There are so many outlets for customers to express their views on a business’ product or service these days that the time when people could either draft a letter to Watchdog, or Trading Standards, or their local MP seem like something out of the Dark Ages.
Nowadays there is a whole industry based on customer reviews and ratings, and in a very real sense this customer feedback can not only make or break firms, but has completely revolutionised some industries. Take travel, for instance, and the huge weight that people put on reviews left on Trip Advisor and such sites, which can often be the difference between further bookings or no bookings at all.
We are not immune from this in the mortgage market, and of course we can seek feedback from our own customers directly, or we can point them in the direction of sites like Trust Pilot or Google, where they can tell us exactly what sort of experience they have either benefited from, or been subjected to.
Add in the might of social media, and the immediacy this can deliver in terms of customer feedback, and it is perhaps no wonder that many people, within all industries and sectors, are so obsessed with the comments and ratings they get and what this might mean for their future plans and prosperity.
To that end, I’ve looked at the current debate around the development of a mortgage adviser directory via the regulator, with the potential for a ranking system so that customers can judge one firm against another, with some interest. There have been a large number of dissenting voices on this, and while I respect the view that the metrics used might seem rather arbitrary – complaints data, for instance – I feel that the market is heading in this direction anyway, and as financial services’ businesses we are perhaps more in the spotlight than others.
As a lender which dropped out of the market for three months this year, you can understand why I am somewhat sensitive about the feedback culture we now have, but I’m also a realist and understand that, when it comes to this type of customer interaction and in terms of learning about what you do well (and not so well), the positives undoubtedly outweigh any potential small – and short-term – negatives.
Take, for instance, our return to lending last month. The feedback we have received, particularly from our intermediary partners – and indeed from many within the industry itself, including competitors – has at times been overwhelming. Perhaps it was mere relief that a lender which had pulled its product range had not gone to the great lender heaven in the sky, or that perhaps this wasn’t a re-run of post-2008, but I have been genuinely taken aback by the positive reaction, the level of business we have received since our return, and the welcome we got.
This superb reaction has been far and above our expectations before we returned and I wish we could bottle the positivity because I’m all too acutely aware that nothing lasts forever – certainly not in the mortgage market.
However, what I think it does prove is that feedback need not be negative, and where it might perceived to be, it actually gives the business something to work on. Advisers should not be worried about ‘putting themselves out there’ in terms of seeking reviews and ratings because this is a natural part of the advice-giving landscape, and while this Directory might not get to the ‘firm A versus firm B’ result the FCA might have initially envisaged, it is likely to head a long way in this direction.
I remember, in a previous role, being asked about the complaints we had received from customers and whether it wouldn’t be better for the business to have no complaints at all. I replied in the negative – without a complaint or a client telling you like it is, how can you get better at what you do? How can you iron out the wrinkles in your service or the way you conduct yourself? ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’ seems like a good way to look at this or indeed ‘complacency kills companies’ – you have to embrace the feedback, engage with it and I suspect you’ll have a far stronger business as a result. I know we do.
Bob Young is chief executive officer of Fleet Mortgages