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It doesn’t matter whether you offer goods or services, every transaction comes with an implied assumption that what you sell is of a reasonable quality for the price and that the customer understands and accepts what they are getting for their money.
Or does it? If we lived in that utopian world there would be no complaints, no disputes and certainly no reason to have contracts stuffed with small print. Every transaction would be settled with a handshake and everyone would be happy, except perhaps for the lawyers who would have a lot less work to do.
But the reality is that centuries of shady dealing, of businesses and customers trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot and of ‘ambulance chasing’ practices now means that legislation is rife and contracts tend to infinity. Government efforts to reduce legislation have little effect on the myriad rules which hit businesses and people alike and sometimes it seems as though every step forward is accompanied by another weighty tome dragging us backwards.
Among those fighting the regulatory overload is the FCA. We have previously reported on its quest to reduce legislation and improve the customer experience and it has just taken another step in its journey along that path. In a speech* to the Tax Incentivised Savings Association (TISA) Annual Conference, Christopher Woolard, Director of Policy, Risk & Research at the FCA, again highlighted the importance of keeping “a focus on consumer outcomes as we think about regulation.”
In a wide ranging speech which covered looking after the vulnerable as well as designing products to suit different markets, Mr Woolard called for financial products to be transparent and fully understood. Speaking about complexity and products designed solely for the benefit of the business Mr Wollard said that “Too many times we hear of consumers caught out by clauses hidden in terms and conditions or of products sold that don’t meet their needs. That culture of terms and conditions designed solely for the firm has to change.”
Acknowledging that simplifying products and processes is a two way affair, Mr Woolard also highlighted the work which is being done by the Money Advice Service and via the National Curriculum to increase the financial capability of consumers. But whilst this may go some way towards reducing the apathy which is experienced by consumers who are faced with complex choices or conditions, Mr Woolard points out that this can only be a complimentary solution. The main goal is for firms to change their culture and put consumers at the heart of their business models.
For some this culture change may be a fairly simple affair, for others it may require a complete re-evaluation of goals and ethos of culture, practices and attitudes. Putting customers first is not a handy slogan or a funny sign on the wall. It doesn’t happen by ordering up a couple of focus groups or by running a half day workshop in phone answering. Putting customers first means getting to really know and understand those who may take your services, it means designing products specifically to meet their needs and it means changing processes so that every interaction, every experience is a positive one.
The pathway towards genuine customer care may not be easy. It may require a cultural shift towards an innovation culture or it may require a culling of those employees who put themselves before company and customer. Silos may need to be replaced by collaborative working styles and even those who may never get to see a customer in their entire careers will have to start thinking about putting the customer first. But if the pathway is not easy, the rewards are there. As Christopher Woolard said:
“if we can achieve that goal, then we may just have markets that deliver consistently good outcomes for the consumers in them. And we believe they will be markets in which consumers and the firms that serve them can thrive.”