Engage with customers to weather the economic storm

5th Jan 2009

Financial institutions are under increasing pressure to keep customers engaged during these tough economic times. Could Web 2.0 tools offer that vital connection?

Seven lessons

By Guy Westlake, Vignette

The uncertainty of the current economic climate means that budgets are being scrutinised more than ever before. This is particularly true for IT managers who have to justify expenditure on technology by demonstrating to the board the business benefits of implementing new solutions and systems.

However, it is important that management does not solely focus on strengthening its bottom line at the expense of other areas such as technology investment. A watertight and innovative technology strategy can help to secure and expand the existing customer base, in turn bringing vast business benefits.

Core priorities like keeping business processes running smoothly, building customer bases and driving successful internal collaboration should not be neglected or forgotten as these are the things that will help to ensure a company’s long-term viability. They are needed to stay successful both during turbulent economic times and in leading the way in the recovery period that will inevitably follow.

"Customers are now banking with an organisation whose policies and branding are unfamiliar, and this makes customer relationships and building brand loyalty more critical than ever."

One of the most important areas of focus for banks now, should be on building customer relationships. While the credit crunch is taking hold, the impact on the way organisations – especially financial institutions – are perceived by their customers will be huge. We only have to look at the recent press coverage of the mergers and acquisitions in the City to see that consumers are feeling uneasy about the huge super banks that are forming in order to try and weather the economic storm.

Customers may now find that the bank they have always used has been swallowed by a bigger fish (e.g. Lloyds TSB and HBOS) and this can be disconcerting. They are now banking with an organisation whose policies and branding are unfamiliar, and this makes customer relationships and building brand loyalty more critical than ever. A good way to do this is by delivering an engaging and dynamic web experience.

Great web expectations

As the general trend towards ecommerce is increasing, customers are developing high expectations for their online experience. They want to use websites that offer practical and simple advice; they want engaging content that they can interact with and they want a sense that their online experience is personal to them.

This expectation has started to expand beyond online retail sites and is now something that banks need to start recognising and acting upon. Web 2.0 technologies such as forums and wikis help to make the customer's online experience personal and engaging, which in turn helps to secure their loyalty. These are the sorts of tools that financial institutions should be investigating.

"Simple 'ask the expert' forums can ensure that customers have access to the information they need to make informed decisions."

It is not just about nurturing a strong direct relationship between the bank and the customer though. We’ve seen with the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook that feeling part of a community also has a compelling appeal. Consumers will always talk to each other about their experience of a company and are increasingly doing this through blogs and online forums. Why not get involved in the debate by creating a home for these communities as part of your website?

Web 2.0 community features allow consumers to share their views and stay reassured through engaging with other consumers and industry professionals to ensure they are confident that they are getting the best advice and deal on the market. If banks offer these services on their websites, they can respond to questions and comments from end-users, and show their dedication to serving and listening to customers.

Capturing online feedback and comment can also help inform the development of future products and services. For the bank, Web 2.0 technologies are also a cheaper alternative to traditional channels of engagement such as call centres. In the current climate, it is imperative to be looking at technologies that can bring business benefits at reduced cost.

However, the majority of traditional financial organisations have yet to embrace community tools like these as part of their online presence. Meanwhile, companies like are leveraging community features such as forums to offer a more dynamic experience for online financial customers.

If banks fail to offer these community tools, they run the risk that consumers will go to third party sites and not engage directly. Banks need to innovate too, in order to retain brand loyalty and customer base.

Biting back in the credit crunch

It's important that financial organisations identify and make the most of any opportunities to differentiate themselves from these web-native alternatives.

The credit crunch can provide just such an opportunity. The recent upheaval in the finance sector has made it an even more complex place. Customers want and deserve clarity regarding the services their bank offers and how their personal finances are affected.

Wikis and discussion boards are a great way for consumers to be given simple, transparent explanations which will guide them through the complexity of mortgages, loans and savings accounts. Also, simple 'ask the expert' forums can ensure that customers have access to the information they need to make informed decisions.

Looking beyond the current situation, it is also imperative that financial institutions lay the groundwork now for ensuring a strong and loyal customer base for the future. Banking customers do tend to be loyal for years, but it is important to ensure that your brand is compelling enough to make customers choose it over the competition, especially when tough times are making consumers assess all their options.

Therefore, financial organisations need to leverage Web 2.0 tools to ensure their website is 'sticky' with dynamic content like video and interactive features in order to maintain and grow their customer base.

These tools will aid in engaging with customers, securing their confidence and increasing their loyalty - in turn, laying the strong foundation to weather the economic storm.

Guy Westlake is senior product marketing manager EMEA at Vignette.


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