By Andy Cockburn, CEO of referral marketing platform Mention Me
The UK doesn’t feel at it’s most stable, as if we’re floating in a slightly turbulent financial stream. Uncertainty over the potential economic fallout of Brexit, discontent with the Government after a bumpy election and a likely impending increase in interest rates have all contributed to the mood. In addition, there is concern and uncertainty from business over the implications and work needed to tackle being GDPR ready for next May.
What impact will all these factors have on the financial services industry?
The fallout from all of this is a nervous consumer. Certainly a little disillusioned with the facts as they’re presented from business and financial institutions, and confusion over how best they can protect themselves and their future. Banks battle with public trust and loyalty at the best of times, but this type of environment shines a light on the need to build customer loyalty and satisfaction. With a raft of challenger banks joining the ranks offering incentives to join up, no financial business can rest on it’s laurels. What approach can be taken to address this and maintain customer loyalty?
Incorporating referral marketing campaigns is an approach which if done right, can deliver impressive results. Loyalty schemes are nothing new, and have existed as a big part of a marketing team’s armory for a long time. After all, word of mouth has yet to be beaten when it comes to advocacy for a brand, and so incorporating this into a marketing strategy can pay dividends.
Citibank and HSBC are good examples of global brands that have successfully incorporated referral into their customer outreach campaigns in recent years, whilst Tesco’s ‘Refer me Happy’ campaign was launched as far back as 2008. Referral schemes are becoming so popular that some providers are now opening up their offers more widely. Nationwide’s ‘recommend a friend’ scheme, now allows all mortgage and savings customers the chance to earn up to £500 for referring people to its current accounts – meaning now an extra 8.3 million customers can cash in. Nationwide are particularly interesting in this space as they seem to be backing referral marketing over almost all other forms of marketing. They have opted to invest in TV ads and store-front posters to encourage their existing customers to refer their friends to them. No doubt this is in part due to the fact that it will deliver more referrals and in part because even if a non-customer sees the message it talks to the high customer satisfaction that Nationwide expect from its existing customers.
Another group jumping on referral are peer-to-peer lenders, who generally reward with cash once the newly introduced friend goes on to become a lender: for example peer-to-peer platform Funding Circle offers £50 net for customers who recommend someone who goes on to lend at least £2,000.
With so many financial service brands now running refer-a-friend programmes, just offering a refer-a-friend scheme isn’t enough to stand out from your peers.
Exacerbating the effect of this crowded landscape are new challenges that have emerged with the development of ever more sophisticated technology and platforms. Customers are demanding more than ever from their financial providers. Within a culture of instant gratification people increasingly expect a follow up with online chat, video or other live chat options rather than actually visiting a branch to follow up in person. What trends and also pitfalls should marketing teams be identifying, and what best practice can be applied to make referral a differentiator for financial services again?
UNDERSTAND HOW YOUR CUSTOMERS INTERACT ONLINE
Does your marketing team know when and how your customers interact with your business? Is this being tracked, and are your loyalty and referral programmes being tested for their optimisation across all devices – whether smartphone, laptop or tablets? Get this right and your customers will enjoy a positive experience and be far more likely to make a referral and remain a loyal customer. Get it wrong, and that customer will be enticed by one of the challenger brands snapping at your heels.
There is now increasing expectation of instantaneous, second to none customer service – especially from the younger generation. Once you’ve identified how and when your customers like to interact online, using more creative and emotional messaging should also help engage and encourage your customers to make a referral. Many refer-a-friend landing pages are treated in a semi-technical way – without the due diligence applied to other marketing campaigns, instead approached more like an afterthought. It’s critical to ensure that you keep these campaigns on brand and message, and designed to make the most impact and provoke action.
MAKE YOUR REWARD STAND OUT AND ADD VALUE
Many examples of referral campaigns within financial services reward a referral with cash. No problem here – and in fact cash might be the preferred incentive. However, the problem lies with the fact that they are all basically the same reward type and the same value. There is no differentiation value for the consumer. There aren’t many examples of a provider breaking the mould. Credit card companies are trying with the offer of loyalty points as an incentive, but as they all seem to have followed suit this no longer offers a point of difference. A financial services provider could be brave and step away from cash, testing some more innovative reward types. The reward could be diversified – including an aspirational offer, an experience, or an altruistic one. To achieve this it would be necessary to work with a platform that supports reward-level AB testing by cohort. And if cash really does prove to be the most effective at generating new business then the level of experiments could be around the rules for being paid out. In addition as a general rule, consumers find it psychologically easier to recommend brands and services which they think are new or novel or when the brand has a strong story to tell. And so trying to shape your referral campaign differently or giving it a new spin can make a huge difference.
SIMPLICITY: MAKE YOUR TECHNOLOGY WORK FOR YOU
There are a number of reasons why existing referral campaigns within financial services might not penetrate a significant percentage of your customer base. Unlike retail where the product, offer and process are all straightforward, the forms required within banking to introduce a friend can be long and cumbersome. The rules for being paid the reward can also be hard to understand. These are both barriers which can cause referrers to give up on sharing because the perceived effort is too high and the likelihood of being rewarded too low. Making the technology work for you by using a streamlined platform is key. Tips for simplicity can include using a personal sharing link, social media sharing and tracking of how many friends have successfully joined the service. Taking inspiration from some of the innovation going on in refer-a-friend within retail can be useful – as a sector that has embraced referral as a customer retention and acquisition tool to a huge degree.
4, IDENTIFY THE OPTIMUM MOMENT TO SHARE
Ask somebody why they chose a certain offer or action, and more often than not the answer is in the timing. With referral campaigns, the ideal moment to ask somebody to share your brand is when they are actually enjoying a positive interaction. A way to approach this can be to request that the customer breaks off what they’re doing momentarily to refer, rather than making the request later by email. Another way of ensuring that your referrals are timely is to analyse the customer data that you have and approach your customers with referrals at a personally relevant time, for example sending mortgage advice when a mortgage renewal is due. Not only will the customer be more likely to refer, but this personal tailored approach aids wider relationship building.
5, TRUST, and GDPR
Within a climate, and certainly a sector, tainted by trust and loyalty issues, referral offers a softer way of rewarding existing customers and securing new ones. However in conjunction with this, as an industry that also handles a large amount of sensitive customer data, a big emphasis must be placed on adhering to data protection and security when launching referral programmes. Ensuring that you have the right tools and measures in place to protect your customer data, and in addition for preparing for the impending GDPR regulation coming into force in May 2018 is vital. Customers now expect even greater personalisation of advice in return for sharing their personal data. Positively there is also an increasing understanding of how their data can and will be used in offering them a better experience, but it’s important that the privilege of securing this data is not taken lightly.
It is clear then that there are huge opportunities for engaging and rewarding loyal customers within financial services, and securing qualified new ones by using well planned and executed referral campaigns. As long as you do your research, listen to what your customer needs and what resonates most with them, the tangible benefits will be huge.