By Tamara Littleton, CEO of The Social Element
Banks are no strangers to disruption, having weathered the ongoing competition from digital start-ups that have disrupted the finance sector and how consumers interact with it. However, we have been navigating uncharted waters since COVID-19’s arrival in our daily lives and the financial services sector is not immune to the crisis that is building in its wake.
Right now, we are seeing more and more businesses pivot their marketing strategies and adapt ways of thinking as this crisis unfolds, particularly on social media. This is because these platforms have become more important and active than ever as customers are increasingly turning to social sites for connection, information and reassurance. As call centres are hard-hit by the quarantine (particularly those with offshore operations in India), social has become one of the few remaining outlets for brands to talk to their customers directly and to maintain a human connection, often without being able to open their retail units.
Social media as a channel has grown organically and so has its importance as a customer care channel. During times of crisis, it is usual that the first port of call for customers to vent frustrations is their financial suppliers.
For traditional banks, this has taken them somewhat by surprise, with many underestimating the importance of monitoring social media to get ahead of reputational challenges. This isn’t at all shocking given the strict regulations and concerns about privacy and security that shroud their perceptions of its possibilities.
However, there are many compliant social activities financial brands could and should make use of to help get closer to their customers and become adept at spotting and managing a crisis over social media. Only then can they stay ahead of their agile competitors and problems as they unfold – and crucially reassure and connect with customers who are scared or upset.
So, what can banks do when things turn sour online?
Keep your ears to the ground
Social media is an important window to the world. It provides businesses the opportunity to watch behavioural trends and gain insight into their customers’ needs. It is also where banks will see the first signs of a crisis developing or customer sentiment changing. It is essential that banking brands encourage social media teams to constantly communicate the shifts they see and possible tensions that arise in order to give the company an early warning of any crises in the making.
Should a crisis actually emerge, this active listening becomes increasingly important. Being able to read the room and gauge what their customers and beyond are saying about them online becomes essential in tailoring all communications to consumer sentiment. Without listening to what people are concerned about, banks run the risk of promoting inappropriate messaging. Reverting to a corporate tone of voice, as is usually the financial services sector’s natural instinct, at a time when customers are angry, confused or inquisitive can be as damaging as no response.
Planning, plugging and people
Creating a crisis communications plan and ensuring that your people are properly supported to execute it are also integral parts of crisis response. We are currently in a unique situation, but ensuring that a proper escalation plan is at the ready and both employees and leadership know what their role is and what’s expected of them is a fundamental necessity. A crisis can move swiftly online, whether it be a user posting something illegal or something that threatens the bank’s online community. Without a tried and tested plan of who should say what and how, branks can run the risk of a disjointed response that can damage global customer perception. Keeping the entire company aligned with overall social strategy will help create the quick and rational response that is needed.
Employees also often find themselves at the heart of any brand crisis, so it is important to support them in their work environments to help them effectively manage it as it unfolds. Right now, many of us are working remotely as a result of COVID-19 and it is a situation that is stimulating other crises for businesses. Therefore, it is essential that banks set clear remote working guidelines and maintain open and honest communication across team members in order to place their employees in the best position to overcome the difficulties as a team.
Develop human connections
When banks actually begin engaging with customers on social during a crisis, especially one that engenders mass anxiety, creating and nurturing genuine human connections with their customers should be the priority. At a time like this, customers want reassurance that the product that they want or need will be maintained and will be safe. Many will be concerned about mortgages, loans and access to services and so will respond positively to service providers that are empathetic to their situation.
Social is about connecting. Therefore, the tone that banks strike needs to be primarily human, whilst staying true to the brand’s personality. Demonstrating understanding of the real needs of the consumer is ultimately an opportunity to create lasting connections. Those that are seen to be providing helpful information and leaning into kindness will develop relationships that last beyond the crisis at hand.
When a crisis fades out, it is then an opportunity to reflect and learn from how the crisis plan was executed. By understanding what could have been done better, banks can see how they can prevent a similar crisis from igniting again. Ultimately, the best managed crisis is one that is nipped in the bud, (although this isn’t possible when the crisis is like this one; global and pervasive) and learning how to ensure sentiment can be more rapidly understood is crucial.
Social media crises are often hard to predict and can move offline to online at rapid speed. They are also mentally, physically and emotionally challenging for everyone working in the business – especially those on the customer service frontline. But by preparing as much as possible, finance brands stand the best chance of protecting their brand’s reputation and consumer’s trust.
Running a crisis simulation to mimic the volume, pace and pressure of a crisis breaking over social media is a great way to do this. Understanding the intensity of a crisis will provide the experience needed to make the best decisions and locate the weaknesses in the response.
While a crisis situation may feel out of control at times, banks and financial service companies still have the power to control how they react to any situation that they face. This does often mean pivoting strategies but without doing so, banks are at risk of becoming engulfed in a crisis wildfire.