February 20, 2015

Where has all the Customer Service Gone?

We have all had the phone tree experience. You know you need some help with something, let’s say a Doctor’s appointment, and so you call the office. You get a recorded voice, sometimes not even human, and a list of five to ten options with associated numbers to press. Then someone comes into the room and asks you a questions just as the phone tree was getting to your magic number. What was that they just said? Is there a way to repeat that last selection? What if I press 0 to ask someone? Then abruptly you’re told that is an invalid selection press another. That would be great if I knew which number. So I hang up to start again. Now I ask you, how on God’s green earth is this customer service?

There is this concept of the “Internet of Everything” taking shape. Don’t get me wrong, as a working mom I am very grateful for Amazon. But can everything be delivered through the internet?

Cisco has this on their website:

The Internet of Everything

Cisco defines the Internet of Everything (IoE) as bringing together people, process, data, and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before-turning information into actions that create new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented economic opportunity for businesses, individuals, and countries.

That sounds pretty good, right? Unprecedented economic opportnity for all! That is a capitalist most sacred dream, if there ever was one! After being in the financial services industry for nearly twenty years, I can tell you there have been profound improvements to planning and investing for Main Street investors because of technology. I remember when every application was hand written, before a technology tool was invented to pre-populate our forms. That saves clients time and money. Trading was a very difficult process, and now with a click of your mouse for $8.00 you can trade electronically from anywhere you have an internet connection. Considering that trades used to cost hundreds of dollars and employ a small army to get them to the exchange, the difference technology has made in trading is impressive. Now I can talk to clients who are oversees for business using WebEx and we can discuss changes that should be made to their strategy, and review documents that need to be executed, as if they are right in the same room. That has made meetings more convenient and timely for clients. That too, I believe, saves clients time and money.

Technology has been instrumental in improving the process of investing, but now it is positioning itself to give “advice”. I cringe as I use the term, because it is so far from the holistic financial planning advice we customize and deliver to clients. It’s a kin to having WebMd be your only diagnostic tool. While you might find a lot of information, you also can scare yourself silly with all the misinterpreted symptoms. My daughter once saw a commercial on television for a drug that was to help chronic pain. As the announcer went on to characterize all the symptoms of the malady, my daughter turns to me and says Mom I think I have Fibromyalgia. I told her, “Sweetie, you don’t have Fibromyalgia, you are sore from your 3 day volleyball tournament!” While access to the information is wonderful, and I do believe it can help in directing a conversation, I don’t think using that tool alone is the right way to get a diagnosis. As humans we suffer with Confirmation Bias.

Confirmation bias is defined by Investopieda as, “A psychological phenomenon that explains why people tend to seek out information that confirms their existing opinions and overlook or ignore information that refutes their beliefs. Confirmation bias occurs when people filter out potentially useful facts and opinions that don’t coincide with their preconceived notions. It affects perceptions and decision making in all aspects of our lives and can cause us to make less-than-optimal choices.” That is why it is so important to have your personal situation assessed by someone who takes the time to collect all of the information that makes you, you. That is of course your data, but also, benefits as work, obligations at home and to your community. We need to make sure you are positioning yourself correctly to ensure there is minimal leakage to fees and taxes. All of those issues are very individualized. That is why real advice cannot be commoditized.

Technology should be adopted to improve economies of scale so that clients pay less, and have transparency of information. We need to find ways that will continue to help clients have the support for making the best decisions when life changes come along. If you’ve gotten a new job, what changes to benefits should we consider? What should I do if I’m getting married, or divorced? What about dealing with college planning, or knowing when I’ll be able to retire? We still need the humans to oversee the machines, and to ensure we are not overlooking or ignoring important issues that could derail your plan. And don’t forget, you are unique. Your situation while similar to others is unique to you. Uniquely personalized advice is still the best way to plan for your future.

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