While servicing a client through any particular channel should not present firms with an issue, it is the process of tracking a client through different channels and providing the right service at the right time that is proving more problematic and leaving many perplexed.
So what does this actually mean, and what practical steps are needed to achieve this?
An industry that uses multi-channel distribution really well every day is the retail space. In a market driven by volume and speed, a number of retailers have pushed hard to provide connected distribution that allows consumers to choose how and when they engage with a brand.
Whether it is buying online, collecting in store, buying in store and returning via the post, retail businesses that have achieved these outcomes successfully are being rewarded by increased customer loyalty and value per customer.
The retail business model may not transition across directly to financial advice firms, but the focus on compliance and service will always prevail. There will, inevitably, be the need to put customers at the heart of the advice process and give them more control over how they wish to engage with your business.
A major building society recently stated that 80% of its complex transactions started online, with 75% of them finished in branch. Transitioning a client effectively between these different channels enables an organisation to deliver a customer-centric approach at a low cost, while increasing the total value of the customer over a longer period of time.
In practice, there are a number of integrated building blocks that need to be in place for a financial advice firm to facilitate this new model.
- Website: this is the shop window for your organisation, but is your website easy to find? Seven out of ten financial advisers are now using social networking for business, of which 90% are using LinkedIn. Does your social presence drive your clients to your website? Is your website viewable across multiple devices and browsers? In 2013, viewing of websites via tablets overtook traditional laptops and computers for the first time, and mobile access is also increasing year on year.
- Customer portal: once the client is on your site, what can they do? Are you making it easy for them to contact you? Is your client portal provided by your chosen platform or does it take data from an integrated Client Management Solution (CMS)? If it is the former, whose brand are you presenting to the client? If it is the latter, how do you keep your clients engaged?
- CMS: traditionally used for administration, the CMS now operates at the heart of the business, and should be the single source of truth for your data. How well does your CMS help you aggregate data so you can respond in a multi-channel environment? How flexible is the architecture? Does it allow you to select a solution that can be integrated across all channels? After all, in an environment where your business needs to differentiate, do you want a one-size-fits-all solution? As the CMS is the foundation block of a transition programme, it needs to be right both today and in the future
- Communication: how are you communicating with clients? With email, secure document delivery, snail mail, SMS and telephone to choose from, are you using the right tools based on what the client wants? Are the communications as secure as they need to be?
We may currently be at the peak of inflated expectations for a multi-channel offering in the advice market, with a leading insurer indicating that 80% of consumers will prefer to self-serve by 2018. Therefore, timing and managing the transition over to multi-channel advice will be critical. Having a flexible technology platform at the heart of the business provided by a supplier that understands your journey will be the key to success, so this decision needs to be made early on in the process.
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