As the UK continues to ease lockdown restrictions, many industries are wondering what to expect in the post-COVID landscape. In China, early signs reference a u-shaped recovery, which predicts a lingering effect in the coming months before trade returns to normal. During this period, some individuals may remain in, or enter, temporary financial difficulty. This is why it is essential that communication between consumers and the financial services sector are effective. Demi Edmunds, Specialist at TextAnywhere, explores this idea further.
Both the government and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have implemented a number of different schemes and measures to support those experiencing financial difficulty due to the pandemic. To highlight just a few – mortgage payment holidays, interest free overdrafts of up to £500 and a freeze on credit card and loan payments have all been introduced in a bid to help consumers financially struggling as a result of the pandemic. These measures have and will continue to be vital in supporting consumers and the economy through this uncertain time. But to be effective, individuals need to be fully informed of the options available to them and this is why a robust communication strategy is crucial. We’ve collated some considerations for post-COVID communications for the financial services sector.
Inform consumers of available schemes
First and foremost, firms need to make consumers aware of what support is available. Although this may seem obvious, as extensions are confirmed and the potential for individuals to be financially impacted continues, this should remain a priority for communication plans moving forward. Firms need to ensure that consumers are communicated to in a clear and transparent manner, with full details of all relevant schemes. This includes any benefits to continuing to make payments as normal such as, not taking a mortgage payment holiday. As FCA interim chief executive, Christopher Woolard said: “where consumers can afford to make payments, it is in their best long-term interest to do so, but for those who need help, it will be there.”
First and foremost, firms need to make consumers aware of what support is available.
Firms that remain proactive in communicating updates to consumers are ensuring that their customers are kept fully informed and may be able to reduce the number of incoming queries. This may be particularly valuable for those who are operating with reduced employee numbers.
Assure customers of all safety measures
The coronavirus has caused a lot of uncertainty and during lockdown, many organisations and firms closed physical locations. Selected banks and firms did remain open but with reduced hours and staff to maintain safety protocols. Consequently, even now it is vital to effectively communicate the measures taken to maintain a safe environment for customers and staff. For example, highlighting any additional hygiene procedures.
Moreover, to adhere to new safety guidelines many businesses will require customers to follow new protocols and these must be clearly communicated. Individuals need to be aware of what to expect when visiting their local branch, particularly if they have certain tasks they need to complete in-person. Customers need to feel as comfortable as possible during their visit and communicating details of the above, will go a long way to achieving that.
Consider how you are going to manage payment holidays coming to an end
Though extensions have been confirmed on many schemes, meaning support will be on hand until 31st October 2020, eventually these measures will need to come to an end. Organisations and firms need to start planning now, how are they going to handle these support measures coming to an end, being mindful of the fact that consumers may be more vulnerable than normal. Ensuring that next steps are communicated to individuals with plenty of notice and where possible, with breakdowns on payment figures and schedules, will go some way to helping individuals to financially prepare.
Reflect on which communication channels you are utilising
When communicating with consumers, we would always recommend a multichannel approach. Different audiences within your customer base will likely have different preferences, it’s important to ensure individuals receive and read any important updates. As it was recently reported that 44% more emails are currently being sent than before the lockdown began, it’s worthwhile reviewing which communication channels you are using to ensure your strategy is as effective as possible.
In recent years, SMS has grown to become a very effective communication channel for customers to interact with businesses, with 74% of consumers reporting an improved impression of brands that communicate with them via text messages. What’s more, SMS benefits from an open rate of 95%, and 90% of messages are read within 3 minutes. This means the reach and speed far surpasses that of other communication channels, which can be particularly useful for time sensitive messages – for example, appointment reminders and account balance notifications.
Sign post suitable debt advice
Even before the pandemic, 9 out of 10 consumers surveyed reported that they suffer from stress and anxiety as a direct result of their debt issues. In a continually uncertain post-COVID landscape, individuals are likely to be feeling more vulnerable than usual. Though the regulator has still not confirmed whether additional resources, for example debt counselling, will be available to consumers over the coming months, the FCA have said – “Firms should consider signposting customers towards sources of debt advice… debt advice may be helpful for customers coming to the end of payment holidays”. Thus it is important that this has been prioritised in your communication strategy.
Treating customers fairly will always remain a top priority for those in the financial services sector, and a large part of that is ensuring that you and your team sufficiently understand your customers’ circumstances. Arguably, this is now more important than ever before and with effective communication your company can keep the dialogue open.