Financial Word

Lucian Camp

Brand & Marketing Consultant

Lucian Camp Consulting

Lucian Camp turns his polemical thoughts to the problems of being too customer-led.
Even in these disrespectful times, there are a few cows so sacred that it’s still scary and exciting to think about having a pop at them. Who would dare to argue that Arsène Wenger is a rubbish manager? Or that The Clash have always been hugely over-rated? Or that Gladiator is too long and boring? Not me. I don’t actually hold any of these radical opinions, so I can’t in all honesty stick the boot in. But swivelling abruptly from sport and entertainment to financial services marketing, I do actually hold the opinion that all the hype we hear all the time these days about how we must all become much more customer-led is all so much stuff and nonsense. And as you’ll appreciate, in our own small world that’s a cow about as sacred as they get.
I suppose I owe you an explanation. What is it exactly that I have against the idea of being more customer-led?
Well, two big things, when it comes down to it. The first is about customers. The most obvious and fatal flaw is the fact that, when it comes to financial services, most customers don’t have any sense at all of any interesting and worthwhile destinations towards which they should be leading us.
What they do have, in more or less every major product category, is a shortish, more or less generic, and not-very-interesting, wish-list. Ask them what they want from a savings account, for example, and they’ll say they want a competitive rate of interest, a high level of security, easy access, friendly service and clear communications. For anyone seriously thinking of launching an account which offers an uncompetitive rate of interest, a low level of security, problematic access, hostile service and impenetrable communications, then adopting a customer-led approach might help avoid some big mistakes. But it’s difficult to see who else would benefit.
The problem is that most consumers’ levels of engagement with, and understanding of, financial services are so low that they simply can’t contribute anything very useful to our thinking. Asking them for their ideas about how we should develop our products and services is like asking me how doctors should carry out brain surgery, or how builders should dig the foundations for tower blocks.
I saw a textbook example of this problem at a savings and investment conference a few weeks ago. The speaker – who had quite recently joined a very well-known insurance company from a background in fast-moving consumer goods – was making a case history presentation about a new investment product launch. Proudly – and not a little contemptuously – he told us how he had turned the life company’s primitive product development process upside down, seizing the responsibility from the company’s serried ranks of nerds and actuaries and putting in place the same consumer-led process he had adopted in his past life in the carbonated drinks market. Indeed, he told us, he had even brought in his crack customer-focused research battalions rather than risk the lacklustre efforts of the company’s battle-weary financial specialists.
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