Five Ways to Boost Small Business Relationships Post-PPP
It’s no secret the massive Paycheck Protection Program got off to a rocky start, from technical problems to confusing, frequently revised rules.
A combination of haste, complexity and uncertainty meant everyone from government officials to lenders to borrowers found themselves scrambling, scratching their heads and trying to find their feet on unsteady ground.
While more than four million businesses received PPP funding to date, that represents just a small fraction of the 30 million small firms estimated to operate in the U.S. Over 100,000 small businesses are reported to have closed permanently in the early days of the pandemic, and over seven million more are reported to be at risk of failure.
Although the program has been extended for several months, with $520 billion in funding to date, bad feelings remain among many business owners who were denied loans or were disenchanted or disenfranchised the process. Fairly or not, some of that residual ill will is focused on banks.
Using communications to give direction and mend relations.
Since incomplete or inaccurate communications were in part to blame for the frustration and anger some customers feel, it makes sense right now to look at ways to improve and enhance communications and bring disgruntled business owners back into the fold.
Here are five ways you can keep commercial customers feeling informed, in-the-loop and appreciated going forward.
1. Speak their language
The PPP rollout was trying for both lenders and borrowers, but especially for small business owners lacking an at-the-ready financial team. Many banks simply recycled communications from the SBA, offering little additional insight or instruction. How to improve going forward? Speak to customers using easy-to-understand infographics, explainer videos or a “quick-start guide” format to introduce complex information that can make customers feel supported and comfortable.
2. Open and maintain a customer dialog
Recognize customers’ dissatisfaction and actively work to regain their trust. One-on-one meetings and guided surveys are a good way to let customers express their concerns and frustrations while also letting them know their opinions and experiences are recognized and valued by your institution. Stay engaged and stay in touch.
3. Execute a going-forward plan
Detail how you plan to help business banking customers moving forward both through an official company statement and personalized conversations that focus on their industry and business specifically. Be proactive and personal in these communications.
4. Offer concrete alternatives
As of this writing, the PPP has been extended for several months. Not all customers will qualify for the program but they have options, some with fewer restrictions on how the money is spent, like the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan fund and the Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Program. Be a directional, informational resource your customers depend on to understand and act on opportunities.
5. Don’t simply respond; reach out
The economic aftereffects of COVID-19 are likely to impact business for many months if not years. Use regular, simple communications to let your customers know you have your finger on the pulse of new and potentially beneficial opportunities. Make them feel your relationship is about more than transactions and that you understand the hardships and uncertainty they might be facing.
Mariam Haddad, the CEO of a small, Houston-based consulting firm, put it this way to The Houston Chronicle:
“I felt disappointed with the bank I was doing business with, the way I was left twisting in the wind. During challenging times you find out who is really interested in caring about you and your business and who is just interested in your dollars.”
Timely, personal and thoughtful communication is one way your bank can repair and rebuild relationships and build good will and good business in this economy and whatever lies ahead.