45-2015-06-08_9-20-44.jpgThe other day, I stopped by the office cafeteria after my workout and on the menu outside, I saw that they had a barbeque entree that would work perfect for my high-protein, low-carb diet. So, I went in and sidled up to the counter to inquire about the dish. The BBQ came with a bunch of high-carb items (such as potato salad & pasta) which I didn't want so I asked if I could just get some of the meat. The lady behind the counter said that it only came as a complete meal. I told her that I didn't mind paying the full meal price but didn't want to waste the rest of the food as I wasn't going to eat it. She apologized and said that she wasn't allowed to do that so I walked away and skipped the cafeteria all together.


This whole interaction annoyed me but more than that, it confounded me. Here I was, a customer, willing to pay whatever (I'd have paid four times the price for the meal as hungry as I was) for some food they were selling but they didn't want to sell it to me unless I took it in the package they offered. I thought, if this were my cafe, I'd be ecstatic to sell someone a full price meal but only give them a portion of it. I'd make the sale and I'd have surplus product that I could sell to other customers. Win, win, win. However, for these guys, because of a rule/policy, they let a sale walk right out the door.

Thinking about what transpired here, I realized that similar things happen in the marketing world all the time? especially in large banks and wealth/asset management firms. Policies and procedures are created over the years to solve one problem or another and only rarely do employees question them.

While working for Merrill Lynch, I saw more examples of this than I could possibly count. People blindly following orders, regardless of whether or not it made sense and quite often the policy would be detrimental to the firm and more often than not, client relations.

In this era, technologies and engagement paradigms are changing constantly and firms that don't change their policies and procedures accordingly can find themselves in a bad place without knowing it. They'll likely be doing something to inconvenience or alienate their clients and in some cases, be wasting the firm's money or creating further exposure to the firm.

We see this sort of thing all the time in the marketing world. Many banks, wealth management and asset management firms severely limit their ability to create the ideal client experience due to following old, invalid policies around client communications.

One example I heard recently came from an asset management company executive who said ?we don?t use cloud marketing technologies. It?s a firm policy.? When asked why this policy was in place, this executive gave a vague answer about data security and regulatory compliance. Out of respect for this executive (and since I didn?t know him that well yet), I refrained from telling him that the majority of his competitors were heavily leveraging cloud marketing technologies every day.

This firm, and it's employees are obstinately upholding  a policy that not only doesn't make sense, it's preventing them from executing on marketing campaigns as effectively and efficiently as their competitors are doing. What's more, because their on premise and home-grown systems are so antiquated, they're unable to deliver a positive, consistent, multichannel customer experience.

The reason this problem is so pervasive within financial institutions is that most of them are extremely risk adverse. Far too often, they'll go far out of their way (and sacrifice good business practices) to avoid risk. Usually all it takes is one (even small) exposure to the firm, some sort of litigation that causes a knee-jerk reaction and in-turn, firm-wide policies. The problem is that in our ever-changing technological and legal landscape, often, the contributing factors that led to the exposure change or are eliminated altogether; but the policy remains in place.

So how can financial institutions avoid this problem?

Challenge the system! OK, don't go all anarchy on me. Financial services marketers still need to ensure that they're following industry regulations (FINRA, SEC, Etc.) to reduce exposure. But they should constantly question the policies and procedures in their firm. Especially around marketing communications. If they've got a policy in place that is preventing them from delivering a great customer experience, they need to challenge it. They need to ask why it's in place.

The other thing they can do (and I've seen this done in firms with great success) is to get to know their compliance officers. They can go grab a coffee with them and talk about the business case. If they've done their research and provided their compliance friends with examples of their competitors doing the very thing they're attempting, this will make it a lot easier.

Also, if there's a vendor that provides the technology that they're trying to leverage for this customer experience, they should definitely make the vendor do the heavy lifting. All the marketer would have to do is facilitate the meetings. I know it sounds like a lot of work but if finserv marketers really want to move the needle for their firm, and they have ridiculous policies in the way, this is something I'd highly recommend.

Tell me. What policies have you run across in your firm that are keeping you from delivering the ultimate customer experience?