“There's very different feelings when people feel served versus feeling sold to.” 

Lynne Jarman-Johnson, the Chief Marketing Officer at Consumers Credit Union has some valuable insights to share regarding how financial institutions are interacting with their customers during this period of uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and how they should be interacting with them. 

The key? It’s all about connections. 

Even after more than a year of COVID-19 induced social distancing and innumerable amounts of video conference calls, the key to making a difference in the lives of our customers is all about connection. 

Addressing Community Needs Amidst Uncertainty and Social Distancing

Humans need interaction; they need connection with others. And when a crisis hits like the COVID-19 pandemic, what society collectively learned is that there’s no echelon of certain humans being more important than others — everyone needs the same things: health and safety and being able to wake up in the morning and serve others.

The technological tools that our society is learning to use right now can reach so many people, and more importantly, these tools can be used to truly inspire and touch people in different ways. 

Lynne and her team at Consumers Credit Union were able to get a jump start on this idea. They have been creating content like podcasts as a way to communicate with their audience. 

Consumers Credit Union likes to say, “Bank how you want when you want."

And right now, that has drastically changed.

At any other time, Consumers Credit Union might have been producing a podcast to talk about first-time homebuyers in the biggest crunch of home buying at this time. But right now, their focus has shifted to a completely different place. 

Help first, sell second

Lynne and her team are instead focusing their efforts right now on helping people feel calm and helping give their community peace of mind. Their communication now revolves around small business owners — the mom and pop shops — serving as a resource for education and outreach in a time where people are shutting down.

“We're not seeing the people that we normally see. Are we making sure that when we're making those connections?”

The questions they are asking themselves:

  • How can clients have the confidence and trust to get their banking done and feel comfortable? 
  • How can Consumers Credit Union help and serve their neighbors and business partners? 

Lynne’s goal is to bring these resources to everybody, not only through the podcasts but also through links after the podcast goes up on the web to foster cross-communication. 

But what she says is most important here?

Creating an open line of communication.

As Lynne puts it, “It can't be just, ‘Hey, let's push everything out.’ It also has to be, ‘We're listening, how can we help you?’”

Essentially, their communication strategy with their team, customers, and community can be described in three parts: 

  • To provide clarity in this time of chaos
  • To provide calm amidst the confusion
  • To provide hope in a time of crisis

Putting Purpose First 

This was an easy thing for Consumers Credit Union to do. Why? Because they had already put purpose at the heart of all of their thinking and doing. James Robert asked Lynne why purpose is maybe more important now than ever before.

Lynne’s answer revolved around meeting the needs of three separate audiences:

  1. Her teammates who know and care for each other and come together in a time of crisis
  2. The credit union’s current members who start to feel the fear of the current situation
  3. The larger community that may need more support from a bank or credit union than they may be receiving

She boiled down their approach to one thing: servant leadership.

She continued, “Together, our team has always been centered around a culture that is hired on servant leadership, … and every person that works with Consumers, they have that culture mentality too.”

This isn’t as simple as flipping a switch.

It’s something that institutions always have to work on.

But once that happens, it really turns the knob up to fuel the fire of serving others in their time of need. 

What really has to happen is understanding human behavior in a digital environment.

What are the two biggest emotions that everyone is collectively feeling?

  • Fear of the unknown and fear of change
  • A period of loss and mourning what has been lost

So, what consumers are looking for?

Organizations that can tap into the human condition to offer help and empathy digitally without the face-to-face human interaction environment consumers need at this moment.

It's easy to lean too far into digital. But there's two sides of the equation. It's the digital experience plus the human experience. It's not one or the other. It's both working in conjunction to create value because in a time of crisis. It's the human element that financial brands need to be mindful of.

Siri and Alexa are not going to be the ones that are helping you at this moment. It's going to be real-life flesh and blood, and we're using digital technology to bring two human beings together for good.

This service-oriented approach can even be as simple as a real, human moment on a FaceTime or Zoom call just to offer someone an ear, somewhere they can get something off their chest: A “financial therapy session,” as it were. 

Simplicity in a Time of Complexity

The main point of connecting with others during this time is to simplify the complex. After all, even as COVID-19 makes everything a bit (or a lot) more challenging, banking is not stopping. People are still looking for answers and guidance. 

This is the time for financial institutions to shine and step up — to answer those questions with compassion and empathy so that people know that they have a voice somewhere, instead of pushing sales.

As Lynne stated, it’s about asking questions like, “How can we help you?” and  “How can we serve you?”

She continues, "there's very different feelings when people feel served versus feeling sold to.”

Emotional intelligence in today's digital world is really a strategic and competitive advantage for financial brands.

The good news is that this is something that can be taught. But now's the time.

Financial institutions can look at customer requests for help as an opportunity to serve. When thinking about buying a home, there are thousands of papers to sign. How can this be simpler? What tools can make this complex process an easier one? Even amidst a digital closing, the closing process for a financial institution should be all about serving. 

“I don't think this world that we knew is going to come back the way we had it before. I just don't," Lynne shared,  "And I think we need to be ready to be okay with doing more digitally but with heart.

And it’s true. The world that we knew will never be the same. The opportunity lies in creating a company culture of looking ahead into the future with a cool head. 

People are going to follow those that communicate confidently and calmly.

People are looking for courage.

This comes from making the complex simple, from moving forward and fully embracing an increasingly digital world while searching for chances to connect.

Create a Digital Community 

Now is the time for financial brands to think about how they can build a sense of digital community for their consumers and businesses; to bring people together around a common purpose.

When James Robert asked Lynne what she believed to be the most important thing financial institutions can do to continue to make progress in their digital growth journey — to build that digital community — Lynne pointed again to service — to be ready to pivot and to always focus on helping others.  

She shared, “Change is not easy for many. We are blessed to have a very forward-thinking organization.” It’s vital to find ways to be the organization that is there to help your community. Is there a need for a new service because of the change that has happened? It’s about thinking intentionally and thoughtfully about what people might need then customizing those products and services for those individuals who can benefit most. 

Growth is going to be on everyone's mind, so financial institutions can be on the lookout for opportunities to meet these needs. 

Build a Relationship-Based Business

The key to survival?

It’s knowing that even when everything we know has stopped, our knowledge doesn’t. Long-term, the businesses that will succeed in this period are the ones that are relationship-based — the ones that truly know their members and customers. 

Why is this?

These businesses can relate to their customers and feel their pain, but more importantly, they find ways to connect and help ease this pain.

Lynne shared that the other component of success will be how organizations treat their colleagues — how they ensure they all understand the journey the institution is taking.

She continued, “If there is fear about what's going on with COVID-19, there is deep fear about what's changing rapidly in digital growth. Whether there would have been COVID-19 or not, the fear of ‘I'm going to lose my job’ is real.”

Why is this? Progression. Artificial intelligence. Machine learning. Those fears don't go away. 

But, as Lynne shared, “Now that all of a sudden the service industry has been halted and there is a drastic change in how we're serving, I think it's now more than ever the leaders of all of our organizations that really help ease those fears and help our employees also understand with digital growth comes growth in you personally.

“There's so much that you'll be able to learn as long as you're open to doing that, but bring everyone along with you on the journey. And I think we've got time right now to actually be able to do that.”

Digital growth is a journey. It is a journey that can take banks and credit unions from good to great.

But it’s one that must be centered around serving the people, both internally and externally.