By | Richard Ellison, CFA, CAIA
Managing customer perception is important for any business in our digitally driven world. For financial services businesses such as banks and investment companies, however, it is especially critical. To retain clientele in a sphere where consumer loyalty to banks is increasingly elusive and digitization in the financial services sector has been forced to accelerate exponentially due to COVID-19, many companies have worked hard in the past year to meet their customers’ dual demands of convenience and trust.
Before the pandemic, millennials were seldom inclined to write a physical check or walk into a brick-and-mortar bank. The shutdowns and restrictions have since driven home the simplicity of online banking and investing for most consumers. The clear multi-year trend to digital channels for financial services has accelerated at breakneck speed over the past year. We can expect consumers of the future will look to digital sources first as they decide who to trust with their money. Financial services companies that doubled down on improvements to their digital technologies, including mobile apps, have shown that they can take care of the “convenience” end of the customer experience equation. But what about the trust?
In the coming years, banks and investment companies will have to adjust their customer perception strategies to account for the fact that using financial services will involve less and less human interaction, and that their employees will have fewer handshake opportunities to establish trust with their customers. It is important that these institutions use robust reputation management strategies to create that confidence. Money is key to a secure future, and consumers need to have faith in the people and systems handling their money to about the same degree as they would need to have faith in their doctor for proper medical advice.. Today, much of that trust is built through a screen and other digital means.
There is a clear methodology that I recommend to financial services firms to maintain customer trust—while positively differentiating themselves from the competition.
Assess: If You Don’t Know About It, You Can’t Fix It
Pretend you are a customer making first contact with your company, or simply doing preliminary research online. What would you find? Make it someone’s responsibility to research what an online search for your company shows. It can be surprising how many financial services companies aren’t doing basic Google or Bing searches on their companies and executives to see what they find. Customers who have an exceptionally good or bad experience with your company won’t hesitate to run to social media sites to rave or rant about it, and fortunately those who do have a negative experience are more likely to leave online comments about your business. you need to know what they’ve had to say and if you don’t know about it you can’t address it.
Do a thorough qualitative assessment of the kind of narrative that already exists about your company online. Reviews are especially powerful indicators of consumer sentiment regarding your company. In addition, when you look at the first couple of pages of search results, what impression do you get? The first page of results can attract up to 92% of all user clicks. If what you find is good, fantastic. If it is bad or somewhere in between, there are ways to remedy it.
LinkedIn is also an important platform for finserv companies and executives to establish a positive reputation. And don’t forget to survey Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well. By doing so, you may quickly realize that news, posts, and content about individual team members can impact the whole company’s reputation, for better or worse. It might be worth having a team discussion about how individuals can cultivate a positive online presence.
Build: Create Exactly the Digital Reputation You Want
The most important rule of thumb that I tell financial services executives is that curating digital presence is something to be done proactively, not reactively. Decide what you want your brand to be known for and consciously steer the narrative in that direction. Emphasizing particular niches of expertise while assuring consumers that your brand is trustworthy should be at the forefront of your message.
If you’ve made digital transformations to keep up with the latest technological advancements and consumer appetites, let your audience hear that loud and clear. Many finserv companies have gone out of their way to accommodate customers safely throughout the COVID-19 era while investing heavily in customer convenience. If you have recently invested in iron-clad data and transaction security, write about it. If you don’t tell your customers, they won’t know.
One of the best ways to shape your online image is to publish great digital content. Thought-leadership articles and carefully managed social media posts give you a low-cost way to position your brand just the way you want.
Every employee should know how to write about your company online in a way that portrays your brand in the right light. However, it is best practice to have a dedicated team member post to social media, seek out recommendations and reviews, and respond to customer feedback. Having a team member or outside consultant to help create outstanding content and represent the company consistently on social media gives you a huge competitive advantage.
Monitor: Protect Your Bond with Consumers Vigilantly
The positive digital presence you have so diligently created now requires ongoing care. This is work that never ceases. By staying vigilant about what is being said online about you, you can prevent negative news, reviews, or comments from eroding the trust you have built with your clients.
There are tools a dedicated team member can use to automate some of the monitoring process so that vital information doesn’t slip through the cracks. At a minimum, you should be setting Google Alerts for your firm so you can stay on top of new reviews, news, or posts as they are posted. More sophisticated monitoring tools include Brand 24, which can summarize and collect sentiment analyses on social media, news, blogs, videos, forums, podcasts, reviews, and more; and Mention, which searches for mentions across news, review sites, forums, and blogs as well as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Repair: Any Assault on Your Reputation Requires Damage Control
Bad news, posts, or reviews demand level-headed action. Be calm but act quickly. There are effective ways to address negative information to work toward a positive outcome, and if necessary, there are sometimes legal means you can use to have content removed. With the right approach, most negative situations can be brought under control. Moreover, cultivating more reviews from satisfied customers, publishing positive content, and improving your SEO practices can minimize the effect of negative information on your search results and review scores. Respond to the negative but also keep sending the positive out into the digital sphere.
Can’t Spare the Time and Manpower? Enlist an Expert.
Continually building and monitoring your financial services company’s digital presence may seem like a daunting prospect. If you don’t have the in-house resources and expertise to manage your brand’s online reputation, consider outsourcing it. There are qualified experts who specialize in this area. They can take stock of what your digital presence is today, help you refine your messaging, curate your image with brand-focused content, and alleviate the need for your team to continually monitor the company’s online reputation.
Forming an ongoing partnership with experts who can help you shape your company’s digital reputation is probably more cost-effective than you think. A makeover of your online presence may be just what your company needs to meet the ever-rising demands of consumers.
Richard Ellison, CFA, CAIA is a Consultant with WE Digital Strategy (SEZC). Based in Cayman Enterprise City, the Cayman Islands’ special economic zone, he helps companies maximize their digital presence. An active member and volunteer with CFA Institute, Richard is a trusted resource for how financial services and investment management clients build, monitor and protect their online reputation.