How Financial Marketers Can Overcome Onboarding ‘Ghosts’

Financial institutions wrestle with consumers who respond to an email and sign up for a service, but never activate it or use it – the digital banking equivalent of abandoned shopping carts. Marketers suggest right and wrong ways to bring these lapsed consumers back into the fold.

The term “ghosting” migrated into business language by way of dating slang. Basically it’s when someone stops communicating — no warning, no explanation. It’s a perennial issue in sales as lenders of all stripes know all too well — warm leads suddenly go cold.

But ghosting is also common in marketing where consumers or small business owners who initially responded to an email offer suddenly switch to “radio silence,” to use another metaphor for the phenomenon. Or to put it a little more formally, they disengage.

It’s a different situation from when you are first reach out to prospects, notes author and sales expert David J.P. Fisher in a blog.

Getting a response to an initial marketing outreach is always a struggle. “Ghosting is different,” says Fisher, “because it happens once the conversation has already started.” The biggest challenge with consumers who ghost you is that you don’t know why.

“If you did know why they ghosted you, then it wouldn’t be ghosting,” Fisher observes. “That makes it really hard to manage and prevent.”

“There’s nothing worse than a prospect who goes ‘MIA’,” says marketing consultant Michael Niedert. “Even a ‘no’ is preferable to silence. At least it’s feedback.”

Reaching Out to Customers Who Go ‘Poof’

For financial institution marketers, the problem is particularly frustrating when people go silent after signing up for a product or service online after clicking on a link in an email, and never activate or use the product.

Anne Wave describes this as a “registered, not transacted” audience.” Wave, who is Email Marketing Manager for Ria Money Transfer, spoke about the problem in a presentation she made at Movable Ink’s virtual (Re)Think event. She says that when a new customer successfully completes the sign-up for a new account digitally, within five-plus minutes the company sends them a welcome email explaining more about the service, their biometric login options, their worldwide locations, and a promotional offer for the first transaction.

“And then ‘poof,’ nothing else happens,” says Wave.

Such behavior is both frustrating and puzzling. As Wave says, people don’t create a money transfer account for no reason. They want to get something done. The financial services firm devoted considerable effort to figure out how to deal with these missing persons. Their Growth Marketer executive took on the project of figuring out how to help these non-transactors get to their first transaction.

Email had been used before, but they decided ultimately on a push notification, testing several variables of message and when to send the push. Messaging in a push notification is a challenge because unlike a regular text there are limits to character counts in order for them to show up properly on a recipient’s mobile screen lock screen. Too long and it gets cut off and conversions drop.

Ria tested two timeframes: six hours and 24 hours after account creation. The shorter timeframe turned out to be the best, generating 10% more initial transactions after the push reminder, turning inactive customer into active ones.

Empathy Key to Connecting with the Hard-to-Reach

Figuring out the right messaging to reconnect with interested but inactive consumers is uniquely challenging in a year like 2020, because of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact. As mentioned, Ria Money Transfer has used email for this purpose before trying the push notifications they ultimately used. Whatever the channel, the tone of the message has to consider what might be happening in consumers’ lives.

Some marketing experts have suggested that using a subject line or headline like “Is everything OK?” can be effective in getting through to inactive customers (or non-responding prospects). Wave said that in 2019 she would definitely have sent out a message like that. “It’s empathetic if we’re asking it genuinely,” she says. In the same communication they could ask, ‘Why aren’t you engaging with us?’ or ‘Is something wrong that we can fix?'”

2020 is different. This year, states Wave, a lot of things are not OK, in people’s lives due to the pandemic, social unrest, political issues, etc., and so they haven’t used this particular messaging approach.

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That hasn’t diminished their focus on empathy as part of a human-centered marketing approach, however. Wave believes empathy should be a fundamental. “In marketing, many times we talk about ‘audiences’ or ‘cohorts,’ but it’s a person on the other side of all these communications,” she states. “Think about your customer’s world and be honest with yourself. Are you enhancing it or detracting from it? Are you adding stress or relieving stress?

For example, oftentimes people have to decide between one of many financial services providers to purchase from, says Wave. That process can be stressful particularly if there is a time constraint or the product features are complex. Financial marketers should explore ways to make the process more transparent, perhaps by offering a price comparison tool, she suggests.

Michael Niedert puts it more bluntly to marketers: “It’s Not About You.” Speaking of the consumer, he says, “We want their time. We want their attention. We want their money. But, we should ask ourselves in each email we write: What’s in it for them?”

Maybe the answer could be, “If we get your signature today, we can prioritize your onboarding or lock in the special offer that ends this week.” Whatever the case, there should be a clear benefit.

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Other Specific Tips to Overcome Ghosting

To help reach consumers who sign up for a banking product and then don’t activate it, like the money transfer example above, several sources had specific suggestions. Some relate more closely to sales than marketing, but often the points relate to both disciplines. For example, a Cognism blog offered this:

The most important aspect of reengaging with nonresponsive customers is also the simplest: “Don’t forget about them! When trying to engage with ‘ghosts,’ always remember that people are busy and may not reply the first or even the second time. Keep trying until you’re confident they’re not coming back.” The blog also recommended setting regular reminders to:

  • Send them relevant, useful content.
  • Simply check-in with them — especially important during the challenging times we’re all living through.

David Fisher had these three simple suggestions:

  • Finish every conversation with a next step.
  • Follow up promptly.
  • Switch communication channels.

In an email marketing article, Mitzi Morris offers a suggestion in the form of a “don’t”: Don’t break promises. Explaining, she says, “You didn’t follow through. [Or] You wrote a clickbait title that didn’t deliver the goods once the email was opened and the content was consumed. Your content trust was compromised.”

On a more positive note, she points out that “the ROI associated with re-engaging a disengaged contact is hard to ignore. It costs more to acquire new customers than it does to retain the existing ones.”

To that end she recommends checking to see if, or how often, a non-responsive prospect visits your website and what they do once there. It’s one of the easiest metrics to measure and track, she says. That may not be feasible for every situation, but should be for consumers who took the trouble to sign up for a product and then went no further.

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