By Ron Jones, Chattanooga City President, SouthEast Bank
The COVID-19 pandemic created a seismic shift in the way businesses operate, and small business owners worldwide found themselves pivoting—many on paper-thin budget margins—to serve customers in socially distant ways.
Banks have played a vital role in supporting small business clients throughout the pandemic. From countless hours spent facilitating PPP loans to finding new, socially distant ways to serve customers, financial teams have given their all to provide small business owners with the funding they need. Still, the months ahead will be crucial for many mom-and-pop shops as they work to gain a solid financial footing.
Our ongoing support efforts will determine whether we develop stronger relationships with our local commercial customers moving forward. Here are a few ways banks can support small businesses as the world begins to return to a sense of normalcy:
According to a study by PwC, many small business owners said that they wish their banks would have kept them better informed during the pandemic’s onset. Especially during times of crisis, business owners need to know where to turn for financial support.
At SouthEast Bank, we worked quickly to establish clear channels of communication for our customers and employees. Within the bank, we elected a team to provide weekly employee updates. We also increased our customer-facing email distributions and regularly updated our website with the latest details.
Furthermore, we recognized the need for personalized communication in the wake of the pandemic. Each week, we highlighted local business customers across our blog and social media channels to offer them visibility and strengthen our working relationships. Our retail and business customers responded so positively to the initiative that we made it ongoing.
Moving forward, we aim to continue communicating with customers clearly and often. Small business owners work hard to manage their day-to-day operations, and efficient communication is one of the most effective tools we can use to earn their trust.
When the COVID-19 outbreak began, most small business owners were simply trying to stay afloat. They sought information about financial aid options, like PPP loans, to keep their doors open while finding new ways to operate.
During the early part of 2020, at SouthEast Bank, we found ourselves shifting away from standard product advertisements to informational content for local businesses. We also responded to small business owners’ call for flexible banking options by redesigning our mobile app in a functional, feature-rich style and temporarily deferring loan payments.
On the other side of the coin, it can be easy to miss the mark when communicating with small businesses. While bankers may be tempted to push messaging about new accounts and offerings, that’s not always what entrepreneurs are looking for during transitional periods.
We and our business customers are better served when we take a step back and consider the products and services that are most important to them right now.
Sometimes, we all need a break, and the same goes for our small business customers.
During the pandemic’s onset, we chose to temporarily defer loan payments to allow our customers to focus on other priorities. While it’s important for us to consider the bottom line, customer relationships should often take precedence over short-term financial gain.
Although we can’t waive every fee or forgive every missed payment, developing lasting relationships with small business customers requires flexibility. Often, a little understanding will go a long way in turning customers into brand evangelists for years to come.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses and banks developed creative ways of serving customers near and far.
Even as things slowly return to normal, we can continue to use what we’ve learned to better serve our customers. Innovation is key to establishing strong relationships with local businesses, and it’s a tool all bankers can benefit from.
At SouthEast Bank, we strive to adapt our products and services to support small businesses. Now and in the years to come, we aim to tailor our offerings to meet customers’ needs, and we encourage the banking community to keep these lessons in mind as we move forward together.
For more information about SouthEast Bank, visit https://www.southeastbank.com/.