Operations Software: Vendor Client Service
Duncan Wheatley, Head of R&D at Watson Wheatley, explains how to overcome the issues of scale that affect good customer service delivery.
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Good client service is something we all strive for, but what is it and how can it be achieved?
We have all been on both ends of this if you accept the adage that we are all a service to one another. To make some progress on such a wide topic it is helpful to narrow the scope. We are a service organisation, and our clients are asset management firms, or perhaps more generally securities trading firms. In particular, we build software solutions, mainly products for specific back-office functions. To us, service refers more specifically to the support offered to our clients through an implementation process and then throughout the life of the system.
Service matters to us primarily for product development and client retention. I am not sure whether this is a general truth, but I have found the attention to client service lacking in the investment operations world. Maybe this is to do with the culture of investment operations – dare I say being a second-class part of the business, a necessary evil and often below trading and portfolio management in the pecking order, and as we have experienced in recent years, sometimes below IT.
Perhaps if you are a supplier of systems your focus on client service is tuned to the perceived pecking order of the client department. I have had the view for many years that client service is easy to deliver and extremely valuable but that it is often neglected or not seen as a priority. We, as a company, set out to be different in this respect and we firmly believe this has paid us dividends.
It may be a matter of size. I have seen small businesses that are initially very keen to satisfy their few clients. As they get bigger and have pursued the same approach, they have become overwhelmed by the demand for change, and they have been unable to fulfil it then gained a poor reputation. Having ultimately recognised what is going on they have done an about-face and said “no, take it or leave it”.
Not so bad if the product is sticky, or you can offset this debit of goodwill against the relationship that you have created over the years, but generally having set expectations one way you cannot just dump them. To us, the challenge is how to sustain good client service standards as the business grows or to put it another way, how to make them scalable.
A key element of the infrastructure of client service delivery is, of course, a good ticketing system. Clients will communicate with issues, usually by email, possibly with screenshots, and these along with the responses need to be recorded. This in many ways is your shopfront. Keeping all the correspondence in one place from initiation to closure is key and provides the basis for an analytical approach to customer enquiries. With careful categorisation, usually across several dimensions, it is possible to determine priorities, and most importantly develop “before and after” metrics where particular solutions have been implemented.
A small improvement to the user interface can help reduce the number of queries about a particular function. A continuous improvement process will reduce the number of tickets received over time, and with it the general satisfaction with the system. We have found that this is probably the most effective approach to reducing the number of support tickets and at the lowest cost.
Statistics from the ticketing system helps to identify any lack of understanding by the client that would lend itself to a more educational approach. For instance, we encourage our support staff to not only solve the particular problem that a client presents, but to show the client how it was resolved, on the premise that they will be able to solve their problems next time around. If we can determine the top 10 queries or areas of difficulty, it is quick and easy to assemble what is a tailored response with stock material. With a good ticketing system, then the degree of success of this approach can be measured with reasonable certainty. Without one your processes will flounder.
Over time we have found that the proportion of tickets that are contractually “support” i.e., there is something wrong with the system, has dropped markedly and the bulk of tickets now are change requests. The fulfilment of change requests enhances the value of the system to the client and their satisfaction with it.
We do not necessarily believe we have got it completely right. No doubt there is more we could do. But we do believe that we have a good handle on the issue and an effective approach to keeping it manageable. If the current trend continues we expect to double the number of clients using our systems in the next couple of years. The treatments we are making now will ensure we do not have to double the size of our core support function.
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