How Financial Services Companies Can Use Content to Better Connect with Customers

Selena Ricks, Brand and Marketing Communications Lead

Selena Ricks

Brand and Marketing Communications Lead

a woman sitting on her couch looking at her computer smilling

In this time of social distancing and global economic uncertainty, financial services providers are using digital channels to speak to their customers and prospects more than ever. As consumers search online for guidance and support, how companies show up and respond will impact their reputations in the days and years to come.

People buy things from companies that they trust, and companies build trust by connecting with customers. Digital content is key to that engagement, so long as it keeps the customer top of mind. Many marketing teams view content through the lens that it’s a cost-effective way to widen the sales funnel and nurture leads. But content can also educate and empower customers and prospects in ways that build trust and long-term brand value.

As we’ve seen from industry leaders and from our own clients, financial services companies have stepped up their digital marketing game in recent years and are poised to make their content connect. While there’s no playbook for this moment we’re experiencing, now is the time to show your customers three things: that you know them, you understand their needs, and you can truly add value to support them.

Know Your Customers: Enable Personalization

Your customers are receiving an influx of messages from competitors about the best ways to manage their personal finances during this disruptive time. The only way to stand out is to deliver relevant, tailored information. Bankers and other service providers have long had access to vast amounts of sensitive customer data. Digital tools such as CRM software, machine learning, and AI now make it possible to anonymize that data, automate customer segmentation, and power recommendation engines. True, valuable personalization is achieved when the right products, services, and helpful content are delivered to the right person at the right time.

While implementing personalization requires investment in digital platforms, according to McKinsey Consulting, AI-based personalization can lift sales by 10% or more. However, only 6% of financial institutions say they are deploying advanced personalization technology, according to The Digital Banking Report. While there may be a perception that personalization requires technical expertise, a number of user-friendly platforms have matured to a point where virtually any marketing team can manage these solutions.

Personalization does require cross-channel collaboration to integrate siloed databases and marketing organizations and build a 360-degree view of the customer. Companies may need to create a wider range of content, offer new incentives and strategies, and deploy new tech stacks. As personalization methods are A/B tested and rolled out incrementally, key performance indicators should be captured to measure success and allow for agility, experimentation and optimization.

Understand Your Customers: Meet Them Where They Are

Opportunities for content to reduce customer friction are abundant — the key is to strike a balance between a digital and human touch, and to offer information in a way that enhances a customers’ emotional connection to your organization.

According to an Accenture survey, nearly 80% of consumers view their relationship with their financial services provider as purely transactional and not advice-based. While banking may not always be the most entertaining subject, what is motivating for customers is the end result of engaging with a financial services firm — overcoming challenges, gaining security and control, finding temporary relief, and achieving life goals, for example. Yet, according to a national study, only 16% of Millennials are considered financially literate. That means they have a lot of questions about basic tasks, such as creating budgets, deciding how much to save, and making large purchase decisions.

On the other end of the spectrum, older generations are not often adept at or comfortable with digital and mobile banking tools and apps. They question security, in many cases are not afforded the opportunity to learn how to use these digital solutions, may not have modern equipment, and, to be fair, most digital banking experiences have not been designed for or tested by them to ensure effective usability.

More than 75% of 22- to 49-year-olds say they would like to have their own virtual financial wellness coach.

Banks and financial institutions have a major role to play in closing the education, comfort-level, and usability gaps, but they must move beyond the transactional element of the customer relationship and serve as a trusted advisor through lifelong financial decisions. Build better content for customers to demystify intimidating subjects such as retirement, mortgages, and investing. Launch education and training programs in the branch and, especially right now, online that are tailor-made to reach older generations. Interactive content such as specialized calculators that give real-time feedback to the users and provide a wealth of analytics can be especially powerful.

According to the Aite Group, more than 75% of 22- to 49-year-olds say they would like to have their own virtual financial wellness coach. Consider other emerging technologies such as voice interfaces and in-app chats, and engage customers in ways that matter to them. For example, Capital One created an Alexa skill that allows users to get answers to questions like “How much did I spend at Whole Foods?” and “How much is my next mortgage payment?” as well as respond to commands such as “Pay my credit card bill.”

Capital One has also developed a program for seniors called “Ready, Set, Bank” to help seniors learn how to use online banking and to better take control of their money. The content includes self-guided videos that can be accessed through any type of device — by Capital One customers and non-customers — and offers short and thoughtfully paced lessons customized for senior learning styles. The series outlines the benefits of online banking and addresses issues of security and privacy, which seniors often identify as key obstacles preventing them from banking online. It also provides step-by-step instructions for basic digital banking functions including downloading apps, using remote deposit capture, setting account alerts, and using online bill pay.

Relate to Your Customers: Speak Their Language

The companies that can avoid MBA-speak and move past standard recommendations to deliver the in-depth, insightful, personalized and helpful thought leadership that their customers need are the ones that will make the biggest impact. Most important is that organizations deliver messaging that shows that they genuinely care.

Even when AI tools are enabled, banks and financial firms should always have writers and analysts on hand to create human-centric content across all customer facing channels. Ensure that your message and tone of voice are consistent across your website, your social media profiles, your marketing materials, and most importantly, share these guidelines with your customer service employees and associates. Robots are great in the back office but the human touch is what is called for at the storefront.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Speaking to Customers

Do focus your messaging on the outcomes of working with your organization. Use vivid, inspiring language such as “you can” and “get more.”

Don’t use scare tactics or lead with onerous responsibilities.

Do break up sentences into shorter statements. It’s more conversational, impactful, and how people talk today.

Don’t lecture your audience or use industry jargon. If something is complex and needs explaining, simply explain it.

Do use inclusive pronouns such as “we, us, and our.” Remind your audience that you are their friends and neighbors.

Don’t imply that your institution is just for a certain demographic. Don’t forget everyone has different realities and aspirations.

Do show empathy by using real-life examples. When appropriate, use a positive or reassuring tone to reduce the perception of stuffiness.

Don’t use humor unless it’s appropriate, and don’t use a crisis as a selling opportunity. Customers are on edge and are turning to your organization for authentic concern.

Remember, your clients are receiving an amount of email not seen since GDPR notifications, so consider content that is personal, valuable, and empathetic. Our client, HR and payroll provider ADP, has published an Employer Preparedness Toolkit as a helpful resource for HR professionals navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. The mini-site uses approachable language and offers a wealth of information displayed in digestible formats such as FAQs, blog posts, and webinars. The site also provides a contact form where users can make suggestions for any additional questions they want to see answered. In this moment, it’s more important than ever that organizations show that they are listening, they are responsive, and they care.

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