes in contact with during their lifetime interaction with your brand; direct and indirect, obvious and subtle, conscious and unconscious.

Successful firms correctly attempt to measure the expressed and latent needs of clients. The best keep in mind the words of the great ad man David Ogilvy, who has been variously quoted as saying multiple versions of “People don’t want quarter-inch drill bits, they want quarter-inch holes.”

I have long found inspiration in the work of now-retired Harvard Business School professor David H. Maister, and I have been using some variation of his 2×2 matrix below for at least a decade.

Maister uses a healthcare analogy to describe the key operational and profitability metrics of different departments, and I have found it useful to help financial firms think through their various activities and how they provide value to their clients.

Pharmacy (Low Touch/Standardized Process)
For a financial firm, these are the things that just need to get done quickly and accurately. For the most part clients have little preference as to how.
• Account Opening
• Transactions
• Balance Reporting
• Transfers
• Basic Service Issues
Nursing (High Touch/Standardized Process)
These are items that might need a little more hand-holding, even though the processes and protocols are still well defined, and good client-service skills can go a long way to improving client satisfaction.
• Standard Credit
• Product Advice
• Estate Settlement
• Discretionary  Trust
• Complex Issues
Brain Surgery (Low Touch/Specialized Process)
These activities require specialized skills, but the real value comes from applying the expertise, not necessarily from the advisor/client relationship.

• Custom Credit
• Asset Allocation
• Basic Trust Admin
• Complex Assets
• Basic Estate Plans
Psychotherapy (High Touch/Specialized Process)
For financial firms (and especially wealth management firms), this is the top of the value chain. It’s what happens here that drives most loyalty/at-risk measures. Diagnosis is key, and it is from here where brain surgery may be prescribed.
• Goal Setting
• Financial Planning
• Complex Estates
• Succession Matters
• Nonfinancial Issues
• Moral Support

Bringing it All Together

Clients may well be willing to use your new app for certain things, utilize your web site to download transactions and contact your call center to change their address. Those things may improve your operating margins– as long as they work.

The face-to-face interactions that do the most to improve the client experience are not the ones that solve the issues that could have been (and should have been) solved via other channels (See two surefire ways to irritate your customers. It’s the ones where they are really receiving the time and attention from someone who understands their situation and their goals and is helping them get to where they want to be.

Clients don’t want your help. Until they do.

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