Building digital banking relationships

I heart digitsWITH THE CONTINUED move to digital banking, there looms a danger of losing the personal touch. That doesn’t bode well for an industry built on strong relationships. 

Contrary to what some may think, there’s no reason that automation cannot promote human connectedness. In an insightful article for The Financial Brand, LendKey’s chief marketing officer Lewis Goldman advises:

Based on the evidence from companies that have successfully navigated this challenge, including leading financial institutions, strong relationships between digital brands and their customers are often built on these three pillars:

1. Creating an emotional connection

2. Delivering a great user experience

3. Using data to improve products and services without encroaching on privacy

People who remember or have studied marketing in the pre-digital era may detect a familiar ring. Goldman’s advice is not so different from what marketers preached back in the day. They stressed the importance of using data not just to contact but to connect with customers. The Response Agency’s Steve Cuno wrote in his curiously titled book Of Marketing and Emasculated Goats:

Finding your target market has to do with locating customers and prospective customers … Reaching your target market has to do with connecting in a way that makes them more likely to receive your message.

For a financial institution, locating customers is a piece of cake. You have their email addresses, since it’s rather built into the account opening process.

Good: You can find them. Better: Here are tips for reaching them.

Be prompt.We all understand the importance of fast loading times. But how about when a client sends an inquiry? There’s no excuse for taking days to reply. Okay, maybe there is an excuse, like you’re understaffed, but it’s not an excuse that’s likely to make customers feel like they’re in a valued relationship.

Keep in touch. Emails and e-newsletters alike are mass blasted, but an email can feel more personal. There is no shortage of excuses to touch base. You have your clients’ birthdays on file; you can send a note of appreciation; you can send the occasional “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you”; you can send news of interest; you can offer a favor, such as a freebie or discount; and you can use data to recommend relevant services. (Contrary to what Elizabeth Warren said, properly executed cross-selling can indeed be a service.) 

I’m not suggesting doing away with e-newsletters. Only that sometimes a more personal touch works wonders. But exercise care. Keep the email brief, and don’t get so specific that you creep people out privacy-wise. Also, there’s an art to personalized copy. To get a handle on that, I recommend studying up on successful direct mail sales letters from days of yore.

Pre-populate. It gets old, filling in the same data for every inquiry or application. You have the technology to spare your client the tedium.

Keep design accessible. People give up on too-difficult-to-navigate websites. Design should ensure that eyes easily espy the links they’re looking for. Moreover, good design doesn’t impinge on but enhances readability. 

Dispense with non-requirements. Many financial institutions’ forms and applications request information that isn’t needful. The more questions and boxes a client must answer and check, the more likely that client is to bail.

Write like a human. In the aforementioned article, Goldman points out a good example of Citigroup’s lightening the mood by presenting government-mandated questions under the subhead, “Questions we have to ask.” That’s refreshingly real. I might have taken it a step further with “Questions the government makes us ask.”

Say something useful. Consider this gem from the website of, well, never mind which financial institution:

Running a business is not for the faint of heart. You have hundreds of things to worry about. You need accounts that will run themselves and a partner who will be there every step of the way. Let us recommend the following …

The first three sentences say nothing. “Let us recommend the following” isn’t much better, since it’s implicit that the recommendations follow. They’d have been better off dispensing with the whole paragraph and cutting straight to the list of services.[i] Maybe if they’d thought harder, they’d have come up with an intro that actually said something. If boiling down a convoluted paragraph leaves copy that’s utterly unimpressive or needless, consider it an opportunity to work a little harder toward saying something of substance. Or doing without the paragraph. Customers won’t miss it.

Keep humans readily on hand. Ever dealt with an online business where getting to a real human was next to impossible? Or with a phone menu that offers no option to speak with a representative? Such have become so much the rule that customers are mightily impressed when you make it easy to text or call a real person, and when that real person responds promptly. (See above, “Be prompt.)

In summary: 

Just like a brand, a relationship isn’t what you claim. It’s what you do. 

[i] The drivel about “a partner who will be there every step of the way” will impress no one, largely because it’s pure hot air. You’re not a partner and, no, you won’t be there every step of the way. If you don’t believe me, think about the last time a client on the rocks fell months behind in payments. I bet your CEO didn’t say, “That’s okay. We’re partners every step of the way, so we’ll ride this one out with you. Just pay us when you’re back on your feet.”


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