Although we do our utmost to provide exceptional investment returns we cannot guarantee that we will always get it right - we have no control over market fluctuations. What we do have control of, and what we strive to always get right, is our service. At Allan Gray we aim to exceed expectations - and we hope that this service will encourage investors to stay the course. Chris Tisdall elaborates.
At a dinner party recently I asked some friends if they could give me examples of really good service they had experienced. They were all stumped. But no one had any problem recalling stories of appalling service. Not the best word-of-mouth PR for the businesses we were discussing.
A key question we ask investors and independent financial advisers in our satisfaction surveys is whether they would recommend Allan Gray to someone else. Your answers to this simple question give us insight not only into your satisfaction with your investment returns, but also your satisfaction with the service you receive from us. The question recognises that word of mouth has been, and continues to be, an important element in the growth of our business, especially as we subscribe to the mantra that 'investment products should be bought and not sold'.
Encouraging you to stay the course
We believe that our service needs to reinforce the importance for you to 'stay the course' to achieve your investment objectives. That is, never to give you reason, based on poor service, to leave our funds before you have achieved your goals.
We aspire to provide a level of service commensurate with our ability to create wealth over the long term. This means that we are continuously striving to improve the service we offer - our turnaround times, the accuracy and completeness of information and the tone and manner in which we engage with you.
Constantly aiming to improve
We have come a long way in both volumes of transactions and client interactions that we handle on a daily basis. In an average month we currently receive approximately 16 000 telephone calls, 12 000 emails, 20 000 instructions (e.g. additional contributions) and 80 000 website log-ins. We answer 90% of the calls in 20 seconds or less; 85% of emails in four hours or less; make less than four errors in 1 000 instructions; and our secure website is available 96% of the time. These results are encouraging, but not good enough. We have zero tolerance for errors. We want every client to be able to report an excellent experience each time they deal with Allan Gray. There is always more that we can do providing great service is an ongoing challenge.
WE WANT EVERY CLIENT TO BE ABLE TO REPORT AN EXCELLENT EXPERIENCE EVERY TIME THEY DEAL WITH ALLAN GRAY
Over time we have seen a number of subtle but material shifts in client behaviour. More and more clients are using our online and email services, which has reduced the growth rate of calls coming into our Client Service Centre. And, possibly as a result of the convenience and immediacy of the website, investors' expectations of non-online channels have increased.
Some things change
Given the nature of service, there are times when we fall short of our own high standards. We have a number of feedback loops in place to pick up on service failures, complaints and suggestions (from investors, financial advisers and staff). We use these to direct our efforts in fixing problems and introducing new offerings, for example:
- You can now invest via our website (www.allangray.co.za) rather than completing a paper-based application form.
- You can upload outstanding documents (e.g. proof of deposit) via our secure website rather than sending us a fax or email.
- You can authorise your financial adviser to submit instructions via our secure website.
- We will notify you via SMS when we receive or complete an instruction. If your financial adviser submits the instruction we will notify him/her via email.
- You can choose to receive all your communications from Allan Gray via email.
Some stay the same
We have consciously not changed some of the elements of our service:
- When you call our Client Service Centre you will always speak directly to a consultant i.e. we do not have a computerised system attempting to route calls.
- All of our consultants are multi-skilled - any one of them can handle calls as basic as a latest investment account balance to detailed explanation of fund performance.
- You can choose whether you would like to interact with us by phone, email or our website.
- Before giving out any information over the phone, our consultants will ask you a few verification questions to ensure they do not disclose confidential information to the wrong person.
- Although we do not provide advice we continue to recommend that you use an independent financial adviser to help you make appropriate investment decisions.
No article on service would be complete without acknowledging the Allan Gray staff members who deliver it. There is simply no substitute for service-oriented individuals who take ownership of queries and ensure they are answered quickly, accurately and in a professional and respectful manner. We seek to recruit individuals with the right balance of financial qualifications, experience and service ethic. Most of our employees are university graduates and a significant number hold post-graduate, honours or masters degrees. We invest heavily in their training on our funds, products and processes and encourage and support their further education in the industry.
Put simply, we want to be remembered for giving you the best investment results (of course), but we also want to be remembered for giving you exceptional service. The next time someone asks you about a positive service experience we would like Allan Gray to be top of mind. When each of our clients can tell a positive tale, we will know we have achieved our goal of service excellence.