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COVID-19 Communications: What to Message to Your Members

Messages for credit union members

This piece was originally published in the Credit Union Times.

Unemployment is spreading faster than the coronavirus itself. During these fast-changing and uncertain times, people are struggling to pay their bills and worrying about the long-term effects of an economic recession. A recent poll by USA Today found that Americans are currently more worried about financial health than their physical health.

Your credit union, like most businesses, is likely in a mad scramble right now as you figure out how to best respond to this growing crisis. You may be grappling with branch closures, temporary layoffs, and a flood of incoming communications from anxious members. No one would blame you if you’re feeling a little lost. There is no global pandemic playbook; we’re all facing this strangeness and uncertainty together.

You know you need to communicate to your members, but what should you say? Chances are, you’ve likely sent out at least one email about your response to the crisis and maybe put some information on your website — is that enough? In a word, no. When it comes to what to message, here are some guidelines to follow:

Put your cooperative principles to work
Now, more than ever, it’s time to put your cooperative principles to work. “People helping people” has never been more relevant, or more critical. Your credit union should be a beacon of strength and information for your members and the broader community. Now is the time to play up that you are here to help, not to make money. Lead with your cooperative purpose and not-for-profit status.

Focus all your messaging on this big issue
Marketing has to adjust to the times and really completely rethink its messaging. You risk looking tone deaf if you are communicating about other things in a time of crisis, especially one that is a Black Swan. Take a look at any scheduled social media posts, digital advertising campaigns, website promotions, and automated emails and consider pausing them, particularly those that may come across as promotional and self-serving.

Be nimble, consistent, and specific
Remember, the worst thing an organization can do right now is to be silent. Now is the time to be nimble and to communicate efficiently. As a first step, build a cross-functional team, then work with the team to create a guiding set of protocols and standards for communications. You want to set a hopeful, reassuring tone and ensure that the messages you are sending out are consistent and well-informed.

Lots of organizations are telling their customers or members that they’re “here to help,” but those platitudes mean nothing if they don’t tell us how. Here’s what your messaging should focus on over the coming weeks:

  1. Critical information on branch operations and/or canceled events.
  2. Reminders about specific online and mobile banking features that will be helpful during this time, particularly to members who aren’t enrolled or often visit branches.
  3. Changes you’re making to offer more remote support, whether via longer call center hours, extended live chat, remote teller options, new online or mobile banking features, new chatbots, or video sessions for financial counseling.
  4. Products you offer that will help them through a financial crunch, including Skip-a-Pay, payday loan alternatives, refinance options, or 0% intro APR credit cards.
  5. Concrete financial guidance, like how unemployment insurance and the new paid leave law works, assistance for homeowners and renters, information on tax payment extensions, and other timely issues.
  6. Uplifting stories from your community — stories about businesses and people lending a helping hand. We could all use some bright spots during these challenging times!

See the full article in the Credit Union Times.