26 Aug Self-service puts pressure on the trusted advisor
The trusted advisor model has long been the established method for professionals to build deep, long lasting, value rich client relationships. But do clients (or customers as they might now be) really value that any more?
|Receive professional services||Buy goods or services from a business|
|Personalised solutions||Generic products and services|
|Assumed loyalty||Minimal loyalty|
|Long-term relationships||Discrete transactions|
|Attracted by reputation||Attracted by price and value offerings|
Self-service is one of – if not the single – fastest growing trend in customer experience. People increasingly know (or think they know) what they want and just want to transact quickly – avoiding any additional time costs or demands on their limited reserves of energy or goodwill towards humanity. For many people, especially but by no means exclusively the younger generations, excellent service is easy, quick and impersonal.
Self-service is a relatively recent phenomenon, starting with bank ATMs, encompassing self-scanning aisles at supermarkets and then pretty much everything else as people discovered the joys of the internet and related technologies. It’s not for everyone of course, and it can be taken too far; anyone would crave some human interaction after been led through various “press option one, for… “ ordeals by their mobile phone provider.
Self-service and professional advisors
So where does this leave professional advisors?
The most obvious development is the increasing number of online, fixed-scope services provided by lawyers, accountants, insurance brokers, IT consultants and more – where your needs can be serviced after the completion of simple online questionnaires. Risk/quality issues aside, this is very attractive to a significant chunk of customers: no painful sessions with professionals desperately trying to understand your needs, just press a few buttons at any time of day or night, enter your PayPal password and voila! – your professional needs can be met with minimal time costs.
Even beyond the online model (many of which require customers actually talk to a professional at some stage), clients are increasingly demanding that services are provided with lower time cost, less hassle and more convenience. As customers increasingly buy on a best-of-breed, horses-for-courses basis, they see any purchase of professional services as one-off transactions – so there is minimal value in developing a relationship.
Professionals cannot ignore this trend. They should look to make the provision of services as easy as possible – with guidance videos and documents, pre-interview online forms and out-of-hours Skype interviews, amongst other initiatives.
Service demands are only going to increase and as they do, customers will only get frustrated with practices and professionals who insist clients come into an office (not Skype even!) for long client interviews.
The trusted advisor model
So what can professionals do?
The first thing to say is, this isn’t the end of the trusted advisor model and relationship value. Although more people are favouring the self-service approach, professional services can be complicated and many people will still value the reassurance of personal contact – for ongoing work and even discrete instructions.
But please don’t take that as an excuse to be complacent – it’s going to get harder!
Too many professionals think relationship value is created, and trusted advisor status naturally follows, simply by being in the same room as customers. It doesn’t. Building relationship value is hard and getting harder.
- As customers get more time-conscious, you have to work harder to justify why they should spend their time meeting with you. What’s in it for them? Where’s the value?
- If you spend both your time and theirs on getting to understand their needs, you have to ensure – more than 95% of the time – that this understanding translates into commercial or personal value (otherwise you’ve just wasted their time)
If you persist with the trusted advisor/relationship value model, you have to make sure it delivers added value – and that’s tricky when customers expect so much as standard.
Because if you are not delivering added value through your approach, there are lower-investment alternatives around for customers to opt for.