A short while into the pandemic, one of the largest financial institutions in the U.S. had a temporary website outage. This happened to fall on the same day that government stimulus checks were released. And no doubt, the additional traffic of customers attempting to login and see if they received a check crashed the site. Fairly innocuous – an inconvenience, but a minor one, right?
This particular outage wasn’t accompanied by a rapid response from the brand. There wasn’t a note on their site about increased traffic leading to delays. There wasn’t anything on their social channels. And in that absence of information, during a time of high uncertainty and overarching fear, consumers immediately went conspiratorial. Accusing the bank of garnering their checks, of allowing certain customers to access their accounts but not others, of intentionally crashing the site, etc.… In short, a run-of-the-mill technical glitch devolved into a moment of trust (and brand) erosion.
Gartner has been tracking a decline in trust on the part of consumers for years. In fact, since 2016, across every area of external interaction in a consumers’ life that we’ve tested for, from how people perceive their family and community, to how they perceive big brands and the government, trust in those areas is down. We are simply living in an environment of diminished trust. It’s become the water in which we’re all swimming.
And that erosion of trust is particularly challenging in the context of this current pandemic/recession. There are so many unknowns. So many new wrinkles and challenges and nuances being discovered about the disease and revealed about its impact on our society, culture and financial outlook. And this unprecedented and frightening newness is occurring within an overarching political atmosphere that seems to thrive on sewing mistrust, division, conspiracy and wanton misinformation.
Compounding the urgency for brands is the fact that in the absence of consistent and clear government leadership, consumers find themselves increasingly turning to companies and brands. And according to Gartner research, 69% of consumers say they’ll remember how companies are responding to this crisis, and those that put profits over people will “lose their trust forever.”
But how do we build trust with consumers?
Big, corporate manifestos and mass-market messaging can be helpful in setting a tone and drawing a line in the sand, but real trust building happens in the everyday interactions and engagements that consumers have with your brand. And increasingly for retail banking, those interactions are happening digitally, as the pandemic accelerates a preexisting decline in branch visits.
Retail banks must continue to prioritize a seamless user experience between their various channels, from digital and mobile to virtually engaging with reps and personal bankers. And although users are growing more comfortable navigating basic financial transactions, consumers still find value in the ability to interact with financial professionals when needed. In a pre-pandemic Gartner quantitative study, over a third of consumers said they preferred to engage with a professional (vs. figuring it out themselves) when learning about banking products and services, and the majority said they preferred to work with a professional when resolving an issue. So, establishing strong digital customer service is key in today’s banking climate.
But Gartner research has also found that financial services brands are behind other industries in providing digital customer service. For example, only 38% of retail banks provide a searchable customer service knowledge base or searchable FAQ on their public site. Responses on social media for FS brands lag other industries.
A website outage, searchable FAQ, quick responses on Twitter, digital chat functionality – these may seem like small, even trivial things to mention when there is so much happening in the world. But it’s taking care of small details like these that matters when building trust. We have to view our brand through our customer’s eyes and experience if we’re going to move the needle and restore trust.
This article is published with the permission of Gartner