Banking Communications That Drive Consumers Up The Wall

People expect financial institutions to communicate with them in the manner and time they prefer. They hate messages that don't acknowledge previous interactions. Annoy them enough and consumers will likely start looking elsewhere. Get it right and they'll reward you. Almost two-thirds are willing to share more data if it results in better communications. Five factors deserve particular attention.

Anyone who has ever worked in a marketing capacity knows that achieving consistency across all communications channels is a challenge. After all, most financial institutions have to integrate input from email, SMS/text, phone calls, social media, and mail. A few also have to add chatbot and voice assistants to the mix. That’s a ton of communications channels where banks and credit unions must manage the tone and message.

How well financial marketers tie all those channels together could very well spell the difference between a happy customer and an ex-customer. A survey by Smart Communications finds that almost two-thirds (63%) say they would consider switching banking providers if communications don’t meet their expectations.

That starts by adhering to consumers’ channel preferences, and making communications feel more personalized.

“The ability to change communications on the fly for each individual is the new reality,” Capgemini says in a report on customer communications management. “It’s no longer about what you have to say and what channel you want to use. Today banks need to adapt to whatever channel, message or frequency each individual wants.”

The challenge is applying connective data intelligence to communications. Among consumers who might switch because they found communications from their bank or credit union annoying, a third say they would switch specifically if recent interactions were not factored into communications.

People get particularly annoyed when a digital communication from a banking provider doesn’t reflect something that was in an earlier written communication, notes James Brown, CEO of Smart Communications.

“That is a big turn off and likely to push people away,” says Brown. He adds that it’s one of the things financial institutions do badly at the moment.

Communication Slip-Ups That Send Consumers Running for the Exits

The Smart Communications survey says financial institutions should concentrate on improving those areas in their communication strategy that will have the biggest impact. Of 11 communication criteria consumers were asked about, the report listed five that could trigger a consumer’s decision to change banking providers.

“One thing we’re seeing,” says Brown, “is a very high correlation between consumers staying with a provider and being able to control how they interact with the financial institution.”

Given such control, consumers become willing to share more to get more. The survey found that 61% of U.S. respondents say they would be willing to share more data with a financial institution if it demonstrated good use of the data by making communications more meaningful. Two simple examples, Brown cites, are respecting the consumer’s preferred channel of communication and reflecting in a text or email a previous interaction by phone or in the mail.

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Where Financial Institutions Get it Right

In some areas, U.S. banks and credit unions score well in the Smart Communications survey. For example, about half the respondents feel that communications from their banking provider are relevant. Most also find the messages to be error free and easy to understand. More than a third give financial institutions high marks for delivering messages at the right time.

About two in five consumers surveyed say that financial services firms are considering their preferred channels when sending communications. While that leaves some room for improvement, it shows that many banks and credit unions are adapting to consumers who are increasingly managing their finances on their mobile devices.

That doesn’t mean all mobile users want their financial institution to text them, however. Many respondents prefer to have their banking communications sent by email. 65% of U.S. consumers say email was their preferred channel. (Of course, people read emails on mobile devices as well as on their computer.) Traditional mail came in as the second most preferred way to receive banking communications.

The Ingredients for Great Communications

Survey respondents were asked to rank 11 elements important to financial communication. There is overlap with the “communication blunders” list, but this one goes further. All 11 were considered “very” or “extremely” important, the report notes:

  • Easy to understand
  • Relevant
  • Error free
  • Well designed and easy to read
  • Uses preferred methods of communication
  • Sent at the right time
  • Contain content that is personalized
  • Adhere to preferences for types of communication
  • Explain what to do for more information
  • Use a tone appropriate for the type of communication
  • Reflect all recent interactions

Many of these factors are interconnected. Relevance, for example, would be influenced by whether the communication from a bank or credit union reflected other recent interactions with a consumer.

“Suppose a service representative is drafting a message to a consumer,” says Brown. “If the banking employee can refer to specific interactions that have already occurred, this makes the consumer feel they’re having a conversation rather than being communicated at. Bi-directional communication is a really strong trend we’re seeing across the industry.”

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