This morning, Sunday 9th March, I woke up to a number of surprises. There has been an upset in the Malaysian Elections. The opposition has gained more seats in both the Parliament and the State Council then most people would have expected. Some reporters referred to it as a political tsunami in Malaysia. English football giants Manchester United and Chelsea were knocked out in the FA Cup by relatively weak teams. Stock markets around the world remain highly volatile.
Uncertainty has become real and is touching peoples alive everywhere much more than it did 6 months ago.
It is important for businesses to recognise this sudden change of mood when transacting and communicating with customers. Thi s is specially so for businesses that is involved in providing advise and counselling like financial services.
Financial advisors are jumping quickly on the Sales bandwagon to sell products with the theme of “How to Protect Wealth?” and “How to save Money” rather than “How to Make Money?”
To a small investor like me, it is a little disconcerting that the same people that told me to buy funds and stocks six month ago did not emphasised to me the need for asset protection until now when stock prices are well into the slide.
I am also disappointed that my many financial counsellors who constantly called me during good times hardly contact me anymore. Maybe they feel that they have nothing to sell to me.
These businesses are failing to realise that it is during periods of economic downturn, when people are uncertain and depressed, that the best opportunities exist for building customer relationships. One to one, direct communication is of utmost important. Financial planning companies must ensure that each and every customer, big or small be contacted personally and is assisted in taking stock of their financial positions. Broad PR types messages over the TV or other broad media will do little to comfort or build relationships with customers unless it is one that provide an absolute benefit or a guarantee.
This may seem quite difficult for many retail banks as:
1. They have mass marketed to a large number of customers, most of whom they may have little knowledge about or relationship with.
2. Financial Planners are highly incentivated for sales performance. Under such compensation system there is little reason for a staff to contact customers except for sales.
3. Financial Planners may have been trained to sell but not adequately trained to provide counselling in a downturn situation.
Fortunately for investors and financial advisors, the markets have not performed as badly as the global markets, The Shenzhen component index which was in the 17,000s at December 2007 is now in the 14,000s, and the Shanghai SSE index appears to still be on an uptrend though losing steam and uncertainty and greater volatility has already set in.
There is still time and it is timely for retail banks and financial planners to gear themselves, take initiative and adopt policies that will allow them to face and properly educate their customers if the situation does get worse. As we braced ourselves to implement these customer services strategies, it is important to bear in mind that ultimately customer service is about creating comfort and happiness to other people and that in itself will give us long term rewards