I was watching the Congressional hearings on financial regulation last month and was startled by the way the leaders of our financial firms dodged and failed to answer Sen. Susan Collins’s question, “Do you do things with your customers’ best interests in mind?”
How hard a question is that to answer? How arrogant do you have to be to not anticipate that question and prepare for it? Worse than that, how could they not be able to say unequivocally that they do?
Even if you’re a cynic and accept the idea that brokerage firms’ sole purpose these days is to make as much money as they can in any way that they can, it’s still not a hard question to answer. A brokerage firm sells financial products, offers financial advice, and facilitates investments. With each customer transaction or consulting agreement, the brokerage firm makes mucho money. If the customer is happy, he invests more with the firm or buys other financial products, making the firm even more money. If the customer feels she can trust you, she will trust you with her money, which allows you to use that money to make more money. So who is the most important person here? In whose interest should the firm be working?
Apologists for the industry, especially Goldman Sachs, have pointed out that investments are a gamble and if a client wants to take a chance on a gamble, who are the firms to stand in his way? Apparently, they have forgotten that I go to a financial “advisor” for advice based on the expertise she has that I don’t. If I want to make a stupid financial gamble, I depend on my “advisor” to let me know it’s a bad idea. She should have my best interests in mind.
A client asked me last year if I would be willing to condense my 8-hour seminar into 6 hours. Chopping two hours off of the program wouldn’t be a disaster, but it would take away some of the seminar’s effectiveness. I told the client, “I am willing to do that, but I must tell you that I don’t believe your people will get the same benefits, information and understanding that they would get if they attended the full 8 hours. If you’re okay with that, I’ll do it.”
While I felt the need to say this for a 6-hour version of the program, I would not have considered doing the 8-hour program in 4 hours. I would have told the client that I didn’t feel it would be in her best interest to remove that much content. That’s my job.
What are your customers’ best interests? Are you selling them products because you want to sell them or because your customers really want and need them? Are you twisting yourself into a pretzel in trying to explain why your latest policy change is good for the customer when in reality it is only good for you?
The week before the Congressional hearings, I laughed at the absurdity as I watched the CEO of Spirit Airlines explain why its new policy of charging $45 for carry-on bags was “good” for customers. He explained that with less bags going in the overhead compartments, people will get on and off the planes more quickly. So, he’s saying that by bringing a second bag on the plane, I am stopping other passengers from getting off the plane more quickly – it’s my fault! And because it’s my fault, I am penalized $45. He’s protecting the poor passengers who have to wait while I get my bag from above the seat. If you believe that …
The customer/provider relationship is a partnership. You provide products, services and advice with my best interests in mind, and I spend the money to purchase those products, services and advice. When you have my best interests in mind, I am happy and I continue to buy from you. When you don’t, I leave. And when you combine not protecting your customer’s interests, doing it in a shady way, and growing so big that you’re “too big to fail,” you shouldn’t complain when you’re called before a Congressional committee.
Tags: bad experience, bad service, customer best interests, customer experience, Customer Experience Ownership, customer service, Financial regulation, impersonal service, management, stupid executives, U.S. Senate hearings, upset customers