How Financial Marketers Can Take COVID Outreach to the Next Level

Now that banks and credit unions have moved past initial reactions to the coronavirus crisis, they have an opportunity to address shortcomings in their customer communications. Common missteps: not giving specific information, sending the same message to everyone, and lack of frequency.

As bankers across the country scrambled to make dramatic adjustments to continue to serve their customer base, one thing has become apparently clear: there was no playbook to follow for COVID-19 communications. It’s doubtful any business continuity plan called for the shut-down of physical locations for an extended period of time. And as that and other effects unfurled, so did the critical need to communicate with customers — fast.

With changes happening daily, financial institutions began setting up special web pages, cranking out emails and, eventually, adding social media posts to keep their customers and members informed. Many of these efforts were creditable considering the duress of the situation.

That said, as the effects of the pandemic linger, the shortcomings of these communications have become apparent, sometimes glaringly so. Three we’ve seen in particular are a lack of specifics, failure to speak directly and personally to the customer, and simply not reaching out often enough.

However, there is still an opportunity to improve upon COVID-19 related outreach efforts. Here are three suggestions to consider right now.

1. Switch Content from Generic to Specific and Consider First-Time Users

A perfect example of the need to be more specific is using a mobile banking app to complete a task ordinarily done at a branch for many people: depositing a paper check. I’ve seen dozens of communications stressing digital banking tools, but few call out the fact a check can be deposited using a mobile app! Further, hyperlinks often drive to the bank or credit union website, but the user must hunt around to find the online enrollment page or mobile app download button. Almost always there is a lack of clear instructions on how to get started.

A better way: Start with the problem you are solving, then provide the solution with clear instructions. Below is a sample message:

Need to deposit a paper check? You can use our mobile app and skip a trip to the branch. Here are clear instructions to 1. download the app and enroll, 2. how to make a mobile deposit and 3. any limitations on check deposit amounts or days to clear you should be aware of.

McKinsey echoes the need to carefully craft communications that speak to infrequent or first-time digital users. “In normal times, many customers struggle with the transition to digital,” the firm states in an article. “This is because customers go through a learning curve as they adopt digital tools, and most banks under-support their customers in the adoption journey. In the current environment, banks should redouble their efforts to smooth customers’ transition to digital.”

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2. Use All Channels and Use Direct Outreach.

Standing up a special COVID-19 webpage is essential and updating it regularly as things change is important. As mentioned, several banks and credit unions have taken to social media to keep their customers and members informed too. But few have gone beyond that, and there are many options to help keep connected. In-app messages, video tutorials on product features (like mobile check deposit!), podcasts, chats, video conferences are all available to keep in touch.

“One bank has emailed several times, but the messages are sent to the entire list, and are not specific to the audience.”
— Tricia Hrotko, Digital Onboarding

Direct outreach has been spotty, however. I have accounts at several banks of varying sizes, and have subscribed for email communications at dozens more. I’m surprised at the complete absence of direct, personalized communication. One bank has emailed several times, but the messages are sent to the entire list, and are not specific to the audience (e.g. receiving instructions on how to apply for help as a non-profit, which I am not). I have not received a single text message.

You might be thinking, “So what? My email inbox has been overtaken by every company and service provider I’ve ever dealt with letting me know what they are doing to address COVID-19.” That may be true, but at a time when most people are far more concerned about their finances than say, getting free shipping from a favorite retailer, the lack of direct communications from their financial institution becomes conspicuously apparent.

Ironically even the largest banks are struggling with direct outreach, so this is a problem not tied to asset size or amount of spend behind digital tools. But if you are not using a platform to be able to hand-craft specific messages and deliver them in a personalized manner, you should be looking at investing in one. Very soon.

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3. Up the Frequency

There is almost no such thing as communicating too much right now — if you have a meaningful message that can help the recipient. Steady and consistent messaging will reassure your customers you are there for them at a time when they are likely stressed about finances.

If you are not engaging in direct outreach, the number of times you personally interact with your customers is low. As stated before, this is something that needs to change. Adding messaging within online or mobile banking, for example, is one relatively easy way to add touch points.

It’s vital to address these issues now because there has never been a more important time for customer engagement. How banks and credit unions address the impact of the crisis on their customers will most certainly leave a lasting impression. Get it right, and you’ll earn even greater loyalty and appreciation.

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