Banks: 5 ways to strengthen small business customer loyalty

Lockdown has seen a huge spike in innovative approaches to giving a helping hand.

From popular restaurants publishing the recipes to their most-loved dishes, to fitness gurus live-streaming sessions every day, there’s something intoxicating about what Economist Dan Ariely coined ‘the zero price effect’, where free goods trigger a more positive response, especially during a time of need.

Coronavirus has affected every industry, and lessons can be learnt from innovators in disparate sectors, not just from other banks, as disruption continues. Recent news reports have unveiled a shortfall in government-backed loans for small businesses, with customers frustrated by their banks’ lack of service and speed of delivery during Covid-19. With 70% of business furloughing staff, it’s crunch time for many, and the banks who help their customers during this time will be remembered beyond the storm. 

In recent blog posts, I’ve shared advice on how to support SMBs, but to really win them over you also need to cheer them up wherever possible. In this post, I’ve put together five ideas for how banks can go the extra mile, with creative solutions that will surprise and delight, and count later down the line.

1.   Give parents a break with money management lessons

Many SMB owners will be juggling remote working with looking after their children at the moment, and if you can ease that burden even for a short period, they’ll be grateful. Fitness coach Joe Wicks managed to gain 1.4 million YouTube subscribers in three weeks of lockdown thanks to his morning exercise classes for children. What’s more, any extra income he’s generated is going straight to the NHS.

While you may not have an existing subscriber base of 800,000, livestream lessons for kids could be invaluable for parents looking to entertain their little ones. Money management classes offering advice on financial matters you don’t usually learn at school but wish you did, could help contribute to home schooling efforts and ease pressure from parents. Whether it’s children opening their first bank account, or school leavers preparing for university, it  has the added benefit of increasing financial literacy at a critical time – and for the future.

2. Turn missed pub trips into a reason for optimism

While many are (rightly) lamenting the fact pubs may not re-open until Christmas, there may be a silver lining. For those whose businesses may be struggling, or even those who are no financially worse-off, the extra cash pocketed from not eating or drinking out could be a real incentive to get through the lockdown.

Any tool to help people manage their money is useful, but one that focuses on positive rewards and helps curb unnecessary spending is especially supportive. A bank like Monzo knows the value in something extra, with their online ‘pots’ to encourage saving, and giving their customers their salaries a day early. In a similar vein, a tool where banks calculate how much customers have saved from drinking from the comfort of their own home could incentivise those struggling. You could include the added bonus of totting up when they’ve saved enough during lockdown to earn a weekend city break, for example. This could be a sensible time for banks to encourage healthy spending habits, show what’s possible with a refreshed routine, and simply give their customers a boost.

3. Solve your customers’ lockdown advertising problems

Covid-19 will undoubtedly be bringing about new challenges for small businesses, and one of them may well be in how it continues to advertise. With remote working making it harder for businesses to track their audience online, and the usual advertising spots such as tube ads suddenly made redundant, there may be a way to help.

Snack brand Emily stumbled across this issue when they had to re-think their pre-booked outdoor campaign, showing the current value in focusing online. Offering free ad space on your bank’s website for small businesses could be a small perk to help boost their sales or brand awareness, as many visit bank websites looking for advice. While a small extra for customers, it could have the added bonus of turning your site into an essential destination for SMBs.

4. Give your customers a way to recharge

Stepping beyond what your bank traditionally offers customers could be the difference during this time in whether they stick with you or switch. Did you think you needed a lesson in how to run a bath from January Jones, or how to mix a cocktail from Stanley Tucci? Neither did I, but it’s certainly helped.

Acknowledging that your customers may be finding the current situation difficult and offering to help could be the act of kindness they’re looking for. One way to do this is to give your current SMB customers free mental health help, with apps such as Headspace and Calm, or offer a free Zoom Yoga or fitness class to aid relaxation.

5. Help your customers help each other

Covid-19 has created some surprising connections online, not least a group of museum curators sharing strange artefacts from their collections. There’s certainly something to be learned from why these forums are so popular, and it might just be that one of the most valuable things you have to offer your small business customers right now is each other. When times are tough, peer-to-peer learning and advice can be invaluable. It’s not just about networking or problem-solving but also creating a space where business owners can chat through issues with like-minded people, and lessen their burdens by sharing them.

You could help existing customers by inviting them to join a network for small businesses to share ideas and chat. Members-only Zoom events, discussions and Q&A sessions could be the extra bit of support they need from speaking to businesses who are going through the same thing. Creating a strong group also has the added bonus of increasing loyalty to a brand that helped them create it.

There’s more incentive than ever to be a better bank. Even before the current pandemic, our research* showed 72% of SMBs would switch banks for one that was more empathetic, proactive or offered better service. The best way to foster this feeling in customers is to make them feel they’re getting a little something extra – for free. Just like the extra scoop of fries at Five Guys you didn’t know you wanted, a little something really does go a long way.

*See what makes small business owners want to stay with their bank, and what help they truly need – sign up now to be the first to receive the small business insights report from Earnest, based on a YouGov survey of 1,000 SMBs:

[hubspot type=form portal=297776 id=0bbac2f4-bdf9-4aaa-be1f-be2bbde6c352]

And if you’d like more good guidance and advice for small business owners during the coronavirus crisis, Earnest has created an online resource that is being updated daily:

(Header photo: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash)