Billing the dead for financial advice makes a great news headline. But this and other behaviour more attuned to urban legend than reality was uncovered in the Royal Commission Inquiry into misconduct in Australia’s financial sector.
Justice Hayne’s damning final report outlines 76 recommendations for banking, superannuation, financial advice, and rural lending industries, covering regulations, victim compensation, remuneration, fees, and more broad-sweeping cultural reform to protect vulnerable customers.
While Hayne lays the blame for misconduct directly at the feet of senior managers, executives at all levels should take a good hard look at the behaviour of people under their control, and whether they’ve got customers’ best interests at heart.
Though a cog in the bigger business wheel, contact centres qualify for similar scrutiny. As the launchpad for customer campaigns, the first port of call for help and advice, and the funnel for customer enquiries and sales, few other parts of an organisation offer a more blatant demonstration of how an organisation views its customers.
When an organisation claims to put customer needs front and centre, the contact centre puts the claim to the test, highlighting gaps between the organisation’s stated principles and actual behaviours during critical interactions in a relationship.
Hayne’s report concluded that, too often, products and processes built for a mass market failed to meet the needs of vulnerable customers, staff, and other stakeholders.
Organisations must examine their practices to ensure vulnerable customers aren’t prejudiced; that the style of contract negotiation and enforcement is fair and reasonable for everyone; and that access to services, help, and complaints processes is universally easy.
Managers must ensure these processes embrace norms of expected conduct, stated as: obey the law, do not mislead or deceive, act fairly, act in the best interests of each other, deliver services with reasonable care and skill, and provide services that are fit for purpose.
Digging into the report shows there’s work to do. Customers told stories about struggling against imbalances of power and information, which led to a failure to address individual needs and, worse, misconduct.
Where to start?
Identifying potential issues doesn’t take much effort. For example, knowing that outbound contact centre agents are incentivised by sales targets should act as a red flag for closer examination of sales techniques and how they match up to ethical standards. Does the appeal of scooping ‘agent of the month’ somehow knock the magnetics from the moral compass?
Listen to a decent sample of contact centre call recordings to understand what agents are saying, how they’re selling, and the level of care and concern they bring to customer interactions.
Technology is a great help. Speech analytics mine and analyse calls to identify issues, specific words and phrases, that may require closer examination to deduce immediate changes to agent behaviour and ongoing training.
The saying goes that offence is never given, only taken. The same is true of customers’ perceptions of fairness and justice.
When organisations become too focused on their own needs, the subtle creep of practices that homogenise customer needs or, worse, ignore vulnerable individuals, could land you in hot water.
Hayne isn’t mucking around, declaring that “choices must now be made”. He has referred certain companies to regulators for possible criminal or civil action for the way they treated their customers.