How Financial Services Brands Can Build Trust in a Fearful Economic Climate

Remember all the heartfelt ads from the early days of the pandemic? You know, the ones lauding heroic frontline workers or declaring some version of We’re

By Lauren Cuthbert

Jun 1, 2020

5 min

Remember all the heartfelt ads from the early days of the pandemic? You know, the ones lauding heroic frontline workers or declaring some version of We're here for you? A few were great, and even more were right for the time (cue Budweiser donating its sports and entertainment event budget to the Red Cross, GrubHub urging viewers to support local eateries by ordering takeout, and Walmart employees singing an impressive rendition of "Lean on Me"). But at this point, asForbes puts it, "Americans are emotionally drained and financially strained… Investing in feel-good advertising or Pollyanna phrases about how we're all in this together is a fail."

The Financial Brand agrees, citinga Gartner analyst who warns brands against relying on communications that focus on values, instead of on benefits to the consumer. The article goes on to explain that few communications in this style do little more than state the obvious. "This is especially true," the article claims, "in financial services."

The pandemic has upended people's financial lives. Millions are unemployed or facing reduced income, and balances in IRAs, 401(k)s, and similar retirement accounts have sunk. So what should your financial services brand do now?

Consumers have unprecedented financial concerns. Here's what you can do.

According to Forbes, "The pandemic's perfect storm of market and mental conditions spotlight companies that step up to help consumers plan and protect their financial wellbeing. A comprehensive strategy to address consumers' immediate day-to-day financial concerns can build brand affinity now — and strengthen trust in the future."

How do you earn that trust? Many financial firms have received praise for offering to defer mortgage payments, waive fees, and pause repossessions and foreclosure sales. Forbes spotlights Credit Sesame, a consumer financial health management platform that provides budgeting tips, virtual tools and calculators, personalized credit recommendations, and information on government assistance programs for its customers, many of whom struggle to "balance the competing goals of paying bills and saving money" even in the best of times. With SesameThrive, its new pandemic-spawned service, the company has created "a one-stop resource for consumers' entire financial journey to help them minimize the impact of COVID-19 while steering them on a path to financial stability and recovery as soon as possible," according to its CEO Adrian Nazari.

Make sure you're answering the right questions.

Building trust doesn't necessarily require overhauling your services or launching new platforms. Trust grows out of simple consistency and reliability too. Providing up-to-date, relevant information when people show up at your website looking for answers — about everything from branch hours (if they even exist) to how to access credit — can go a really long way towards establishing trust with a customer. "Although each individual and family situation is different," CNBC observes, "the broad issue is the same: concern about your financial future. So when things look bleak, questions arise."

Just how well are you answering those questions? How are you showing up for customers now that the stakes are so high and the consequences so serious?

Research shows that when it comes to one-touch resolution (this is the metric that indicates whether or not your customers' questions were answered after one call, or contact, and that they didn't need to follow up for clarification) the financial industry isn't cutting it. While hospitals and healthcare had the highest resolution on the first contact (83%), banks and others across the financial field lag behind with the lowest (just 55%), a wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee signal that better customer support solutions are required.

On top of this,a study reported in the Harvard Business Review showed that during a two-week period in March, just after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, "the average company… saw the percentage of [customer service] calls scored as "difficult" more than double from a typical level of 10% to more than 20%. Issues related to the pandemic — from unexpected travel cancellations to appeals for bill payment extensions and disputes over insurance coverage — dramatically increased the level of customer emotion and anxiety in service calls, making a job that is hard for reps on a normal day far more challenging."

Making sure you have scalable solutions for responding to customer questions, without having to rely heavily on live customer-call support centers, should be a top priority. This is particularly important in the face ofestimates that suggest it costs about $1 per minute for the average call center to service a customer — a nontrivial amount during a period of pandemic belt-tightening.

In the age of COVID-19, consumers are asking more specific questions about financial services than ever before, so when considering near-term actions that will help you weather the road ahead, start with the fact that exceptional site search is essential. Exceptional search demands natural language capabilities, of course, so that no matter how convoluted the question, you're equipped to provide an answer. (Which is probably as good a time as any to point out thatYext Answers delivers direct answers optimized for conversion, enabling you to craft answers that reflect consumers' most immediate concerns.)

"It is without question that the COVID-19 pandemic will change the financial services industry, serving as acatalyst for some and an accelerant for others," says Tom Kennedy, president of La Macchia Group, a consulting and design-build firm for financial institutions. "Historically, uncertain times have provided significant opportunity for organizations that look ahead with optimism and choose to adapt."

The road ahead is hard enough. Deploying the right tools so that you're able to alleviate at least some of the uncertainty is a no-brainer.

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