How Banks Can Help Small Businesses Through Aid Tangle and Beyond

The rocky deployment of the SBA's paycheck protection program could hurt financial institutions' reputations even if the problems are not entirely their fault. That risk can be reduced by applying five fundamental truths of small business satisfaction.

With the Small Business Administration’s launch of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), bank, credit union and fintech lenders were immediately hit with a tidal wave of SBA loan volume. Bank of America reported receiving roughly 10,000 applications within the first hour of accepting them. Others, including JPMorgan Chase, America’s largest bank, reported having difficulties accepting the applications.

In this new, federally backed SBA program, all parties — the SBA, lenders and small businesses — will be coming up the learning curve at the same time. While awaiting the SBA’s efforts to provide guidance and scale their internal operations, banks and credit unions may experience a lack of clarity and delays beyond their control. Lenders will experience heavy workloads and customers clamoring for information and responsiveness. On the client side, there will be stress, and in some cases, desperation.

At times like these, the experiences that small business owners have with their lenders will shape indelible brand impressions — favorable or unfavorable. In the parlance of customer experience, these are way beyond “moments of truth.” These are “moments of crisis.”

The launch of PPP adds another layer to banks’ rapidly expanding pandemic response plans. Now is a good time to review some fundamental truths about drivers of small business satisfaction, and dissatisfaction, with their banking and lending providers. The J.D. Power 2019 Small Business Satisfaction Study, completed just months before the coronavirus pandemic exploded, provides insights that can help guide banks through this potentially overwhelming process.

1. Provide a Single Source of Updated Information

As mentioned, the launch of PPP is driving a wave of client inquiries, but PPP will not be an option for all small businesses. Banks should leverage their digital services (web, app and email) to clearly inform clients of the other financial relief and fee waiver options available to them. Remarkably, as of early April, 2020, not all top-ten U.S. retail banks have completed this basic step.

“Simply providing clients with links to the SBA website is tantamount to turning them away at the door and telling them to ask the government for help.”
— Paul McAdam, J.D. Power

Another basic step that banks should be taking — which many are not — is to ensure that their business banking websites contain the basics of how PPP works, including: eligibility requirements, program details and the loan application documentation requirements. Simply providing clients with links to the SBA website to obtain these basics is tantamount to turning them away at the door and telling them to ask the government for help.

Even if a bank or credit union is not ready to begin accepting PPP applications right away, that doesn’t mean they can’t still be active in the PPP program. They can allow customers to contact them electronically to place inquiries about PPP and express their interest in applying. Many banks’ websites currently include PPP inquiry forms that allow small businesses to express interest, so that bank staff can promptly follow up with clients regarding next steps. This will set them up to start communicating via email and mobile banking apps to keep customers engaged and updated as PPP evolves.

2. Be Proactive and Consider This a New CX Journey

Pre-pandemic, the typical small business reported receiving an average of 3.2 proactive contacts from their bank annually regarding their bank’s products or services. In normal business conditions, client satisfaction and trust both increase significantly when proactive communication is received. These satisfaction gains will be accentuated in today’s environment.

Small business clients will expect increased communication regarding PPP and the bank’s overall pandemic response. In addition, most clients will appreciate receiving information on digital banking and digital communication options. Banks and credit unions need to develop a plan for heightened client communication for at least the next three to six months. But that doesn’t mean they should be e-mailing every day. They should build appropriate user flows: this is not an information dump.

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3. Double Down on Digital Efforts

More than three quarters (77%) of small businesses reported using online banking and 61% used mobile banking in a pre-pandemic survey. But only 29% of small businesses reported receiving email communication from their bank and only 24% reported completing a service interaction via online chat. It is essential to utilize and scale up these capabilities to support PPP and the bank’s broader pandemic response communication needs, which will likely be required for the remainder of 2020.

Message consistency requires clear communication and coordination between online, mobile, social, chat teams, voice-response teams and outbound messaging teams. Ensure that your client-facing small business banking team members have access to video conferencing capabilities to maintain client communication.

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4. Leverage Your Account Managers

Today, 50% of small business clients have a small business banker or account manager assigned to them. These individuals are the main resource contacted when the client has a question, problem or request. Across the industry, 31% of small businesses report that the name of their account manager is included in their statement. If technically possible, all banks should consider deploying this form of statement communication.

As with proactive communications, client satisfaction and trust with the banking provider both increase significantly when a small business reports interacting with their account manager. These satisfaction gains will surely be amplified in in today’s environment.

5. Don’t Overlook Smaller, Low-Touch Businesses

The 50% of small business clients without assigned account managers will rely upon their banks’ digital services and call center to receive pertinent information. Pre pandemic, only 55% of clients without an account manager used mobile banking while 67% of clients with an account manager used mobile banking. Improving mobile banking penetration (as well as all other methods of digital contact and communication) with low-touch clients is an urgent priority. This will certainly help to improve satisfaction and trust. And because email and mobile phone contact details are gathered through the mobile app enrollment process, this also adds options to improve the frequency of communication to low-touch clients.

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