Use Tech to Boost, Not Bypass Customer Relationships

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Suze Orman took the stage at the Money2020 conference in Las Vegas this week and admonished 70% of the crowd first for failing to take care of their own financial affairs (e.g. "Stand up only if you have in place an advanced directive and durable power of attorney for health care, a revocable trust, a will and a financial power of attorney"). She also admonished companies for calling their customers "consumers."

Having sat through three days of technology talks, she's right. Despite subsequent efforts made by attendees in between-sessions to replace the word "consumer" with "people," we still don't get.

Here's the problem: Technology companies are focused on personalization (e.g. iPhone, iPad, my BillGuard, my 401K analyzer, my investment advisor) but the financial services industry is still thinking and acting in mass-marketing terms to push these new products to their own customers.  Do you suppose this mass-market approach could be related to our industry's abysmal 30% cross-sell rate?  It is one thing to see an irrelevant ad on a billboard in Las Vegas, but it's quite another to get an irrelevant message from an institution who knows more about me than many of my relatives.

Heck, even the government is getting in the personalization act with Sophie Raseman of the Treasury Department offering more and more free government data online in order to make it "easier for members of the public, software developers and other innovators to promote financial capability … to create personal finance tools."  A quick look at one of these databases reveals that of 13,564 credit card complaints logged by people with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau since December 1, 2011, 300 (or 2.2%) were advertising and marketing related. It's incredible that people would actually take the time to complain about credit card marketing and even more amazing that 12% of those cases closed were "closed with monetary relief," meaning the bank paid the customer for their own bad marketing.

Look, everyone knows what good salespersonship looks like. If you are an existing customer, the salesperson comes to the meeting having looked at your accounts and given some thought to what questions to ask. Then the salesperson asks you a few questions and formulates options, from which you may choose andhelps you implement that solution.  It's intelligent, it's personal and it works.  As customers continue to flock to the digital banking channels, they will expect the same level of personalization and intelligent advice and product recommendations they've come to expect from their favorite branch associate.

Bottom line: We have the data and the marketing automation tools to help our customers make good personal financial decisions. Let's use them to deepen those relationships. And let's lose the term "consumer" – it's so 1980s.     

Devon Kinkead is CEO of Micronotes, a digital marketing company that provides tools and technologies to financial institutions.




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