When financial services can’t bank on the status quo: How to ensure strong customer communication during a crisis

Andrew Stevens | Wednesday, Nov 2nd 2022
man using mobile online banking and payment, digital marketing, finance and banking networking

The way we bank has transformed over the past decade. The number of branches has fallen, while the growth of online banking shows no sign of slowing down. Although this has certainly been an adjustment for consumers, remote banking is proving to be somewhat of a blessing in disguise, as the global coronavirus pandemic has left many of us unable to visit physical branches. Providing customers with completely uninterrupted access to services is just not achievable at a time like this, and systems are still as vulnerable as ever to performance issues or breaches, leaving customer confidence shaken. At a time when consumers are already faced with such uncertainty, being unable to pay bills, access their wages or even view their balance can be stressful, especially if they are not adequately informed on the severity and likely duration of the problem.

Branches may now be reopening after an unusual few months, but the customers’ needs have been anything but unusual – they have still demanded the same level of quality throughout this period. Disgruntled customers will still be able to vote with their virtual feet and change banks if their trust is eroded. Other disruptions to normal service, both large and small, are bound to happen after the COVID-19 crisis has fully passed, and banks need to communicate effectively with customers about any changes, steps being taken to mitigate impact on consumers and a potential remediation timeline if they’re to preserve their business. 

Communication is key

Though it can be frustrating for consumers to be left unable to access banking services regardless of the cause, being kept in the dark could unsettle them further. A bank’s reputation could plummet as a result, potentially leading to a mass exodus to other providers. Communicating in the right way can be a difficult balance to strike, but it is worth the difficulty to ensure customers are well-informed and feel supported during this difficult time. 

Take for example the recent daily COVID-19 conferences given by governments around the world, many of which are still ongoing. Officials have been updating their advice each day as the situation develops, trying to give clear and concise information. While there may still be some that criticize their efforts for not answering specific questions individuals sometimes need answers to, these conferences are a good example of how banks can approach their communications when something is not working as planned. Customers will benefit from clear, timely and accurate advice that is frequently updated by banks as the situation develops. However, at a time when the natural focus is to put all efforts into understanding and then resolving the root cause of any situation, banks will understandably find it difficult to know where to begin when informing their customer base.

A checklist to continue conversations during a catastrophe

The first and most important step to ensuring continued and strong customer communication in any crisis is accepting that customers are inevitably going to encounter problems with banking services along the way, regardless of whether the root cause was anything within the control of the organization. As such, banks need to quickly create a robust crisis strategy to keep customers in the loop. This could include anything from push notifications to alert people about any changes to their account, to ensuring that the bank is seen to be active and engaging with customers on social media. With the latter, banks could focus on training programmes that assist customer service representatives with responding to individual queries that address more personalized concerns, the information they need to relay and how frequently company accounts need to post on social media – be that with daily or, where necessary, hourly updates. 

Faced with a crisis that lasts longer than a few hours – perhaps a major unscheduled outage, or a (hopefully purely theoretical) resurgence in the COVID-19 virus, here is a short checklist of questions for banks to consider – and know the answer to – before they can ensure customers are adequately informed and updated on the issue at hand:

  1. What does the customer need to know?
  2. How will this affect the customer and are there any additional questions they will have as a result of this communication?
  3. If appropriate, how can we ensure redress as early as possible? It’s crucial banks don’t just wait for the customer to ask.
  4. What does the customer need to do now, and later, to mitigate any impact on their accounts?
  5. On which channel does the customer want to be communicated with? Does a message need to be sent immediately and if so, what is the best way to do so?
  6. How can I keep the customer updated frequently during this crisis?

Banks should build and maintain their crisis communications strategy with these questions in mind. This will ensure customers are kept up-to-date, fully informed and confident that during a difficult time, their bank account doesn’t have to be added to their list of pressing concerns.

Keeping customers informed

Banks have faced an unprecedented global crisis thanks to the Coronavirus, but that shouldn’t mean customer relations take a hit as a result, nor that organizations should assume that this particular crisis is so unique that communications lessons cannot be learned for the future.Banks can maintain their reputation, and be a source of confidence during any period of uncertainty, by adequately informing customers about the scale, severity and specifics of potential interruptions.