Your Bank’s Consumer Research May Generate Flawed Data (Here’s Why)

It's enticingly simple to launch an online poll of customers, especially for banks and credit unions that don't have research departments. But without the right survey method and carefully crafted questions the resulting input may be useless. Here are four mistakes financial marketers should avoid.

Financial marketers are famous for saying in ads and promotions, “We have excellent personal service.” (Who ever says they have lousy service!) Yet they often don’t back up the claim with the kind of listening that helps them deliver more than services, but products customers want delivered through the channels they want — when they want them.

Standard online “star surveys” and quick quizzes just touch the tip of the iceberg. A hurried “completely satisfied” answer to your automated phone survey doesn’t reveal any insights. To serve customers better — and solve problems they really want you to know about. Marketers need to go deeper.

Don’t Treat Them Like a Faceless Mass

Be personal. All customers are not equal, so treating them as a blended mass won’t uncover many “Ah-ha!” moments. Instead, think about your overarching business goals and how those goals align with the different customer segments.

Focus individual attention on the segments you want to grow or serve better. For example:

  • How do we attract more Millennials, or nonprofits or some other group we’re not effectively reaching?
  • If we add new digital delivery channels — say P2P payments — will they resonate with our core customers? Will they attract new ones?
  • Are there certain groups underutilizing products or programs you thought these customers would embrace?
  • Who are the multiple account holders and who are the one-offs — and why?
  • If we discontinue certain products that are expensive for us to administer, will anyone care?

Match the Method to the Audience

There’s a dizzying array of survey methods you can choose. Be sure to think about what’s suitable and comfortable for your target audience. All survey instruments are not good for all people.

Research Tip:

Take into account the lifestyle and life stage of your audiences. If you tailor the research to respect their needs, you will have better success at getting quality feedback.

There are many considerations. Here are a few to spur your thinking about how to approach it at your institution.

People who are retired may have more time to share their opinions. But you may not find healthy retirees at home. They are likely to be out of town and disconnected. Reaching them through your online banking platform may be most fruitful way to learn from them.

Greatest Generation consumers may trust and be more responsive to you via a mail inquiry because they’re comfortable conducting their financial business that way. Since they already have a relationship with you, a mailed survey with your return address is likely to be opened. If you choose that approach, be sure the survey type is large enough to be easily read by older eyes.

Though many of these older seniors have difficulty hearing, they may answer their phones when you call — especially if they have caller ID. If you decide to try surveying them by phone, it’s essential to train surveyors to speak slowly — and with patience — to ensure senior customers feel valued and heard, not frustrated.

Read More: Marketing Smarter on a Community Bank Budget

Millennials and Gen Z
Younger audiences do have plenty to say. Be sure you use the right approach to reach them so you can hear it first hand.

To begin with, don’t even attempt to conduct surveys by mail or phone with Millennial and Gen Z consumers. They don’t want to communicate with you this way, and they probably won’t even answer the call. “Absolutely do not call me,” and “I definitely would not answer a phone survey” were a few responses from the Banktastic National Millennial Advisory Board in a recent discussion about research.

Instead, they’d rather hear from you via email or text. It needs to be convenient and easy for them. Think about a series of “micro studies.” To increase response rates, experiment with sending shorter pieces of surveys or chunks of questions that feel bite-sized and easy to complete.

In addition to text and email, leverage the technology you already have by asking questions through your online banking app.

If you need more in-depth research from younger groups, consider recruiting via text, then setting up focus groups (virtual or live) with paid honoraria for their attendance. Show them you value their time.

Other considerations
Does your chosen audience work in a job where they can’t accept email or calls from you? Is their first language something other than English? Do they have children (and lots of activities)?

If you respect their needs and obligations, you can tailor your research accordingly and have success at getting substantive feedback.

Read More:

4 Common Mistakes to Avoid

1. DIY’ing it
It can seem sensible to design research scripts in-house. It will save you money, but be short-sighted. Inexperienced design can lead to frustration and abandoned surveys. Answers like “It won’t let me say what I want to tell you,” or “None of these apply to me” are warning signs.

Other reasons for caution:

  • Seemingly innocent questions can cause you to inadvertently sway your audience to answer a certain way.
  • Poorly written questions can cause confusion that results in misleading or inconclusive results.
  • Important audience segments can be underrepresented if questions fail to use inclusive language and non-ethnocentric names.

Reality Check:

Free online survey tools make research more accessible and budget-friendly, and they produce snazzy graphs and charts. All that will end up being window dressing, however, if the questions are flawed.

The potential cost savings of running your own focus groups also presents risks. A skilled moderator is essential to hearing from all participants and getting unbiased intel.

2. Relying solely on focus groups and social media
Focus groups, social media discussions and advisory boards are qualitative ways to get feedback from small samples that offer insights into emotions and attitudes. Qualitative research is an excellent tool to “listen between the lines,” generate ideas for quantitative testing or to identify red flags that call for further evaluation.

But beware: research gathered this way cannot be reliably projected across a larger audience. Just because 85% of a focus group’s members love product X, it does not mean that 85% of the entire audience will love product X, too.

3. Ignoring data right under your nose
What are customers actually doing on your institution’s website or within your banking app? There’s a wealth of information — that’s free — right there if you dig in:

  • Search: what are people looking for most often? Can you determine if they’re actually finding what they seek?
  • Page use: If you’ve added loan calculators, financial education modules, tutorials and ebooks to your site, are these features being used?
  • Abandons: do they abandon forms or tools? This may indicate that the interface isn’t user-friendly.

4. Not using the data once you have it
What you learn may tell you it’s time to discontinue or change something you’re in love with. Or, you may find you need to invest more in a program you don’t especially like. It may also require change throughout your institution, and that can be challenging. This is not personal. Be ready to use the feedback as a tool for improvement.

Start Small, But Do it Right

Some institutions have the advantage of deep pockets and a research department. If you don’t have these assets, don’t dismay. While you can’t do everything at once, start where you can start.

Don’t do it on the cheap, do it right.

Remember that better outcomes begin from a foundation of knowledge, so don’t cheap out on your research. Instead, make it a priority. Use what budget you have to start working on addressing the most important questions with your most important audiences. Then add more to your research in phases.

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