Lierin Ehmke
Lierin is a Senior Digital Marketing Analyst at Mintel. Lierin is responsible for producing syndicated and custom reports and providing omni-channel insights that enable clients to thrive within the digital space across a range of industry sectors.

While the natural disasters in 2018 created a perfect storm of financial struggles for many Americans, 2019 has already ushered in a new crisis for 800K nationwide: the government shutdown. Now the longest in history, many government workers may have to exhaust emergency funds to make ends meet.

In response to this national crisis, brands should exercise emotional intelligence while communicating with those in need of financial assistance.

Financial Service Issuers (FSIs) are no stranger to customer risk management: Mintel reported many insurance agencies used omni-channel strategies to support victims of the 2018 hurricanes and California forest fires. Although there are FSIs offering help to victims of the government shutdown (mainly through fee waivers or 0% interest loans), many have yet to promote these offerings outside of their own webpage.

FSIs not addressing the shutdown are making a huge mistake; however, those not utilizing an omni-channel strategy to communicate their support are making just as big of a mistake.

So how can FSIs show empathy for customers? Brands should consider a three-phase omni-channel strategy during crises: Alert, congregate and support.

Phase one: Alert

Many FSIs alerted customers of support via their webpage. However, instead of choosing one channel to communicate, brands need to meet their customers where they are. For example, brands can take in-app alerts a step further and target customers outside of proprietary locations: their inbox. Email is a great way to make support top-of-mind for customers that may not think to visit the bank’s website. A timely email alert, such as the response of Freedom Mortgage establishes a responsive, trustworthy and informative reputation.

Phase two: Congregate

Hard times can help build strong foundations for communities, therefore it is in a brand’s best interest to facilitate a safe space for customers.

Creating relevant and consistent social content is important, but content without a solid community management strategy is a missed opportunity to create valuable one-on-one interactions. Brands like Ally, First Command Financial Services and Navy Federal Credit Union used their Facebook page to inform customers of options and curate a supportive dialogue. NFCU posted about its 0% APR loan offerings to eligible members, and took it one step further by engaging with followers and responding to most comments. These are the types of efforts that humanize a brand.

Phase three: Support

A customer service team is the most influential facet of a company during a crisis. Since it’s likely the last interaction customers will have with a company, the reputation of a brand ultimately lies with customer service.

FSIs need to invest in customer support, not only for effective communication strategies, but to provide generosity through waived fees and refunds during crises. According to Mintel’s “Role of Trust in Financial Services”, consumers said personal interaction with financial services employees is the best way to earn their trust. Positive engagement with CS during stressful times is more likely to produce loyal customers.

Ally Bank is an example of how to provide a beneficial customer service experience during a crisis. During the government shutdown, Ally promoted their services on Facebook, encouraging those impacted to contact them and discuss options. The post included bold text saying “Whatever it takes for whatever you need,” which shows that they are willing to go the extra mile for their customers.

What we think

Crises are important times for brands to connect with customers. In this case, FSIs need to properly invest in omni-channel strategies in in order to positively impact those affected by the shutdown. Alerting customers using multiple platforms, curating communities through social media and investing in generous customer service practices are effective ways brands can form strong relationships with customers and earn lifelong loyalty.