By Tijs van Santen, Chief Customer Officer, Uberall
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a seismic shift in customer expectations and behaviour, from an increase in multi-channel digitalisation to an ‘always on’ attitude. As a result, financial services organisations are facing new challenges such as where and how to find customers, how to attract their attention, and how to offer them the omnichannel, 24/7 access to services and products they are seeking.
Having a strong online presence across multiple channels, from Twitter to Google My Business is a must, and before the pandemic it was the number one consideration for organisations looking to attract new and existing customers. But today, a new reality has emerged: a hybrid of seamless online and offline interactions.
Indeed, whilst there has been a huge boom in e-commerce throughout the pandemic in-line with ‘stay at home’ regulations and consumers looking for the convenience of shopping online, interacting with brands at a local level – online and offline – has also seen a large increase in popularity. Recent Uberall research, for example, found a huge surge in customer interactions online with local offline stores and businesses. In the UK, these online interactions – clicking on phone numbers and websites – increased 42% over the year from 2019 to 2020, and a whopping 465% from April (just after the first lockdown) to July 2020 (just after the UK’s first lockdown re-opening).
Here’s a deeper look at how customer behaviours and relationships have changed during Covid, and how financial services organisations can strategize to align with these new expectations.
Channels are expanding
Customers today want to keep in touch with financial services brands across multiple channels, from smartphone apps to social media. Expanding consumer touchpoints and adding a strong digital presence is key in a world where customers are spending more time online than ever before. Indeed, while physical business locations still play a vital role in attracting customers, as we become more digitalised, communicating with your target audience in the environment of their choosing is an important way of retaining their engagement and brand loyalty.
On top of this, hyper-local multi-channel engagement with customers is also important to keep in mind. Successful financial brands are those that communicate online at a local level as well as a global, brand level. For example, engaging with a local audience through a review of a neighbourhood branch on Trustpilot, responding to organic social posts on Twitter, or even tailoring paid ads to meet local customer behaviours are all ways for financial brands to develop their relationships with new and existing customers.
From emails to social media marketing and review management, financial services organisations should consider all opportunities and channels to engage with their audience. This not only helps customers connect with a brand on the platform of their choosing, but being available and visible across multiple channels allows prospective customers to get to know your brand, its personality, and its responsiveness.
Customers want convenience
Similarly, customers want to be able to access services or products on any channel, at any time. Customer behaviours have shifted so dramatically over the course of the pandemic, and convenience has been the key driver. With all the disruption of the past 18 months, customers looking to check their bank account balance or renew their insurance want to be able to do so with as much ease and convenience as possible.
But these new options are not solely an interim response to the pandemic. Even before the coronavirus became part of our everyday lives, traditional banking or financial services were no longer the only option or service being used – challenger, online banks like Monzo and Starling, and services like Apple Pay and PayPal have only grown in popularity over the pandemic. And research by NetApp found that 77% of consumers prefer to take care of most of their banking needs without needing to visit a local branch, with 82% of respondents preferring websites, 65% preferring apps and 36% phone calls. While 76% still said they would like human advisors and 52% would still like the option to go into a physical location, there’s no doubt that the convenience of an online-first option is a key consideration for many.
Accurate online information is key
Your online presence is the first thing customers will see when they are searching for you locally, so it is vital that their experience from the get-go is as streamlined and as productive as possible. Financial services organisations need to ensure that they are frequently reviewing and updating their online information, from opening hours and contact information to imagery and new service offerings. With over 50% of searches now ‘near me’, according to Google, it is important to get your online presence right.
In addition to this, it is imperative to offer relevant and intuitive engagement options. At the most basic level this means responding to customer reviews, while forward thinking brands offer more interactive communication mediums on both owned and third party properties.
This also needs to be replicated for every location a financial brand has, and across every online channel where they have a presence and where they interact with customers – including search engines, social media channels, directories, map services, and of course their app and website. Not only does this provide consumers with access to the information and answers they need at the exact moment they’re searching for it, helping improve NPS and customer loyalty, it also helps your business stand out and be more visible in the crowded online ecosystem.
A new dawn and a new day for customer experience
Businesses can’t afford to think of online and offline as separate strategies. Today’s customer journey has increasingly become a hybrid one – born of the multitude of options consumers have at hand when it comes to engaging with a business. Naturally, consumers prefer the path of least resistance when they’re ready to shop and to buy. Brands need to act accordingly and make their products and services more convenient to obtain, ubiquitously visible and customer-focused. Now, more than ever, it’s your customers’ holistic experience with your brand that determines whether you win their business now and keep it in the future.